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Psychological effect of divorce on children

by Ines Wurbs

Divorce is difficult for everyone involved. Our children fall behind in divorce. Thank God, there are clear rules on how we can make it easier for our children to find their way through their parents’ divorce.

In a divorce, it is essential to look after the children. How is your child behaving, and how is it trying to cope with the situation? Help them to understand the situation and avoid using the child as leverage against the future ex-partner.

You can read in this article what you should pay attention to and how exactly you support your child.

Divorce with children: the most important things briefly

To get your child or children through a divorce well, you should consider the following points (a detailed explanation of the points can be found below):

  • Protect your child from conflict
  • Make it possible for your child to do as much of his/ her everyday life as possible
  • Explain to your child the reasons for the divorce
  • Describe the further consequences
  • Allow the child to ask questions
  • Make it clear that this is a final thing
  • Explain together with the other parent
  • Show compassion
  • If possible, seek joint custody
  • Get support

In short, the personality traits and mental health of the custodial parent and the support within and outside the family determine how well the child will cope with divorce.

Divorce with children is not uncommon

Divorce is no longer uncommon, more precisely, since the 1960s it has become more and more commonplace. In the USA, the divorce rate is 46% and in GB, it is 42%. About half of all divorces involve children. So, you’re not alone, and there are specific ways you can help your children navigate through a divorce easier.

How do you help your child deal with divorce

Protect your child from conflict

Quarrels between parents are really harmful to children. Always avoid arguing with your partner or ex-partner in front of your children. If the other person starts a fight anyway, avoid the fight for your child’s sake. In such a situation, it is better to withdraw from the situation. Try to avoid belittling your partner as an explanation for the divorce in front of your child.

As much everyday life as possible

Get as much familiarity as possible at all times. Children cope better with a breakup when there is as much stability in their life as possible. Of course, this also includes school, the same friends if possible, the same room, and the same daily routine as before. So leave as much as possible unchanged for your child.

Explain the reasons

Explain to your child in age-appropriate words, honestly, and without hostility towards the partner why you are separating. Avoid giving reasons in the explanation that the child could misinterpret and project onto themselves.

Describe the consequences

Talk to your child about what is planned now. What will change, and what will remain the same? What is the living situation like, in school, in kindergarten, and the situation with friends? With whom should the child live and how often, where, and when will the father or mother see it? Where will the other partner live? Make notes before and clarify these points with your ex. What can the children expect in the future?

Give room for questions

Allow the child to ask questions. Make it clear that your child can ask you anything, anytime, and give honest answers.


Emphasize that the decision is final and cannot be changed. Of course, children often have hope that their parents will get back together. However, this prevents the processing.

Explain together

If possible, explain the situation to your child calmly and of course without arguments or accusations with your Ex.

Show compassion

Even if you are very stressed by the situation yourself, you must respond to your child’s feelings. This may seem easy when they are sad or afraid.

However, you should also support your child in anger and rage. Pay close attention to all of these painful feelings. Name those feelings. Talk about what exactly triggers the feeling and what thoughts are running through your child’s mind. 

But don’t downgrade the feelings. Let your child feel. They are used for processing. But, help your child understand them and also express them in a way that doesn’t cross boundaries for anyone. If necessary, help him/ her find alternatives.

Joint custody

It is better for children to have contact with both parents. Except, there are also good reasons that speak against it. Violence would be an example here. To achieve constructive contact with both parents, you must be able to put aside hostility towards your ex-partner. Yes, this may be harsh, but it is done in favor of your child’s need for contact with mom and dad.

Get support

Get support wherever you need it. Don’t show false pride and try to do everything on your own. Family, friends, or even professional help, such as psychological counseling, coaching, mediation, or simply a babysitter, if necessary, are definitely appropriate in this situation.

Don’t be afraid to seek outside support for your child. You are the pro when it comes to your child. So, if you see that your child may need other support, get help. Don’t be afraid to organize help.

Joint custody has a very positive effect on processing. However, both parents must be able to find a way to treat each other with respect and without conflict. This is certainly still quite difficult at first, but should be aimed at once the emotions triggered have subsided. 

You can also try mediation. It will help you to settle your dispute and to resolve conflicts, at least to the extent that respectful interaction is possible.

Never do this to your kid, during or after a breakup or divorce

The above points are important to solve the divorce situation in the best way for your child. However, there are some points that can make it extremely difficult for your child to deal with the divorce situation.

What you should never do with your children, especially during a divorce:

  • Do not use your child to satisfy your desire for revenge against your partner.
  • Don’t force your child to choose between mom and dad.
  • Don’t be hostile in front of your children.
  • Do not complain about the other parent in front of others. Even if you think your child is already distracted.
  • Don’t blame your child in any way.
  • Don’t take your emotions out on your child.
  • Don’t suddenly switch to an authoritarian parenting style because it’s easier for you right now.
  • Avoid not taking your child’s feelings seriously.
  • Don’t belittle your partner in front of your child.
  • Under no circumstances should you devalue your child or even expose it.
  • Don’t force your child to take sides.
  • Do not use your child as a substitute partner and assign them to tasks that they are not normally responsible for.
  • Don’t leave your child in the dark about the reason for the divorce.
  • Don’t leave your child in the dark about their future.
  • Don’t take your child completely out of their familiar surroundings.

But how can a breakup actually affect your child? There are a few things you should pay attention to.

Impact of divorce or break up for your kid

Divorce has a powerful impact on all family members. Of course, especially to our children. Changes in the family situation, place of residence, roles, responsibilities, possibly routines, and also disposable income have a serious impact on them.

 But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad for the kids eventually. There are short-term and long-term effects that divorce can have on children. In the next few points, you will find what you should consider as a bit of advice on how to make this break easier for your child.

Direct consequences of divorce for your kid

The most difficult time for everyone is usually immediately after the decision to separate. Quarrels, worries, fears, but also feelings of guilt, and organizational stress are particularly high during this time. It is a state of emergency that also affects your children.

Stress causes anger and aggression

In this first phase, the needs of the children usually go unnoticed. Or they are often overlooked or downgraded. This is by no means unusual since all parties are overwhelmed.

It is not uncommon for children, like their parents, to react with anger and aggression during this time. But in any case, this time means a lot of stress for your children.


Especially in infancy and primary school, children get the feeling that they are to blame for the separation of their parents. They are also often afraid of being abandoned by both parents.

Distraction, underperformance, and blocking

Older children are better able to understand that they are not to blame. Nevertheless, this deep cut in their lives often causes massive problems. Older children and young people like to distract themselves from their problems. They take refuge in something else.

Theoretically, this is not a problem and if they have constructive hobbies, it helps your child to process. Unfortunately, it is often also undesirable behavior. For example, a lot of time is spent in front of the television or computer.

Of course, stress at home often has a negative impact on school performance.

In general, older children tend to withdraw, isolate themselves from their parents, and come across as “defiant”. Of course, this is only an expression of their feelings and in a certain sense also self-protection.

Mature behavior

There are also children who, on the other hand, show particularly mature behavior in such an extreme situation. They voluntarily and quickly take on additional household chores and try to relieve their mother or father in particular. However, this can also turn into aggressive behavior or strong withdrawal. That’s the case if the challenge becomes too great for the children and/or they see no success despite all efforts.

Temper has an impact

Studies have shown that children who are perceived as difficult by their parents are less able to cope with such a situation. This may be due to the added burden of each parent, but also due to the bond. Children classified as “easy” are far less likely to be the target of parental anger in crisis.

Differences between girls and boys

In fact, studies also show that girls tend to react with withdrawal, frequent crying, and self-criticism.

Boys more often, but certainly not exclusively, show outward-looking behavior. In other words, active, and certainly aggressive, behavior if they find it particularly difficult to deal with the situation.

Girls and boys seek their parents’ attention equally, but more often after a breakup. This can quite often happen with provocative behavior.

Long-term effects of divorce for your kid

New everyday life

After a while, however, the situation usually stabilizes again. The first big annoyance disappears and routines return to the new life. Many things that worried you have now been settled. Now, at the latest, the child’s needs are important again or most parents now have free capacities for them again.

It’s the same with our children. Separation fears and worries go down a bit. Everyday life and routines give them more security again. Everyone gets used to it to a certain extent.

Performance improvement

Due to the reduction in stress, worries, and fears, school performance usually increases again. Our children can simply concentrate better on their learning material.

Behavior normalizes

Abnormalities usually go away. However, this does not usually happen on its own, but through the active involvement of the parents. Since we have the space and time to concentrate fully on the needs of our children again, we use them to solve problems. Information is actively sought, or many parents seek support if this has not yet happened.

Low self-esteem

Unfortunately, even two years after their parents’ separation, many children have significantly lower self-esteem than before. They often believe that they cannot do something and describe themselves with negative characteristics. So lazy, incompetent, boring, …

Poorer social skills and emotional adjustment

Difficulties often arise when dealing with others. Their emotions often seem improper, and they still can’t control them very well.

Relationship problems and depression

If the problems are not addressed and dealt with, they can lead to relationship problems as an adult. Unprocessed fears and aggression can lead to depression or problems in entering into intimate relationships in adulthood. Bonds that are too early and too close can also have an effect. 

Is it better to stay together for my child?

You should only ask yourself this question if you are uncertain whether you as a couple can do it again or not. But don’t keep up a marriage or relationship just for the sake of your children. A family with both parents can have even more damaging consequences for your children over the long term if constant arguments, hostilities, or even violence and abuse are involved. 

In this case, it is better for your children to grow up in a family where there is only one parent. In the event of arguments and conflicts, however, the aim should still be, as mentioned above, for your child to have regular contact with both parents. Of course, when violence or abuse is involved, this advice does not apply!

Legal Information for divorce with kids

Legal information and more can be found here:

For the USA: 


For GB: 



As little change as possible, but as much as necessary. Be careful and sensitive. Even if it is an exceptional situation for you too. Your child is not at fault and is helpless in this situation. The better you manage to disclose everything, to be honest, and convey security to your child, the easier it will be for you too.

Because the better you can deal with the situation, the easier it will be for your child or children. 

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