While divorce can have devastating effects on a child at any age, perhaps the most difficult time in a child's life for him to experience such a separation is between the ages of 2 and 4 when his parents are the center of his world. Any change in the stability of this environment at this stage can create effects that can be felt for life.
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Babies - Infants to 18 months
Even a baby knows when something's not right at home, even though he cannot express it in words. According to the Greater San Marcos Youth Council website, the child of divorcing parents may be nervous, especially around strangers. Your baby may become easily irritable and have more frequent outbursts. Also, he may eat or nurse less frequently, if not lose his appetite altogether.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Between 18 months and 3 years old, your child's main bond is with his parents. Any change in this stability can lead to an emotional crisis. Your toddler is well aware that dad -- or mom -- is absent, and he most definitely misses the absent parent. Moreover, a 2 or 3- year-old is likely to feel responsible for the breakup, thinking if only he had been better behaved the absent parent would have never left. Nightmares are possible at this age, as well. As the child reaches 4 or 5 years old, however, he takes his cues of how to deal with the separation from how he observes his parents coping with it.
Elementary School Age
Peer groups begin to gradually supplant parents as the center of your child's life at this stage of development. However, life at home is still important to your 6 to 11- year old. During these years, your child may feel a sense of abandonment, and he may even blame one parent for the split. According to the GSMYC website, it's important for both parents to emphasize that they love the child, and that neither parent is necessarily responsible for the divorce.
Junior High through High School
At this age, the child is actively searching for his own identity, away from the home. By this time, friends have replaced you as the constant in his life. But even at this stage, your child is likely to feel deeply hurt and angry, especially at the parent he deems responsible for the divorce. There are times when your child will be rebellious against you and even act out in school. He may try to use the split for his own advantage, playing one parent against the other in order to get his way.
What You Can Do
The actions you can take vary depending on the age of the child. If your child is a baby-- frequent holding is helpful, for the child can still feel abandoned and alone, even as an infant. Talking to your child and encouraging him to talk about his feelings and openly addressing his issues -- in an age-appropriate manner -- seem to work for older children from 6 to 11. For the adolescent, let him know you understand his feelings but create a united front when it comes to rules and boundaries. For extreme emotional problems, it's best to make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist.