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How Divorce Affects 3-6-Year-Old Children

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

The wedding vow says “Till Death Do Us Part”. But the fact is, some marriages are broken barely after the vow is taken. Divorce hurts, for the spouse who left and for the one left behind. Like a volcanic explosion, you’ll feel the wrath of the emotional upheaval as your life is turned upside down.

Eventually, the emotional tide subsides, leaving a trail of destructions. While you could heal and move on in time, your children, particularly those between 3 to 6 years old, may suffer for years to come.

It will be a grave mistake to brush off the impact the divorce has on children. Every action that you take after D-Day would have a significant implication on your child’s life. And if you do not handle the post-divorce scenario in the right way, here is what your child could face.

Signs Of Emotional Issues

Never assume that your child will be oblivious to the fact that their parents are separated. As they enter a phase of growth between 3 to 6 years, your child will be more emotionally aware although he or she may struggle to convey the emotion.

At such age, children realized that they are in a way different to their peers in preschool. They may wonder why dad and mom are not living together. It’s a matter of time before your child drops the question and you’ll have to be frank and gentle in explaining the truth.

Pretending that your child is fine only aggravate the situation. Trapped in uncertainties, your child may turn inwards for comfort, thus cutting off the bond with both parents. This may result in socially anxious children who struggled with making friends with their peers.

Often, children may also blame themselves for the reason of the breakup. They are too young to comprehend that the blame does not fall on them. It’s your responsibility to relieve your child of such burden. Such emotion is often buried, and you should take the first step to assure them that it’s never their fault.

Besides shutting off, children may also behave on the extreme opposite. They may resort to aggressive behavior to compensate for their inability to cope with the loss of a complete family. Pay attention to signs of your child bullying other children in preschool. Rather than reprimanding your child, try to understand the root cause of the behavior.


Trapped with repressed emotion that is not dealt with, children will suffer the aftereffects of parental divorce as they grow into teenagers. The lingering emotions lodged within may affect their developmental growth. In other words, they may find it hard to fit into social norms.

For instance, a research published by the Claremont Graduate University in California showed a prevalence in substance abuse amongst adolescents from single-parent families. The numbers also indicate that father-only families have a higher rate of drug abuse compared to mother-only families.

Growing in a broken family may also instill doubt in children regarding relationship and marriage. As your child is reminded of how your marriage failed last, he or she may view a relationship negatively. If both parents are on a negative term, the constant bickering prevents the children from starting a positively-charged relationship later in life.

Adults may recover or find a positive way to deal with the aftermath of divorce. However, children are often helpless as their once loving-home crumble into pieces. A common worry for a single parent is the possibility of their children suffering from depression especially when they turn into adulthood, according to researchers in Sweden.

If you think the post-divorce effects on children are limited to emotional issues, you’re wrong. Children growing up in single-family tends to develop certain illnesses compared to those in a complete family. For instance, they may tend to suffer from asthma and have a higher injury rate.

Effects on Academic Performance

Every parent wishes for their child to be successful in life. In today’s challenging environment, academic achievement is a crucial factor that gives your child a head start. Yet, children who grew up in single families tend to falter where academic is concerned.

It’s sad but inevitable when you’re getting feedback from the preschools that your child is struggling to focus. This is especially true if the separation happened when the child is between 3-5 years old, according to a study in France.

Witnessing their parent’s marriage torn apart, children are vulnerable to guilt and tend to blame themselves for the situation. This eventually decreases their motivation and leads to a drop in cognitive performance. In other words, your child will struggle to focus in preschool.

It’s a mistake to assume that your children will eventually sort out their academic issues as they moved into primary education. Most never do, unless there is positive intervention from their parents. Otherwise, you may find your child getting into truancy and mixing with the wrong crowd.

While it’s not impossible to attain success without glowing academic qualifications, the time wasted in school often translate into a harder path. No parents would want to see their child struggling in adulthood, and I believe the same applies to you.

Effects on Social Life caused by Divorce

You’ve always hoped that your child would have bonded with friends at preschool, despite the less-than-perfect situation at home. More often than not, you may be left disappointed as your child struggle to fit in amongst his or her peers.

The harsh truth is, children growing up in a single family may struggle with social skills. The experience of their parent separating may lead to increased fear of rejection amongst their peer. Children with a divorced parent also tend to exhibit pessimism or aggression in their interaction style, making it harder for them to be accepted.

Such behavioral problems may persist for some children even as they enter adulthood. As they attempt to feel belonged, your child may get engaged in risky behaviors like drugs and alcohol abuse.

Studies had also shown that children who have divorced parent tend to live through the same fate when they got married. I’m sure that’s a route no parent wants their child to take.

What Can You Do To Minimize The Consequences Of Divorce On Your Child

Deep in your heart, you know that walking away from a toxic marriage is the right decision, especially if your child is suffering from the constant fights adults are having. But to reduce the risk of your child experiencing the consequences of your divorce, here is what you could try.

Reduce Hostility With The Co-Parent

It’s often said that love and hate is the opposite side of a coin. While you feel hatred for what your ex-spouse did to bring the marriage apart, it will be prudent to reduce hostile exchange for the sake of your child. Remaining on neutral terms help to prevent putting your child in a difficult position.

Avoid Bad-mouthing Your Former Spouse

You may have been mistreated in your previous marriage, but your ex-spouse may still be a wonderful parent for your child. As such, it will be a bad move to put your child between the conflicts of his or her parents.

You’ll want to avoid bad-mouthing your ex-spouse to your child. Remember that it’s unfair to damage your child’s relationship with the co-parent. Ultimately, your child is innocent in this entire sad affair and still deserve the love of both parents, as imperfect as it is.

Provide A Safe And Comfortable Environment For Your Child

For the average family, divorce is going to take a huge toll on the financials of both parties. But when you have bills to pay and children to feed, you have the responsibility to ensure the basic needs are taken care of.

Sort it out with your ex-spouse if you have to, or seek aids from the relevant support organization. What matters is for the child to grow in an environment where worries of foods and other necessities do not arise. Trust me. Your child has enough worries in his or her little mind without having to deal with more.

Encourage Your Child Positively

At the age of 3 to 6, your child is in a sensitive phase where your parenting style will greatly shape his or her character. Choose to take a positive approach that enables your child to develop self-esteem. It’s one of the most precious traits that help a child to overcome the negatives of divorce.

You’ll want to let your child know that he or she will receive your unconditional love regardless of how the future turns out to be. Such assurance tells your child that you’re dependable, in spite of what has happened.

Foster An Intimate Parental Bond

You wouldn’t want your child to close up emotionally as that will lead to a series of developmental issue. Learn how to connect with your child emotionally and be non-judgmental during communication.

Your child needs to be heard and understood. In most cases, being a great listener is what it takes to create this special bond with your child.


No couples head into a marriage expecting a divorce. But such is the bitter reality that most would have to face. Children, especially age 3-6 are significantly affected when they experience the separation of their parents.

While there’s not much you could do to turn back the time; you can plan the best for your child by taking their emotional needs into account. Establish a stable home, love unconditionally, and you stand a chance to minimize the impact the divorce has on your child.

Either way, it’s going to be a tough journey, and you may as well make it one that you won’t regret living. If you need more tips in dealing with life after divorce, check out other articles on my blog.


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.

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