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The Impact of Divorce on Children: Processing Change and Emotion

Divorce can be a difficult life change to navigate for an entire family.

As a parent, you and your partner want what’s best for your child(ren). But sometimes what you feel is best for your children may not be the best choice for you and your partner.

When children are involved, it’s important to try to see things from their perspective. Let’s learn more about how divorce impacts children and how you can help them process change and manage their emotions.

Ways Divorce May Affect Children


sad childWhen children feel stressed, they have a hard time being able to deal with their emotions or know how to express them. This can lead to feelings of irritability or even anger.

If a child’s parents are going through a divorce and the child doesn’t know how to respond to this kind of news, they may direct their anger at their parents, teachers, friends, or even towards themselves.


A lot of children question if they’re the reason the divorce happened. They’ll start looking for reasons and examples of what they did wrong to cause their parents to separate.

Feelings of guilt may start to form. If left untreated, this guilt can turn into other issues like anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental health issues.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Some children will try to cope with their feelings about the divorce through unhealthy coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms act as short-term solutions to a larger problem.

They may make a child feel better at the moment, but they can actually lead to worsening signs and symptoms. These are some of the most common unhealthy and risk-taking behaviors that children may gravitate toward:

  • Acting out in school
  • Committing crimes
  • Driving recklessly
  • Dropping out of school
  • Smoking
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Withdrawing from loved ones or activities that were previously enjoyed

School Performance

A child’s school performance may suffer due to the news of a divorce. They may have a hard time focusing or concentrating on class or their homework.

The news of the divorce can act as a distraction, which isn’t ideal for paying attention in class, studying, or completing assignments on time.

How to Help Children Cope with Divorce

Divorce can be hard on the entire family. These are some of the different ways you can help your child(ren) process the changes that are coming and better manage their emotions.

Let Them Know It Isn’t on Them

First things first, let your child(ren) know that the divorce isn’t their fault. A lot of children will try to figure out what they did wrong.

It’s important to help your children let go of this thought by letting them know right away why you’re actually getting divorced.

Show Up for Them

Just because you and your partner are separate doesn’t mean that you can’t both show up and be there for your child(ren). Reassure them that you’ll both still be in their life, just in a different way than they’ve known previously.

Stick to a Schedule

Your child(ren) may have a hard time adjusting to the divorce. This is normal. Try to keep their schedule and routines the same to help ease them into the adjustment.

When you’re bouncing from different households, it’s nice to have consistency and structure so that everyone’s on the same page.

Seek Additional Support

Divorce can be extremely stressful, even if it’s something that you and your partner agreed on. It’s extremely important to take care of yourself during this time as well as your child(ren).

There is nothing wrong with reaching out for additional support. A therapist will be able to work with you and your child(ren) to help you both navigate this change in your lives. Reach out today to set up a consultation for family therapy.