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How Divorce Affects A Child (Birth – 3 Years)

Get clear on how divorce affects your young child. After reading this, you’ll exactly know how you can avoid bad consequences of divorce for your child.

Niels Klement, Child of Divorce

Divorce is a really upsetting thing. For Kids and for parents. Now, because it’s on you to make the experience of divorce as friendly as possible for your child, it is good to know about the consequences of separation. Both, good and bad. 

There are sadly more bad consequences to talk about when it comes to divorce with young children in the age of up to 3 years. Even though young children do not comprehend the situation fully logical, they get that something is wrong just by recognizing it through their human senses.

To give it up-front, many children who experienced divorce in this early age end up with developmental issues in their future life. Furthermore, there are many variations how divorce affects a young child. Check them out below and learn how you can avoid them.

DEVELOPMENTAL EFFECTS OF DIVORCE

As you may know, divorce can drastically affect a child emotionally and physically when there is a significant amount of stress involved.

Many adults have concluded, that it was hard for them to develop with confidence and competence after they have grown up in a distressed environment. This was later on considered as a consequence of experiencing divorce in such a young age by the journal of psychosomatic medicine in 2008.

Another really typical outcome is that a majority of children when there is a significant amount of stress involved, do not develop a fully functional immune- and stress-respond system. This is especially common for children in the age around one to three years.

Moreover, some children might suffer a so-called “dysregulation”.

This causes a child to over- or under react on some situations. For example, an emotional irascible moment later on in their life.

Another symptom for a dysregulation is among other things that some children might start to be unaware of pain or it makes them feel chronic pain, for which no real medical reason can be found. 

This is also what I had to experience. In my case, I suffered from extreme stomach pain for about a half and a year and no reason could be found for it. Because we did not really find a solution, my parents and I went from doctor to doctor with no success.

Finally, after my emotional standpoint got better after the initial divorce, I got rid of that pain with the help of a therapist.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF DIVORCE

To move on from the developmental effects, let’s dive into physical diseases that can be accompanied or caused by divorce.

Most people are aware, that traumatic experiences might cause a change in the behavior of a person or even a decrease in the physical state of health. 

Most common is extensive drug/substance abuse or in very hard cases suicide attempts. As hard as it sounds, there are many studies out there that show there is a high rate of people dealing with those kinds of problems due to their parent’s divorce at a young age. 

To finish off, there are even more crucial diseases that can be caused by divorce. For example, another study of the journal of psychometric medicine shows that the chance of suffering an ischemic heart disease gets increased when witnessing a traumatic event. 

Even in adulthood, there is a chance of developing a physical disease like diabetes because of past incidents.

EFFECTS OF DIVORCE ON ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

In this age, your child obviously has not joined a school yet. This also means that divorce and stressful experiences do not really affect the academic performance as regards to your child’s grades.

Still, and that’s even true for kids in kindergarten, they might have a little contraction in their social life. As children in this age get mostly either quiet or aggressive, they start interacting differently with their peers than before, which makes them lose friends or stops them from winning new ones.

Having friends and people of the same age around them is crucial in this age, especially in an incriminating process like divorce. I strongly encourage you to keep an eye on your child’s social life and how it changes throughout divorce to avoid pressuring your child even more.

About two months ago, I wrote a whole post about how divorce affects school performance. Even though it is more dedicated to older children, you should totally check that out.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MINIMIZE BAD CONSEQUENCES

Babies and Infants

As I already pointed out, young children (here babies and infants) do not really comprehend divorce logically rather emotionally through their senses. This age is also called the sensory-motor stage.

Commonly babies or infants are affected by divorce developmentally. Many children at this stage show signs of emotional outbursts or, as I said, developmental delays.

Now to avoid having your child to bear the burden of your divorce, here are a few things you should keep in mind when divorcing.

You need to know, that the well-being of such a young child is dramatically affected by the physical and emotional care you provide to him during the separation. 

That means that you need to focus on having a balanced relationship with your child in the time where trust and love are at risk because of the ongoing separation. With balance I mean neither over- or under-compensating.

Focus on consistency when spending time with your child and provide as much love and caring as possible but still balanced.

As John T. Chirban Ph.D. puts it: “[…] create loving bonds through consistent acts of care.”

 

Moreover, a really helpful thing is to maintain consistency. That means focusing on regular sleep, eating, keeping relationships, and other activities. 

Another very important thing you should consider is being available when your infant seeks attention. Be there to help your child and respond to his needs. Also, if your child is crying or showing some other sort of sad or angry emotional expression, try to recognize the cause of those feeling so you can respond effectively and caring. 

One-Year to Three-Year-Old

Children in this age have a great desire to seek out their parents in order to build a connection with them.

Even though they do not comprehend the concept of divorce, many children in this age often assume that they caused the separation of their parents. You can read more about that here.

When your child is affected by divorce, watch out for certain behaviors your child does not normally do. For example, this could be things like extensive attention-seeking, crying, being aggressive, or even little stuff like thumb sucking. Another common behavior is fearing to sleep alone or having some form of nightmares. If this is the case, you want to look out for your child even more.

Now to avoid that real developmental issues evolve through this, keep following things in mind.

 In divorce, it is important (if possible) to have a schedule which allows the children to spend quality time with both parents. When telling your child about your plans for the time-sharing between parents, engaging them with some kind of activity like games or going to the cinema.

 If you do not really know how you want to share your time with your co-parent, download this little guide I have made to help you make appropriate decisions. 

In cases where your child shows signs of the described sleeping anxiety, I recommend the child getting comfortable in your bed, so he feels safe and cozy. At some point, he will be okay to sleep in his own bed again.

Even though many say children shouldn’t sleep in their parent’s bed, I figured that this is a great thing to help children cope with sleep anxiety.

This is so effective because you are conveying your child that you are responsive and available to communicate about your child’s fears and concerns.

WHEN TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

My thesis on doing therapy is really simple. I actually would recommend professional therapy to EVERY person on earth, because the two years of therapy I experienced, changed my life.

Sadly, there are some obstacles like money or you are just not the person to really let someone dive into your emotions. That’s ok.

But if you are thinking about having your child doing therapy, I strongly recommend it. Especially in a difficult thing like divorce.

Still, there are some things you should consider before really getting professional help for your children, which I pointed out on this post. Check it out!

Conclusion

As you saw, there are many ways divorce can affect children. Sadly even more than I was able to name here.

If you are really trying to keep your child from carrying bad consequences of divorce, I would recommend reading a bit more on this blog. Because, as you may not know, it is all about it. 😀

Let me finish off by saying that I admire you for your willingness to put your child’s well-being in front of yours. And no, it is not as common as you might think.

Thank you so much!

Cheers
Niels

Hi! I'm Niels.

Born in Germany and a child of divorce. I’ve built this Blog in cooperation with two great kids therapists (including the one I had to visit for years) to give you proven resources about how to lead children through the process of divorce without getting them emotionally and psychologically hurt like I had to experience.

Free Cheatsheet

The MKD Cheatsheet covers various topics from how to tell your child about divorce to how to help him overcome emotional issues.

This will also interest you.

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