Divorce introduces a massive change in dynamic to any family as well as the lives of children of every age. Younger children tend to become more dependent from divorce while older children and adolescents tend to accelerate their own independence.
According to psychologist Dr. Carl Pickhardt, author of “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence” and “Boomerang Kids,” because divorce shakes up the stable family dynamic, it can be difficult for a young child to adjust to a new schedule and to possibly be living in two different homes. He or she may still hold on to a fantasy that the parents will eventually get back together, which can be reinforced by the two parents jointly participating in family functions. Many parents believe that this will work out for the best interest of the child, as it mimic’s family time, but it could only exacerbate the child’s belief that the separation is only temporary.
Pickhardt cites anxiety as another reaction to divorce by small children. Many times, a child will worry “If my parents don’t love each other anymore, will they stop loving me?” It is important for each parent to be mindful of the child’s possible fears and to continue to provide reassurance.
Because of the anxiety and uncertainly, many children respond by utilizing regressive behaviors. Some symptoms can be separation anxieties, crying at bed times, breaking toilet training, bed wetting, tantrums and temporary loss of self-care skills. Regressing to earlier forms of dependency may be because the child wants to elicit parental response and concern in hopes that it will bring them back together again.
Pickhardt says that parents divorcing with a young child should remember the 3 “R’s” Routines, Rituals and Reassurance. Keep these 3 words in mind when scheduling so the child can ease into the transition much more comfortably.
Adolescents, however, tend to react in a more angry and rebellious way. They tend to ignore and disregard family discipline, as they believe that their parents themselves have not kept their family commitments. It is important when divorcing with a young child to turn their self-interest into increased responsibility. Teens may become more withdrawn and participate in risky behavior, so it is always important for parents to be mindful and active in their children’s lives.
Finally, it is important to remember the fragile and inquisitive minds of children during a divorce, and to communicate with an ex-partner about the best actions to take for their individual wellbeing. If parents can’t or won’t act in their children’s best interests, a judge who knows neither them nor their children may have to, after the parents spend time, energy and money on a court battle. With the assistance of Elizabeth Smith, Montclair State University BA in English and Social Media Consultant for Kates Nussman Rapone Ellis and Farhi LLP.