Divorce represents a pivotal and often traumatic change in the child’s world and – from their perspective – a loss of family. When told about divorce, many children feel sad, angry and anxious, and it can be difficult for them to understand how their lives will change. The child’s age also affects his reaction to the new family structure.
Navigating a divorce when you have children requires consideration of how the divorce may affect them.
Here’s a quick rundown of what 6- to 11-year-olds understand and how you can ease their transition after divorce.
Effects of Divorce on Children: Ages 6 to 11
Divorce can leave school-aged children between the ages of 6 and 11 struggling with feelings of abandonment. Younger children—especially 5- to 8-year-olds—may not understand the concept and feel as if their parents are divorcing them. They may worry about losing one of their parents and fantasize that their parents will be reunited. In fact, they often believe they can “save” their parents’ marriage.
Children 8 to 11 may blame one parent for the separation and target the “good” parent against the “bad.”
They may accuse their parents of being mean or selfish, expressing their anger in a variety of ways: fighting with classmates, lashing out at the world, or becoming anxious, withdrawn, or depressed. For some children, the effects of divorce manifest themselves physically—think upset stomachs or stress headaches, as well as making up symptoms to stay home from school.
Easing the transition after divorce
Divorcing parents can prevent their children from feeling abandoned by creating reliable, consistent opportunities for quality time together.
Elementary school children can experience extreme loss and rejection during a divorce, but parents can restore their child’s sense of self-esteem and security. To begin with, every parent should spend quality time with the child, encouraging him to reveal his feelings.
Reassure them that neither parent will abandon them and reiterate that the divorce is not their fault. (Similarly, parents should not blame each other for the separation, but explain that it was a mutual decision.)
It’s also important to maintain a regular visitation schedule, as children thrive on predictability—especially during times of turmoil.
Finally, encourage your child to get involved in events and fun they enjoy (school, friendships, and extracurricular activities are increasingly important at this age).
Help them rebuild their self-esteem and encourage them to reach out to others instead of withdrawing from the world.
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