Divorce is tough on children no matter how old or young they are. The splitting up of the family unit they have known since the day they were born will affect a 2 year old child differently than it will an 11 year old, and it will hit a teenager differently still. Divorce with kids can be trickier if you cannot handle how to tell them.
Adult and children experience divorce in their own ways. Even if parents try to do all the right things, seemingly obvious things might not be obvious to the kids. Adults perceive divorce as an intricate, multi-faceted situation but younger children tend to focus on the black and white, and view it in terms of how it will affect them. Adults might be focusing on the big-picture and try to reassure the child but it will not pacify a child whose concerned are centred around himself like “Who will take care of me?” and “Whose house will the dog go to?”
If you understand where your children are in terms of emotional maturity and development, you might be able to understand the effects of divorce on kids and help them adjust to the reality.
Key Developmental Issues:
Babies and toddlers are highly dependent on their caregivers. They have not yet developed the ability to understand complex situations or even understand their own feelings. Their understanding of the world is centred on themselves and they cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. Their ability anticipate future situations or understand cause and effect of such events is limited.
Signs of distress to watch out for:
While pre-schoolers may not understand fully what’s going on, they may show signs of distress. They can express fear or emotional instability indirectly through becoming more clingy, anxious, whiny or more irritable. They may also retract developmentally. Potty trained children might start wetting the bed again, or start waking frequently during the night. Since their cognitive ability is very limited, younger children often form inaccurate ideas about divorce, thinking the parent is leaving them rather than their spouses.
What can the parents do:
You need to give your children consistent care and nurturing to establish the feeling of stability and reassurance? You should try and balance any changes that may be happening, by anchoring in their normal routines as much as possible. Normal routine activities like mealtimes, playtime, bath-time, bedtimes, etc. should be managed by constantly having a parent to be there for them. When things are rocky at home, older children can escape via their lives at school or by hanging out with friends, but since babies and toddlers cannot do that, the onus of their stability lies with the caregiver parent.
Talking to your pre-schooler, you should stick to the basics and give them simple, black and white explanations. Which parent will move out? Where will the child live? Who will look after the child? Will he be seeing the other parent and how often? You should provide short clear answers to any questions they have.