If you are divorcing with children, remember their understanding and ability to adapt will depend on age. Below, we examine a few areas where age can play a strong role.
- Their adverse reactions to a divorce - A recent study shows that children between ages 7-14 who experience divorce are more likely to exhibit behavioral disorders and emotional problems, like disobedience and anxiety. If your child falls into this age range, it can be crucial to make an especially concerted effort to keep conflict and disruption to a minimum during and following divorce. You might opt for mediation, or agree to shared custody unless there are special circumstances such as family violence, substance abuse, or mental illness.
- Their independence levels - A child who is 16 is going to be far more independent than a young child. They will likely be driving a lot, and spending a great deal of time away from both parents, regardless of the access schedule. Conversely, a younger child will need constant or near-constant parental supervision, and may struggle to articulate feeling because they have not cognitively developed.
- Their fears - Younger children can be scared of change and losing a parent. Helping allay those fears can involve prioritizing frequent, consistent contact with both parents unless there is good cause not to. Older children and adolescents sometimes convince themselves they caused the divorce, and may need reassurance. Having a shared, age-appropriate discussion (i.e. with both parents participating) about the reason for the divorce, and maybe finding a counselor, can help calm their worries. Teenagers in particular may fear the impact of divorce on their schooling, college ambitions, peer relationships, and extracurricular activities - especially if one of the parents anticipates a geographical relocation. Helping them understand what will and won't change -- and making agreements to support them -- can help them feel less afraid.
Of course, every child is different and will experience unique and personal reactions to their parents' divorce. As a mom or dad, your job is to recognize these reactions, talk to your children, and help them through this difficult time. You can also prioritize processes and solutions that will most benefit them.