Outcomes of Divorce on Children: Infants to Adults

It’s no secret that we can never truly know how our children will mature into adults. As parents, we like to think we have a solid grasp on who they are as people, but deep down, we understand that the adult world will often shape our children in ways out of our control.

Much of our effort as parents is focused on the time we do have control over, specifically our child’s formative years. As these years will shape a considerable amount of our child’s demeanour throughout their adult life.

Sadly, a divorce or separation can have a profound effect on a child’s growth. Research has shown that a wide range of behavioural, emotional, and even philosophical changes caused by a divorce or separation can shape children in their adult years.

Today we’ll be exploring those changes, and specifically outlining what this may mean for the adult your child will one day become.

Outcomes of Divorce or Separation: By Age Group

Depending on the age of your child when the divorce or separation happens, the effects can differ. We’ve explored these effects in detail, across our other in-depth articles on the subject. For a better understanding, we recommend you also read those.

Today we’ll be taking a broad-stroke look at how each age group responds to divorce. Providing you with a foundational understanding of what your child may be going through.

Then, we’ll discuss how these effects can manifest in developmental and growth outcomes for your child as an adult.

Birth to 18 Months

Although this may come as a surprise, divorce or separation can have an effect as early as birth. Infants may sense a conflict between their parents and in the house, but they are unable to comprehend why it is happening. If the stress persists, babies may exhibit frequent emotional outbursts, and become irritable and clinging, especially around unfamiliar individuals. Additionally, they could regress or have developmental delays.

18 Months to 3 Years Old

Children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years might experience emotional and psychological effects from divorce. A child’s primary link with their parents throughout the toddler years makes any significant upheaval in the home environment challenging to accept and understand. Furthermore, toddlers are egocentric and could believe they are to blame for their parent’s divorce. They may frequently scream and demand more attention than normal, regress and resume thumb-sucking, fight toilet training, grow afraid of being left alone, have difficulty falling asleep, or have difficulties sleeping by themselves at night.

3 to 6 Years Old

Divorce is a challenging topic for kids between the ages of 3 and 6, mostly due to the terrifying amount of uncertainty it brings. No matter how stressful their home life may be, pre-schoolers do not comprehend the concept of divorce and do not want their parents to split.

Pre-schoolers, like toddlers, could think that they are ultimately to blame for their parent’s divorce. They can feel apprehensive about the future, repress their anger, have unfavourable thoughts or ideas, or have frequent nightmares.

6 to 11 Years Old

Children between the ages of 6 and 11 who are in school may experience emotions of abandonment as a result of divorce. Younger children, particularly those aged 5 to 8, may not comprehend the idea and believe their parents are divorcing them. They can be concerned about losing one of their parents and have fantasies about their parents reconciling. Kids frequently think they can “save” their parents’ union.

Children between the ages of 8 and 11 may hold one parent responsible for the breakup and side with the “good” parent against the “bad.” As they show their rage in many ways, such as by fighting with peers, lashing out at the outside world, or becoming worried, withdrawn, or sad, they may accuse their parents of being cruel or selfish. Some children have physical signs of divorce, such as unsettled stomachs or headaches brought on by stress, as well as fabricated illnesses that cause them to miss school.


The Outcomes Moving into Adult Life

Starting in their teenage years, children will begin to demonstrate many of the psychological effects on their personality, growth, and philosophy, that a divorce or separation may have caused. It’s important to note that it’s no guarantee these effects will take root, but we will be outlining them under the assumption they have.

As outlined in the academic research paper “Children of Divorce:  An Investigation of the Developmental Effects from Infancy Through Adulthood” by Leeann Kot and Holly M. Shoemaker, adults (and teenagers) of divorced parents exhibit a higher likelihood of:

  • Depression,
  • Anxiety disorders,
  • Anger issues,
  • Poor communication/social skills, especially with their parents,
  • Insomnia,
  • Emotional instability or sensitivity,
  • Inferiority complex,
  • Disillusion with future marriage prospects,
  • Poor academic engagement,
  • Nihilistic attitude towards relationships in general,
  • Anti-social or destructive behaviour.

In Conclusion

Whilst research into children of divorce and their adult development can be daunting, it’s no cause for alarm. Research has reflected time and time again that children with a strong support network, close connection with their parents, and an honest dialogue to discuss what they are feeling, will often overcome these issues early.

There are no guarantees in life, but being there for your child, and educating yourself on what they’re going through, is the most effective step you can take. Never forget, there is no shortage of support out there for you as well.