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Effects of Divorce in School-Age Children

How Will My Divorce Affect My School-Age Child?


School-age children are unsettled by the big changes that come with divorce. They may even feel embarrassed or wonder whether their peers have every experienced anything like this. As your child’s parent, you have a tremendous opportunity to infuse your child’s world with as much stability and love as you can. The “Action Steps” at the below will help you get started.

Related: Effects of Divorce in Children | Infants/Toddlers | Preschoolers | Tweens/Teens

Effects of Divorce in School-Age Children:

  • Imagines that the divorce is his or her fault
  • Imagines that he or she can stop the divorce by being “good”
  • May try to get his or her parents back together
  • May do things to cause conflict between the parents
  • Misbehaves to get attention
  • May blame one parent more than the other
  • May feign illness, or experience true symptoms, as a way to foster reunification
  • Fears abandonment and rejection
  • Fears the future because he or she cannot envision post-divorce life
  • Fears that his or her parents will stop loving him/her or leave him/her forever
  • May have nightmares

Red Flags for School-Age Children:

Any of the following behaviors warrants immediate intervention. Start by calling your child’s doctor or therapist, who can assist you and/or refer you to the most effective sources of help right in your own community.

  • New or renewed difficultly sleeping
  • Getting into trouble in school
  • Poor school performance/failing grades
  • Becoming emotionally withdrawn
  • Cutting or self-harm
  • Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
  • Violent outbursts
  • Acting out sexually
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Action Steps for Parents of School-Age Children:

  • Let your child know that he or she did nothing to cause the divorce, nor could he or she have prevented it
  • Offer lots of love and reassurance
  • Offer frequent hugs
  • Maintain high expectations of your child’s behavior and school performance
  • Stick to the house rules you’ve maintained thus far
  • Provide lots of opportunities to talk
  • Allow your children to share their feelings
  • Make an intentional effort to be present in your child’s world; for example, play sports or video games together
  • Be clear that the divorce is actually happening
  • Surround your children with the love and care of extended family members
  • Encourage communication with the non-residential parent
  • Maintain a consistent schedule of parenting time with each parent
  • Demonstrate to your child that the parenting schedule you have shared with him or her will take place as planned
  • Maintain (or begin) your involvement in your child’s school and extra-curricular activities
  • Be cordial to your ex in front of your children
  • Agree not to put your children in the middle
  • Make an intentional effort to take care of yourself, too

Block, Jocelyn, M.A., et al. "Children and Divorce: Helping Your Kids Cope With the Effects of Separation and Divorce." Helpguide.org., Apr. 2010. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. <http://helpguide.org/mental/children_divorce.htm>.

Wilson, Elaine, Brenda Sheik, and Tammy Fowler. Co-Parenting. Stillwater, Oklahoma: Oklahoma State University. PDF file.

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