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How do children of different ages react to parents’ divorce?

On Behalf of | Jan 7, 2019 | Divorce |

Because every family is different, divorce affects each family, and each member of the family, differently. If you are an Ohio parent involved in divorcing your spouse, you may have questions as to how your children will react to the divorce. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are many factors that influence a child’s reaction to parents’ divorce. Among these factors are the temperament of the child, the parents’ ability to address the child’s feelings and meet their needs as well as the psychosocial function of parents and children alike before and after the separation

With that said, the age and development stage of the child also influences how he or she will react to the divorce. While it makes sense that toddlers and adolescents would behave differently, there are differences at each level that distinguish the reactions of every age group from the others.


As the oldest age group, adolescents are the most likely to resort to reckless, self-destructive behaviors in response to their parents’ divorce, such as substance abuse, aggressive delinquent behavior, poor school performance and inappropriate sexual behavior. Conversely, they may try to reunite their parents or take on more adult roles within the family. Adolescents may become withdrawn, report suicidal ideation and may even attempt suicide, which seems more likely to occur when the child is in the custody of the opposite-sex parent.

School-aged children

Children between the ages of 5 and 12 often feel abandoned by the parent who is no longer in the home. They may indulge in fantasies of their parents reuniting or blame themselves for the divorce. School performance may suffer as your child goes through anger, withdrawal or other frequent behavior and mood changes.

Preschool children

The stress of parents’ divorce may manifest in children aged 3 to 5 as fear of abandonment, separation anxiety and nightmares. The child may act out, testing limits and taking advantage of the differences in rules and regulations between the two parents. Children at this age may repeatedly ask for the absent parent because, unlike older children, they do not understand the permanence of the separation at this age. 


During and after a divorce, children between the ages of 1 and 3 may experience developmental regression, losing learned abilities that they have previously acquired, such as language skills or toilet training. Expected separation anxiety may become exacerbated.

Understanding how your children may react to your divorce is an important step in helping them learn to cope.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.



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