Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Divorce Is An Adult Issue: Helping Kids Adjust According To Their Stage Of Development

By: Dyan Eybergen, BA, RN

Today's statistics suggest that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Every year more than a million kids endure the break-up of their parents. This means about 1/3 of all children in the United States live in divorced homes. That's a lot of kids living with the same experience, however, every child's feelings about their parent's divorcing is individual and their capacity for understanding how their family will change greatly depends on their age and stage of development.
When parents have a better appreciation for how their children learn given their children's current development stage, it is easier for them to customize the way in which they will assist their children through their divorce.

If divorce is pending in your family, here is a simple guide through the stages of development that can be used as starting blocks to assisting you in making the transition the best it can be for your children. Remember, divorce is an adult issue, it does not change the fact that you are still Mom and Dad. Your children will expect and rely on you to keep being their Mom and Dad regardless of where you live.

Birth - 18 months
  • children of this age thrive on routine. Establish consistent routines and keep up frequent contact with both parents.
  • prepare for separation anxiety that usually peeks around 18 months of age. Maintaining familiarity between the child and both parents helps establish healthy attachment and will make transitions from one parent to another less anxiety provoking.
3-5 years
  • providing reassurance is crucial at this stage. Children will often begin to worry and have fears around this stage of development. It's important for parents to recognize fears and an eagerness to please adults as a normal part of development. Children at this age may start to wonder why mom and dad split up. Address all fears in a caring matter of fact way and establish a milieu that allows loyalty to both parents, giving many reminders that they are loved by both parents and that will never change.
6-8 years
  • Children at this stage of development are building self confidence and establishing the concept of "self". Encourage a child's confidence by demonstrating good modeling in how you take care of yourself and effectively communicate with your ex-spouse. Showing self-control and respect will instill like qualities in your child.
9-12 years
  • children at this age will begin the emotional ride through to puberty. They may play one parent against the other and have difficulty showing loyalty to both parents at the same time. They may contemplate: "if my parents really loved me, wouldn't they stay together?" Help a child to foster a solid relationship with both parents.
13-18 years
  • Both parents need to make a concerted effort to be available as a role model and sounding board for their child. Parents need to develop a sound co-parenting plan and work together in the best interest of their children. Include children in discussions about rules in each house. Keep each other informed about your children's extracurriculars, friends and interests.
For parents who are divorcing the most important aspect to transitioning children is making sure that they feel loved and that they do not feel that the security of their future is jeopardized. Alleviate any uncertainties and resolve communication breakdowns quickly. Make respect a family norm and as your children grow remember to consider their stage of development when co-parenting.



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