do not believe that divorce always causes pain in children. Divorce can
have both positive and negative results. For some children, the parents’
divorce can be a disaster. It might be negative for the child both now
and later. Other children may grow from the experience. They may become
more mature, sensitive, and responsible.
Many factors affect how families adjust to divorce. Researchers say that
most families take from one to three years to adjust to a divorce. Some
families can take five years or longer, depending on the situation surrounding
Children have different types of reactions. Some reactions will be negative
and others will be positive. Their reactions depend on many different
things. Some of those are listed here.
Level of conflict between parents
One of the most important factors that affect children’s
adjustment to divorce is how much the parents fight in front of the children.
Some children see constant fighting and criticism of the other parent.
There may be difficult custody battles. These experiences can be very
hard for the children. They can make their adjustment to the divorce difficult.
It is helpful if parents can discuss problems away from the children.
It is best if they can cooperate. Parents might ask you to take sides.
Try to stay out of the conflict. Help the parents find help if they ask.
How parents adjust to the divorce
Children adjust better to the divorce if parents adjust well
to it. Children will look to their parents for signs that the family can
and will get through this. So parents need to show positive and healthy
ways to deal with the feelings that go with divorce. Parents can work
towards rebuilding the family by being consistent and stable. If parents
are having difficulty with the divorce, you may be able to support them.
Help them find counselors or programs.
Information children are given about the divorce
Children adjust better if they have information about the divorce.
Children who do not have information might make things up. They might
have some wrong ideas. There are some kinds of information that are especially
• Children should know that they are
loved and that the divorce is not their fault.
• Children need information that is
understandable for their age.
• Children should know what is going
to happen to them, such as:
are going to live,
will they go to the same school,
when they will visit the noncustodial parent, and
brothers and sisters will stay together.
• Older children may want to know
what will happen to them if one parent dies.
• Young children do not need details
about court matters, child support, finances, or intimate details about
the divorce. If
they need to appear in court, they
will need some information, though. The amount of information will be
children of different ages.
Children may ask you questions as a childcare provider, just as they may
ask the parents. Check with the parents before answering any
questions. You may tell the child, “That is an important question
Sue. Why don’t you ask Daddy what he thinks about this?” You
may then tell the parents about the child’s question and help explain
the answer to the child.
Some parents may have difficulty answering questions about their divorce.
They may try to avoid the questions or may be under too much stress to
answer. It may be easier for the child to ask you. Again, make sure you
ask the parents how much you may say. But encourage the parents to talk
to the child. They are the most appropriate people to help the child at
Age and developmental level of children (see also
Children’s Reactions to Divorce:
Ages and Stages)
Many people want to know whether children react better or worse to divorce
at different ages. There is no age when all children would definitely
have problems or definitely do well. Each age and stage of development
presents different issues and challenges. For example, some researchers
have found that preteen children (about ages 10 to 12) are the most upset
about the divorce. That may be because they are old enough to know what
is happening, but they are not old enough to be in control of many things
in their lives. Very young children may have temper tantrums. Slightly
older children can become aggressive in their play, games, and fantasies.
For example, they may imagine or pretend to hit one of their parents.
Adolescents seem to have a difficult time, because they are in the process
of establishing relationships themselves. Whatever their age, most children
are angry because of the separation.
Level of social support
Having friends and family to support them is very important to
all children. It is especially important during and after a divorce It
is very helpful if children are able to stay in contact with family members
on both the mother’s side and the father’s side of the family.
Children need to feel safe and have someone they feel comfortable talking
to. The support does need not to come from a professional. It could come
from a neighbor, youth group leader, pastor, or teacher. It also can come
from you as a childcare provider.
Parents are a very important support for the children. It is difficult
for them to be supportive when they are under stress, though. The support
you provide to the parents can be very helpful both for them and for the
child. It is helpful for the absent parent to be active in the child’s
life, too. You could try to provide opportunities for both parents to
be in touch with you and the child as appropriate.
Support does not need to come from adults. Brothers and sisters of a child
are a good support to each other. You may also have several children in
your childcare setting who have experienced divorce. Older children can
be a support to younger children. Children who have adjusted to divorce
can help children who are just starting the process. In general, the more
people the child can turn to, the better. They will have different places
to get support and comfort, and to ask questions.
Of course, both boys and girls are affected by divorce and need
support when a divorce occurs. However, researchers have found that boys
are affected more. One reason might be that it is OK for girls to show
their feelings in our society. They can cry when they are upset, or say
they are sad. Sometimes adults give messages to boys that it is not OK
for them to show their feelings. This may mean that their feelings are
not noticed, and they may not have the chance to work through them. Boys
are also often more active and aggressive than girls. They might show
their feelings in this way. And when boys (and girls, sometimes) get active
and aggressive, they might get in trouble. That might make it even more
difficult for them to adjust. When boys act out, adults may not realize
that they are showing how upset they are. It is important to remember
that both boys and girls need a chance to show their feelings. Another
reason that boys have more trouble might be because fathers often leave
after a divorce. Boys might be missing their fathers especially.
Children's ability to cope with stress
Children react to the same situation in different ways. Even
children within the same family will respond to divorce differently. Some
children are able to handle stressful situations easily. Other children
may become angry and get in trouble. Still other children may get very
quiet and depressed. It is important to pay attention to the clues children
give you through their behavior. You can help them in ways that fit their
age, personality, and situation.
Children will benefit greatly if you can help them find healthy ways to
work through their feelings. You can encourage them to make drawings or
paintings of their family. They can express their feelings through drawings.
Young children often work through their feelings with play. They also
can read books. They can express their feelings in other ways, such as
playing games, making things from clay, and creating puppet shows. You
may not always know what to tell them once they show what they feel or
think. However, just getting them to open up will help them move on in
managing their feelings.
If you see large changes in behavior, or if a behavior change lasts six
months or longer, the child might need more help. You could then encourage
the parents to look for a professional.
Tips for Providers
• Talk with the parents. Ask what
is appropriate to say to the children.
• Support the parents. Ask what they
need from you.
• Be flexible. Adjust your program
where you can to help the parents and the child.
• Know the child. Watch for signs
that the child needs to talk. Discuss the divorce as appropriate.
• Help the child have contact with
both parents as much as possible.
• Give children support. Help them
find creative ways to express their feelings.
• Realize that children adjust to
divorce in different ways.
• Be patient. Adjustment takes time.
Go to: • Explaining divorce
Providers talking with parents about divorce
Visitation do's and don’ts
Does the child need counseling?