How Children Might Respond to Divorce and What To Do About It

Divorce | DivorceAdviceForChildren.comRejection is a painful experience that is hard to manage. It comes with uncomfortable feelings and painful thoughts, and  it’s an experience that many members of the family might feel during the divorce between parents. Rejection might certainly be a feeling that each parent feels, and it can be experience felt by older children as well.

For the most part, children between infancy and the age of 4 years old, won’t feel rejection. Instead, what will impact them is change in their daily routine, if that takes place. Children at this age are developing in a way that requires regular schedules of eating, sleeping, and playing. A change in that routine can affect their development. Another primary contributor to a child’s development is their attachments to their parents. If there is a change in the frequency of time with one or both parents, that can also significantly affect a child. For instance, if a three year old sees mom everyday and then after the divorce only once per week, that could be significant.

Children between the ages of 5 and 12 years old will understand the concept of divorce. However, they will tend to think that the divorce has something to do with them. They might blame themselves or believe that they cause the fighting or that something they said prompted the separation. This isn’t an experience of rejection per se, but parents can ease by this letting their children know that they are not responsible for the divorce.

Teens are in the same situation. They too might take the blame for the divorce, especially if parents begin to use them as a replacement for the other parent. Divorcing parents might also turn to teens to find out how the other parent is doing, or to get advice. However, parents shouldn’t use teens as either their therapist or a replacement for the other parent. Teens are already vulnerable to rejection and they don’t need the emotional weight of one of their parents during this time.

Of course, parents themselves may be feeling rejected, especially if there was betrayal or infidelity involved. However, in order to ensure the healthy development of their children, parents should tend to their emotional life and their own feelings of rejection in some way. As mentioned above, not using children as therapists or as a dumping ground for sharing feelings about the divorce is essential. Instead, parents can do the following to help heal themselves:

  • Accept the fact that it is normal to have a full range of emotions and that they are going to be  around for awhile.
  • Recognize that all relationships come to an end – either through death or separation. Therefore a breakup doesn’t mean that one or either parent is inferior.
  • Really work on self-love and self-acceptance during this time.
  • Use this time to get to know yourself better. Once you dive into yourself and what you need to tend to your emotional wounds, healing will follow.
  • Find supportive relationships and friendships to nourish you.

Furthermore, as parents, these heavy and challenging feelings can’t get in the way of caring for your children. Ironically, both parents need to do now what they likely found difficult in the past which is communicate well, consider the other’s needs, focus on what is best for the children, and keep fighting and power struggles away from the ears of the children. It’s essential that parents find a way to agree, putting differences aside, so that the children are fed, safe, and well taken care of.

Although everyone in the family is going to feel rejection on some level, the most responsible party are the parents, and they need to do what’s best for everyone involved.