Divorce Recovery

A divorce is painful, regardless of your specific circumstances.


marriage-and-couples-counseling A divorce is painful, regardless of your specific circumstances. It's therefore particularly important to understand its effects on children.

If you're facing a divorce, you might be feeling all over the place right now. So, if you have kids, I want to help you as much as I can to understand how to make the process as painless as possible for them. In making the decision to split as parents you really do need to consider how divorce can affect your children. Whilst adults may recover and move on to a new relationship, the effects of divorce on children can be more long term.

We are hoping to help you get a better insight into what your children may feel and how they may react to your divorce (or separation if you are cohabiting).

Whatever your children's age - because even adult children are affected - the impact of a divorce can be one of the most life-changing and distressing things that will happen to a child. However, the impact does depend to some extent on how you and your partner handle it. You can minimize their distress, and we are here to show you how.

First of all though - if you're at all unsure about ending your relationship or marriage, then please consider couples counseling first. Counseling can help you make the right decision - whatever that may be for you.

The Effects of Divorce on Children

marriage-and-couples-counseling Parents who are going through divorce often believe that shielding children from the stress of the situation is in the children’s best interest.

But regardless of their parents’ good intentions, children often find themselves caught in an emotional whirlpool during these times.

Instead of protection, they need support and reassurance during this temporarily stressful time. This guide will help you understand the stress that children often feel when their parents divorce.

What Causes Stress for Children?

1. The family they have always known will be different.

One of the biggest fears for children is to adapt to new schedules, new environ- change. With divorce, changes will occur in many household responsibilities. Children may have to adjust to new schedules, new homework, mealtime, and bedtime routines. They may no longer have contact with some friends and extended family members (such as grandparents or cousins).

2. Loss of attachment.

Children become attached to parents, brothers, sisters, and pets. Changes in how much contact occurs with any of these can cause some distress. Having a different bedroom and being away from familiar possessions also create stress.

3. Fear of abandonment.

Children fear that if they have lost one parent, they may lose the other. They may blame themselves, feel unlovable, or not feel safe. They worry about who will take care of them and even who will pick them up from child care or from school. Even children whose parents are not divorcing may hear friends talk about divorce and create confusion and fear for themselves.

4. Hostility between parents.

Arguments and tension between parents may make children feel guilty, angry, and alone. Trying to make the children take sides or turn against the other parent creates confusion for the children and places them in the middle of an adult struggle. It is important to let the children make up their own minds about their parents. Children’s reactions to stress may vary from relief and complete acceptance to great sadness, anger, or anxiety. Parents will see signs of children’s stress in many of their words and actions.

Following are some typical reactions and suggestions for how parents can help children cope.


marriage-and-couples-counseling What the child understands?

Infants do not understand conflict, but may react to changes in parent’s energy level and mood.

Possible child reactions:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Upset stomach — may spit up more.
  • More fretful or anxious.

Strategies for parents:

  • Keep normal routines.
  • Remain calm in front of the child.
  • Seek help from family and friends.
  • Rest when the child rests.
  • Maintain warm, safe contact.
  • Do not deprive the child of his or her favorite toys, blanket, or stuffed animal.


marriage-and-couples-counseling What the child understands?

Toddlers understands that a parent has moved away, but doesn’t understand why.

Possible child reactions:

  • More crying, clinging.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Regression to infant behaviors (back to diapers, thumbsucking).
  • May feel anger, may not understand why he or she feels that way.
  • May worry when parent is out of sight.
  • May withdraw, bite, or be irritable.

Strategies for parents:

  • Stick to routines.
  • Be reassuring, nurturing.
  • Allow some return to infantile behaviors, but set clear limits.
  • Try not to be in a hurry all the time.
  • Spend time alone with the child (cuddle, read).
  • Give the child time with another responsive adult (grandparent, close friend)


Preschoolers What the child understands?

Preschooler doesn't understand what separation or divorce means. Realizes one parent is not as active in his or her life.

Possible child reactions:

  • Has pleasant and unpleasant fantasies.
  • Feels uncertain about the future.
  • May feel responsible.
  • May hold anger inside.
  • Feels that he or she should be punished.
  • May be accident prone.
  • May become aggressive and angry toward parent he or she lives with.
  • May have more nightmares.
  • Experiences feelings of grief because of sudden absence of parent.

Strategies for parents:

  • Encourage the child to talk.
  • Use books to help the child talk about feelings.
  • Set aside “child time” each day.
  • Tell the child repeatedly that he or she is not responsible for the divorce or separation and that he or she will be taken care of.
  • Tell the child he or she will be safe.
  • Let noncustodial parent maintain a regular presence (a phone call several times each week, messages sent on video or audio tapes).
  • Assure the child that he or she will be able to visit with the other parent.
  • Allow more unhurried time every day.

Early elementary

Early elementary What the child understands?

Begins to understand what a divorce is. Understands that her or his parents won’t live together anymore and that they may not love each other as before.

Possible child reactions:

  • Feels deceived and feels a sense of loss.
  • Hopes parents will get back together.
  • Feels rejected by the parent who left.
  • Ignores school and friendships.
  • Worries about the future.
  • Fears nobody will be there to pick him or her up from school.
  • Complains of headaches or stomach aches.
  • Has trouble sleeping.
  • Tries to recreate “what was.” Experiences loss of appetite, sleep problems, diarrhea, frequent urination.

Strategies for parents:

  • Encourage the child to talk about how he or she feels.
  • Answer all questions about the changes that are taking place, and keep lines of communication open.
  • Be sensitive to signs of depression and fear.
  • Seek professional help if depression is prolonged or intense.
  • See if the school or community has special programs for children of divorce.
  • Plan special time together.
  • Reassure your child that everything will be all right, just different.
  • Keep daily routines intact.
  • Respect, but monitor, the child’s privacy.
  • Don’t dwell on adult problems.
  • Encourage the child to say how he or she feels, but don’t use expressions such as “be brave” or “don’t cry.”

Preteen and Adolescents

Preteen And Adolescents What the child understands?

A teen understands but doesn’t accept the divorce.

Possible child reactions:

  • Feels angry and disillusioned.
  • Feels abandoned by the parent who is leaving.
  • Tries to take advantage of parents’ low energy and high stress levels.
  • Tries to take control over family.
  • Shows extreme behavior (good and bad)
  • Becomes moralistic, or becomes involved in high-risk behaviors (drugs, shoplifting, skipping school).
  • Tries to be an “angel” to bring the family back together.
  • May try to cut one or both parents out of her or his life if she or he feels rejected.
  • Feels like he or she will never be able to have a long-term relationship.
  • Feels like he or she must grow up too soon.
  • Worries about finances, including college tuition.

Strategies for parents:

  • Continue to talk about each step of the divorce.
  • Maintain two-way communication.
  • Keep routines and maintain rules.
  • Remind the child that the parents “own” the problem, and free him or her from guilt. Continue to monitor the child’s activities.
  • Don’t involve the child in parental struggles.
  • Don’t use the child as a replacement partner. (Don’t discuss adult problems with him or her.)
  • Consider joint counseling.

How Long Should the Adjustment Take?

In this fast-paced world, we often get frustrated when we have to wait for things to happen. But going through a transition such as divorce takes time. Studies show that divorce is indeed a source of stress for children, and it can result in a decline of well-being. On the other hand, some children will breeze through with few negative affects, and some will actually show improvement following divorce. There are mixed and inconsistent results comparing children’s adjustment by age, but most counselors say that children who cope best with divorce are those who, after divorce, continue to have a stable, loving relationship with both parents and regular, dependable visits from the nonresidential parent.

Children’s Books on Divorce

Preteen And Adolescents

For preschoolers and early elementary

All about Divorce, by Mary Blitzer Field, The Center for Applied Psychology, Inc.

Always, Always, by Crescent Dragonwagon, MacMillan.

Annie Stories: A Special Kind of Storytelling, by Judith S. Wallerstein and Doris Brett.

Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide to Changing Families, by Laurene and Marc Brown, Little Brown.

Free to Be ... A Family: A Book About All Kinds of Belongings, by Marlo Thomas, Bantam Books.

Why Are We Getting a Divorce? by Peter Mayle, Crown Publishing.

Daddy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by R. Turaw. Months of Sundays, by R. Blue, Franklin Wafts, Inc.

For adolescent and early teens

Angel Face, by Norma Klein, Viking. For ages 12 and up.

Presented from a boy’s point of view. The Divorce Express, by Paula Danziger, Delacorte. For ages 12 and up.

Presented from a girl’s point of view. Free to Be … A Family : A Book About All Kinds of Belongings, by Marlo Thomas, Bantam Books.

How It Feels When Parents Divorce, by Jill Krementz, Knopf.

It’s Not the End of the World, by Judy Blume, MacMillan.

Talking about Divorce: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child, by Ead Groliman, Beacon.

What’s Going to Happen to Me? When Parents Separate or Divorce, by Eda LeShan, Four Winds.

Divorce, by A. Gruasell.

When Mom and Dad Divorce, by S. Nickman.

How to Get It Together When Your Parents Are Coming Apart, by A.K. Richards and I. Willis.

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Phone: (770) 876-8665


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