5 Effects of Divorce on Children and How to Cope

By Malcolm Baltar | May 10, 2021

You try your best to shield your children from the issues in your relationship. However, no matter what you do, there’s no way to hide a permanent split. 

As a parent, you have an extra duty when you might feel vulnerable yourself. You need to protect your children’s mental health from the trauma your separation causes. Here are five effects of divorce on children and how to cope. 

1. Fears of Abandonment Soar

Divorce spurs understandable and valid fears in children. The foremost question on many young minds is, if you could stop loving the other parent, could you someday stop loving them, too? 

These fears of abandonment can persist and cause considerable trouble later in life. Some children cope by giving too much and becoming people-pleasers, while others shy away from intimate relationships. They may struggle with emotional intimacy and go on to experience frequent separations and divorces as adults. 

How to Cope

Reassure your child that the bond between you and them is different than the one between intimate partners. Since the separation typically entails one of you moving out of the marital home, make visitation arrangements early — and please keep your promise to be there. Now is not the time to forget that it’s your turn to pick them up from soccer practice. 

2. Risk-Taking Behaviors Increase

One of the most distressing effects of divorce on older children is that it increases their risk-taking behaviors. This phenomenon is particularly dangerous for teens, whose brains are more sensitive to immediate rewards, and who may not think twice about getting behind the wheel after drinking when overwhelmed by emotions.

How to Cope

Now is the time to open the communication doors and exercise patience and sensitivity. Admittedly, heeding this advice isn’t easy when dealing with overwhelming emotions yourself, but being there for your child can sometimes help you sort out your feelings. 

Set a special date once a week to get together and talk. Remember to use your best active listening skills as you encourage your child to express their emotions and refrain from judgment as much as possible. 

3. Anger Can Become Overwhelming

Please understand that your divorce changes your children’s world. They are powerless in the face of this juggernaut of events, and their frustration can cause tantrums. Even children who were previously well-mannered may exhibit behaviors like acting out in public. 

How to Cope

Understand that your child’s misbehavior stems from fears of changes and feelings of powerlessness. Get down to their level and try to connect with them instead of scolding them. Even if you ignored such behavior in the past, understand that this technique might not be as effective when your child’s actions stem from a fear of abandonment and a need for your attention. 

4. Academic Performance Starts Plummeting

Even if your child previously brought home straight A’s without fail, you might start to see some C’s and D’s on their report card. Before you become angry and accuse them of slacking, understand that the stress of divorce affects them as much as it does you. 

How would you feel if you informed your boss of problems at home, yet they responded with discipline instead of empathy? You’d probably disengage and have even less enthusiasm for doing what you must — your kids are no different. 

How to Cope

You know the saying about how it takes a village. Contact your child’s teacher and set up a conference to go over the issues at home and form a partnership to get you through this challenging time. Their educator may have suggestions that you can implement to help your child improve their grades, but exercise empathy above all else. 

5. Emotions Impact Eating and Sleeping Habits

Think about the last time you became overwhelmed with emotion. You probably didn’t pay much attention to your diet, and you might have tossed and turned many a night. 

Your children aren’t immune from the physiological effects of stress. They might exhibit changes in eating and sleeping habits that cause problems with their daily functioning. 

How to Cope

To help children cope with this effect of divorce, try to mitigate the physical effects of stress on your children. Maintain a routine bedtime and set up a kitchen electronics charging station to prevent social media scrolling all night long. 

Continue to cook healthy meals and stay alert to signs of eating disorders, particularly in teens who respond to conflict by fixing everything themselves. Explain that while they might struggle to maintain healthy habits, doing so will eventually help calm the internal chemical storm contributing to their emotional whirlwind.  

Help Your Children Cope With These 5 Effects of Divorce

When you go through a marital separation, your emotions are raw — and so are your children’s. Help protect their mental health from these five effects of divorce using the above tips. 

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