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Share How divorce affects children according to their age (and how parents can manage it)

Mamen Jiménez @mamenjimenezpsi

One of the things that most concerns parents when they decide to end their relationship is the possible effect that this break has on children. What can happen to the child? What can we do to make the divorce of our children as little as possible?

While waiting for the report for 2017, the INE (National Institute of Statistics) published last September 2017 the figures referring to separations, divorces and annulments relating to 2016 in Spain. During 2016 there were a total of 101, 294 cases of nullity, separation and divorce.

A divorce or separation is not a pleasant thing, and it is not for anyone. I mean with this that there is no way to pass aseptically for it, that we do it as we do the children will always live a change in their lives. The key is that depending on how we do it the impact will be minimal or terrible.

How divorce affects children

It is impossible to establish a fixed rule on the effects of divorce on the smallest, since there are many variables that come into play and that will determine the impact. We know that there are mainly three factors that will influence how the divorce or separation of the parents will affect the children : the type of separation or divorce, the age of the children and their personality (and the tools they have, of course ).

How we manage adults, the separation will make a difference

According to a classic study, for children facing the breakup of the family nucleus, the most stressful point is exposure to their parents' conflicts.

According to the INE, in 2016 in Spain 76.6% of divorces were by mutual agreement, while the remaining 23.4% were contentious. In the case of separations, 85.1% were mutually agreed and 14.9% contentious. Obviously having a divorce in which both parents agree does not indicate or guarantee that everything goes smoothly or that everything is done ideally for children, but there are many more possibilities than if we do it without even talking to our ex.

No, a "friendly" separation is not the same as a "contentious" one. The ideal? A civilized rupture, meditated and approached with respect, a break in which both parents are capable of dialogue, in which both reach clear and express agreements about children ... A break in which, in short, despite that no longer works as a couple is still functioning as a team for the care and education of children. And believe me, this is possible, there are many couples who achieve it, with effort, of course.

On the other hand, the time it takes justice to resolve cases where there is no agreement does not help either: the longer it takes to resolve the situation, the longer children are exposed to stress, anxiety ... which can cause adaptation difficulties and emotional problems in the medium term.

Again citing INE data, the average duration of divorces by mutual agreement was 3.1 months, while that of litigation reached 9.9 months. Nearly 10 months of uncertainty for the children, of discussions between the parents ... Let's avoid it as much as possible.

How divorce can affect children according to their age

  • Babies : babies are tremendously receptive (almost a mirror) of the state of mind of mom and dad so that if we are tense, irritable or depressed they will notice and affect them in the same way. We can see that they cry more, that they are irritable, that they need especially physical proximity (insecurity), etc. In addition, the fact that adults are stressed can cause that the needs of stimulation and care of the baby are not properly addressed, which can affect their correct development.
  • Preschoolers : they are not able to understand what happens, and if the break is being complicated it is possible that they manifest stress, anxiety and fears. How do they manifest? Returning to past stages of development already overcome (peeing in bed again, speaking more infantilized, rejecting some meals, etc.), nightmares, fear of the dark or going home alone ... As many still do not have a knowledge and total management of their emotions is possible that we find somatizations, physical expressions of discomfort, such as vomiting, abdominal pain ... In complicated cases we may detect that the child is especially aggressive, is the way in which children they manage depression and externalize it, not with sadness like adults.
  • Until approximately pre-adolescence, children can experience separation as a conflict of loyalties ("If I want my mother, I mean I do not want my father", "If I want to go with one ...") and that this affects her mood so much as to school performance. Their self-esteem may be affected and they may begin to show behavioral problems, especially in the case of boys (not attending to norms, criminal behavior, etc.)
  • Adolescence : adolescents accuse a lot of conflicting separations. We can find ourselves with depression, behavioral problems (criminal, drug use), difficulties in establishing affective bonds (or having affective relationships both now and in the medium-long term), etc.

What can we do so that the divorce does not affect the children?

Avoid conflict

If I had to give a single answer this would be: avoid or at least reduce as much as possible the burden of conflict among adults, among the members of the already "non-partner" and of course not to involve the children of our adult conflict

A cordial treatment

As I said before there are three variables that determine the impact that a process of this kind will have on children: their age, their personality and how we manage the conflict . This, the management of conflict, depends entirely on us, the parents, so we will do everything possible to behave as civilized beings. That implies, above all things, respecting the other. Respect and dignity Because we are parents, because we are the model of our children, because they see us, because they feel insecure ... because it is our responsibility, because they are not to blame for our relationship not working.

And if a cordial treatment is not possible?

If we have reached a point where understanding is not feasible, in which respect was lost in a while, what we should (yes, I said we should) do is separate the two roles, that of parents and that of ex couple, and make parents a watertight department. What do I mean by this? That you may not want to speak to them, but in front of the children, when you go to pick them up, in school meetings, you have to be a team, because you have stopped being a couple but you have not stopped being parents.

A good communication with our children

In addition to this, which is essential we must have a very good communication with our children and keep them informed at all times of the steps we are going to take and above all of what will happen to them.

It may seem unnecessary to say things like "You will continue to live in this house" for the obvious, but for them it is not: children facing changes (and this undoubtedly is) feel very insecure and begin to imagine terrible scenarios (It is normal, they have fear and uncertainty), so we must fill in with truthful information those holes.

Make it clear that you love him and that the separation is between you, not him, tell him that your love will always be there, because you are his father or mother.

Do not interfere in the relationship with the other

And in relation to this, another key point to ensure the welfare of the children is not to interfere in the relationship with the other parent (except obvious situations such as abuse). We have no right to deprive him of love, proximity and learning that the other provides, no matter how much we bother, however much we prefer not to see him again.

Trying to do the best possible for the children must be the main objective for us parents. If things get complicated, if we see that our son is having a really bad time, the best thing we can do is go to a professional who will advise us and help us so that the child suffers as little as possible. Cheer up.

Photos | iStockphotoIn Babies and more: When dad or mom has a new partner: how to tell them and how to handle it with their children