Affects of divorce on children

Parents in seperation and divorce are very concerned about the affects of divorce on children. They wonder whether their decision will effect the happiness or even health of their child. Reliable information about the affects of divorce on children is still being assembled by sociologists and psychologists, but a number of important factors can already be mentioned.

One important factors is the age of the child at the divorce. The child's gender and personality play an important role too. At the same time we should not ignore the amount of conflict between parents during and after the divorce and the support provided by friends and family during the whole period.

We recommend you to read the book Children and divorce - Smart divorce: how to parent happy healthy kids.


On children younger than two or three years of age we know little about the effects of divorce. It is not by definition that young children suffer from a divorce, but the break-up of a close relationship between a parent and a child may be traumatic. Most important is that the parents arrange the child never to grow up experiencing continued conflicts between the parents.

Infants may not understand the conflict, but they may react to the changes in the parent's energy level and their mood. The effects on the infants can be recognised in their possible loss of appetite or an upset stomach or more spitting up.

Preschool children

Unfortunately, most children between three to five years of age believe they have caused their parents' divorce by not haven eaten their dinner or having done what the parents told them to do. The effects of divorce of children of this age are hugh.

Preschoolers even often fear being left alone or abandoned altogether. They typically regress to baby-like behavior, wanting their security blanket or old toys, or wetting the bed and/or deny that something has changed, becoming depressed, angry and uncooperative.

School-aged children

School-age children are old enough to understand the pain caused by their parents' separation, but not yet old enough to understand their reactions to the pain, let alone control these reactions. It is for that reason that this age-group finds it very difficult to adjust to the new situation and they often hope that the parents will get back together again.

They may feel rejected by the parent who left. Experience of grief, embarrassment, resentment, divided loyalty and intense anger are very common resulting in complaints of headaches and stomachaches. Actively involve them in play and activities with other children is what may help them cope with their family life situation.


Teenagers can understand the causes leading to their parents' divorce. However, the affects of divorce on children of this age is ofter underestimated. They remember the conflict and the stress of the divorce and they can feel pressured to choose one parent over the other or blame one parent for the divorce. When having to take on more responsibility for new chores or even take care of siblings, the teenager can feel pushed into adulthood .

Together with a possible lower energy level and higher stress level of the parents, this can lead the teenager trying to take control over the family. Teenagers experience anger, fear, loneliness, depression, guilt and loss of support in dealing with the growing adult topics. They even may doubt their own ability to get married or to stay married.

Gender effects

Research shows that boys raised by fathers and girls raised by mothers often do better than children raised by the parent of the opposite sex. School age boys living with their fathers seem to be less aggressive and have fewer emotional problems.

Girls raised with mothers seem to be more responsible and mature. However, the children's adjustment following a divorce has more to do with the quality of the parent-child relationship than with the gender and age of the child.

Explaining divorce to children

The way you explain the divorce to your children will impact the effects of the divorce on them. The page
explaining divorce to children provides you with basic tips


Furthermore, we recommend you to read the excellent guidebook: How do I tell the kids about the divorce?

To learn more about the affects of divorce on children:
Affect of divorce to children

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