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Divorce and Children

Put your child first

Every year, more than one million children in the United States experience the divorce of their parents. When this happens, children need the guidance, patience, and love of both parents to help them through. The most important factor in how divorce affects a child’s life is how parents treat each other and their children during and after the divorce. Parents must work together to make the changes as easy as possible for everyone. Even as the marriage ends, your role as a parent continues. Set aside your difference with your child’s other parent and put your child first, by following these suggestions:

  • Never force your child to take sides. Every child will have loyalties to both parents.
  • Do not criticize each other in front of your child or when your child might be listening to a conversation you are having with someone else. Even if you find out the other parent is saying bad things about you, explain to your child that when people get angry they sometimes say things that are hurtful.
  • Do not involve your child in arguments.
  • Discuss your concerns and feelings with your child’s other parent when and where your child cannot hear.
  • Avoid fighting in front of your child.

Making it easier

Reactions to a divorce can vary depending on your child’s age, sex, temperaments, past experiences, and family support. The following are an example of a few normal ways that your child may react to separation or divorce.

Children under 3 years of age may: School-age children may: Adolescents may:
  • Be sad
  • Be afraid of others
  • Have outbursts or tantrums
  • Have problems eating or sleeping
  • Blame themselves for the divorce
  • Have tantrums
  • Be moody or angry
  • Be more aggressive
  • Not do as well in school
  • Have problems eating or sleeping
  • Feel depressed
  • Become aggressive or angry
  • Have problems eating or sleeping
  • Withdraw emotionally from family and/or friends
  • Engage in risky behaviors (sexual experimentation or drugs)

Talking to your children early and often and telling them what is happening can make them feel more comfortable. Be completely honest and open about the circumstances, but talk about it in simple terms. Children often feel that their parents are divorcing, so make sure that your child knows he or she is not responsible. Let your child know that you love them and will not leave them. Try not to blame your ex-spouse or show your anger, and explain to them that sometimes adults make the decision to live separately. Be patient with your child and their questions. You may not necessarily have all the answers for them, but that’s fine. Sometimes just carefully listening to your child’s concerns is more helpful than talking. Give your child the reassurance he needs to feel safe and loved.

Remember to let your child be a child. Resist using your child as a replacement for your ex-spouse. Avoid pressuring children with statements like, “You are the man in the family now” or “Now I have to depend on you.” Children have a right to enjoy childhood and grow up at a normal pace. As they grow older, they will be able to take on more responsibility and help around the house. Respect the relationship between your child and the other parent. Reassure your children that you both still love them even thought they may only be living with one parent at a time. Unless your ex-spouse is unfit to parent, try not to let your differences keep your children away from him or her. Keep your child’s daily routine simple and predictable. Parents living separately should agree on a set of consistent rules for both households. If needed, don’t hesitate to get help from your pediatrician or a family counselor.

Adjusting to a new life

Children have great strength and the ability to bounce back from rough times. After a divorce, children may even develop much closer relationships with each parent. In time, most children learn to accept the changes brought on by divorce. The challenge becomes much easier though, when both parents provide the understanding, support, and love that all children need from their mothers and fathers, even after they separate.


Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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