Going through a divorce is a challenging and emotionally draining process, especially when you are working to ensure that your children get the support they need. Divorcing parents are often told, “Kids are resilient!” in an effort to comfort and reassure them. While that sentiment is generally true and children are remarkably resilient, it is important to be aware of the most common effects of divorce on kids. Knowing these effects and what to watch for can help you better support your children and offer them the resources and reassurance they need as they also process the divorce.
A divorce disrupts every area of life, especially for children and teens. Transitions are hard and your kids may experience intense emotions when transitioning to a new home or adjusting to a shared custody schedule. Not to mention the emotional transition of accepting that their parents are no longer together. They may struggle with feelings of loss, anger, confusion, fear, abandonment, grief, and anxiety.
Mood swings are common for children processing the effects of divorce. They may fluctuate between suppressing emotions or going numb, followed by sudden outbursts of rage or tears. Even if your children aren’t experiencing drastic mood swings, they may be more irritable than usual, short-tempered, or find themselves getting frustrated and angry over seemingly unrelated matters. Anger and irritation may come out over issues that seem unrelated to the divorce. Very young children may regress in behaviors such as potty training, thumb-sucking, and emotional regulation. Young children may also be more clingy, tearful, and have increased separation anxiety with one or both parents.
It’s also common for children, particularly young ones, to have feelings of guilt. They may look for reasons or answers as to why their parents don’t love each other anymore, and that feeling can transfer into the child wondering if they did something wrong or questioning if they themselves are still loved. With guilt, kids often feel the pressure to be perfect, and try to “fix” the parents’ relationship. It’s common for them to experience increased depression and anxiety as well. They may feel the instinct on their own or receive external pressure to pick sides in the divorce, which can lead to more confusion and stress. This can seriously affect their emotions and behavior.
Loss of Interest
Another one of the surprising effects of divorce on kids is that they lose interest in social interactions or hobbies shared with other members of their community. Children that go through a divorce can have a harder time relating to other people, even with kids their own age. They may struggle with the thought that they are the only one of their friend group that has divorced parents. This can cause them to question what is “wrong” with them or their family.
These are normal questions to have as a child, but can lead to antisocial behavior because of the discomfort involved in trying to relate to their peers. They may lose interest in sports, hobbies, or other activities that used to be staples in their social life. They may withdraw in social situations, experience sudden shyness, or have increased anxiety around socializing not only in new but in familiar settings as well.
When people talk about resilience in children, they are often talking about a child’s tendency to adapt quickly to a new situation. However, this is an area where children of divorce often struggle.
Each divorce is unique and yours might involve moving to a new home and switching schools, on top of adapting to a shared custody schedule or visitation if one parent gets full custody. Losing daily access to one parent can have negative psychological effects, such as the weakening of the parental bond with the non-custodial parent, and increased tension and stress in the relationship with the custodial parent.
It is normal for kids to resist these changes or struggle to adapt to a changing family dynamic, a different home, or a new school. Even if you are fortunate enough to keep your kids in a familiar home and school, they may still struggle to shift their concept of what “family” and “home” mean in life after divorce. The increased stress of dealing with all these changes and the many additional effects of divorce can make it harder than usual for a child to “bounce back” psychologically.
Poor Academic Performance
The struggles that your children go through at home often come out at school as well. The effects of divorce make it difficult to stay focused in class, relating to their peers socially, or keeping up with homework. They may be easily distracted from their academics because their emotional energy is spent on processing the divorce and the changes that it brings to their daily life. The interruption in focus can cause their academic performance to suffer.
This can lead to other issues down the road, especially for teenagers who experience the effects of their parents’ divorce while in middle or high school. There is an increased risk of children of divorce dropping out of high school. But even teens that complete high school may struggle with the academic pressures related to applying, getting accepted, and attending college, because their attention and emotional energy is spent elsewhere. They may feel that focusing on academics is a waste of time, or it may just be low on their priority list as they navigate the overwhelming changes brought on by divorce.
Increased Health Issues
The emotional toll and increase of daily stress can bring about sickness or other health problems in children. There are many factors that can affect their health during or after a divorce, including physical issues from stress, disrupted sleep or insomnia that can affect general health, an increased susceptibility to getting sick, and mental health problems such as adjustment disorder, depression, and increased anxiety.
Divorce is never going to be easy for children, but there are ways to help your children understand this big life change and process their emotions in a healthy way. The effects of divorce on kids can often run deeper and invade more of their life than we first realize. Avoid exposing your children to unhealthy conflict and contentious conversations with or about their other parent. Talk with them regularly about their emotions and let them know it is ok to feel all their feelings. Practice communicating about the divorce with honesty and respect for every person involved. Reassure them that they are loved and safe, and give them as much routine and consistency as possible.
Torrone Law is here for your family. Your children deserve to feel safe and whole, and we will work with you and for you to get your life back on track.