Effects of Divorce on Children Ages: Birth thru 6 years

Birth thru 18 months

Infants can sense emotional stress and tension. They may become more irritable, experience interrupted sleep and separation anxiety which may include difficult transitions between parents or parent to caregiver.

Your baby may want to be held more than usual and may cry or fuss more often.  It's important not to overreact or discontinue your baby's typical routine because of his changes in behavior.   Stay proactive in order to lessen the severity of the behavior.  But, your attention to the matter should include actions that support your baby's normal routine rather than replace it.  

e.g. Your baby that usually sleeps through the night, now get's up.    

There should always be a goal to discontinue any deviation from his/her routine within a reasonable period of time.  The longer you respond to the behavior, the harder it will be to get him back into a routine.   Essentially, your response should be limited and based on your objective rather than your infants.  

Avoid taking your baby out of the crib or feeding him upon his crying (what he wants rather than what's good for him).  While the first couple nights you could comfort him while he remains in his crib, you should let your baby cry longer intervals before attending to him until.  Eventually he'll cry it out and learn to put himself back to sleep.

The added stress in your home should not be a reason to keep your baby up longer, let him sleep in a different place, change his diet to appease him or disrupt his daycare routine.  In most cases it's worse for your baby than other anticipated affects family stress is having on him.

Instead give baby more affection and comfort during wakeful hours while remaining committed to his typical schedule and milestone goals.

Leaving your infant with a caregiver

Before leaving your infant with a caregiver, project positivity and confidence.  Your baby is very sensitive to your tone and actions.  If you're hurried and anxious, or the least bit apprehensive, your baby will know it and respond the same way, but like an infant.  This means blood curdling screaming, crying, red face and possible coughing (at times apparent "choking" or hacking) response. 

Despite your best efforts, your baby may still respond this way when dropped-off with his daycare provider or sitter.  This can happen regardless of what's happening at home.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the behavior itself is not as much a problem or abnormal as is a guilt ridden mom or dad trying to overcompensate by "feeding the behavior". 

It may sound harsh, but with a good caregiver who can handle the tantrum with lots of TLC, you should stick with your normal course of action at drop-off time.  Let your infant's provider calm baby and engage him in his normal routine with little to no assistance from you in this circumstance.

Infants between 12-18 months begin to recognize their routines and may give you trouble well before they're dropped off with their caregiver.  So give yourself plenty of time to handle these reactions before you leave the house, while in the car, getting him out of the car seat, etc.  Otherwise, you'll be hurried, anxious and apprehensive before you even arrive at your child's sitter or daycare.  He'll know and he'll use your anxiety to get what he wants...again, not what he needs.

When arriving, stay true to plan, keep goodbyes short and let your caregiver do her job. 

Don't give in.  The longer you stay, the harder it'll be for you and your infant (both on that day and subsequent days with a caregiver).  If your infant's crying and discontentment is unrelenting despite your efforts, it's okay to try distractions so you can get on to your daily commitments.  Sometimes a little planning, loving caregiver and smart parenting are the right combination to make the "daycare fits" go away.  Remember, you're smarter than a one year old.  Right?

Sleeping and eating

This is an important time for growth and development. If an infant is not eating properly due to anxiety, sleep changes or changes in environment or schedule, he may not meet the recommended growth expectation in comparison to other same age infants. Stress and anxiety as a result of his parent's tension and stress can also contribute to a higher incidence of digestive problems like reflux or colic. He may also experience sleep abnormalities and developmental delays, occasionally due to colic or other digestive issues.  Poor sleep may contribute to more accidents and falls.

Developmental delays in walking, talking, eating whole foods or other typical milestones are possible and are closely related to the emotional changes.

Don't deviate from your child's typical diet, discontinue formula or try to introduce foods too early.  If you're still breastfeeding, you too, should continue to eat a balanced diet.  Cutting back on your nutritious diet and plenty of fluids decreases milk production.  While you may be nursing the same amount of time, your baby may get less (which leads to a fussy, hungry baby more often and at strange times).  Also, it may cause you to become fatigued and stressed out more easily when you're already taxed due to your current situation. 

Babies are like little mirrors of your emotions.  When your anxious and stressed, they get anxious and stressed, which makes you more anxious...  Eventually the whole household is out of whack, hungry, tired and crabby.

If your baby isn't getting a nutritious diet because of financial setbacks, please find some resources at the end of this article.

18 months to 3 years

Toddlers of this age have a strong bond with their parents. A rift in the parental unit can be confusing and upsetting. Regardless of the reasons for the breakup, most children under the age of 6 do not want their parents separated and definitely can't understand it. Many have no closer bond with another person as they do with one or both parents.

They may get in more trouble at daycare or preschool or become more attached to their daily caregiver if either parent is distracted and less emotionally available.

This won't necessarily weaken the bond your child has with you, but in the absence of your typical attention, your daycare provider may notice changes in behavior or excessive attachment. They may have trouble sleeping or sleeping alone and may seek attention by misbehaving. 

They may demonstrate regressive behaviors.  It’s not uncommon for these children to have more potty accidents, upset tummy’s and frequent crying. They may feel they are responsible for their parents separation or capable of making "mommy and daddy" love each other again.  They may demonstrate attention seeking behavior that may seem uncharacteristic or unusual if they were formerly the family center of attention.  

Developmental delays may include problems with potty training, interacting with other children, thumb sucking or following a daily routine at home or in a daycare setting. You may find your child has difficulty with routine transitions like meals, naps or bedtime. Daycare and visitation transitions may be unusually difficult. Some toddlers throw tantrums and may withdraw from normal activities.

Finally, it's important to know that some infants and toddlers show little change and may seem to be unaffected by their parent's divorce.  This can be completely normal, so don't worry that your child seems unaffected by something so serious in your lives.  Just be aware of changes that may occur now or as the new arrangements become permanent that may indicate your toddler is more affected than he is capable of communicating through words.

If your toddler isn't getting a nutritious diet because of financial setbacks, please find some resources at the end of this article.

3 to 6 years

These children are often extremely pre-occupied with preschool, new friends and influence of other caregivers or teachers. However, they still seek the comfort of home and maintain the bond with their parents as a primary relationship.

A divorce not only changes the relationship between mom and dad; it changes the home dynamic, relationships between children and parent and the overall responsibilities of everyone in each household. It can cause the child to experience a sense of loss without a clear understanding of why they feel as they do and how to properly express themselves.  

Again, this age group may begin to regress. Potty accidents may increase in frequency. They may begin to demonstrate behavior similar to earlier levels of development or similar to a younger sibling in an attempt to gain your attention. 

They may have more frequent bad dreams or physical complaints like headaches or stomach aches. Some children may have constipation problems or other upper or lower gastrointestinal complaints as a result of stress, dehydration, poor nutrition or anxiety.  They may try to stay home from school or daycare or may go to the school nurse for benign reasons. 

They may have personality changes that may include more aggressive or withdrawn behavior.

It’s important to continue to maintain a regular schedule with these children so that the impact of changes is minimal in their daily routine.  It may be helpful to speak with your pediatrician to rule out other causes or for recommendations regarding therapeutic options.

As mentioned above, in the toddler age group, it's totally okay if some children seem unaffected with their parents divorce.  Just continue to keep alert (not obsessively concerned - just observant) for changes in behavior or actions that may indicate the permanency of the separation or divorce is beginning to become upsetting or scary.  This is especially possible when this age child has older siblings who may demonstrate their discontentment with mom or dad in front of him.

If your child isn't getting a nutritious diet because of financial setbacks, please find some resources below.

Help for hungry families

It's common for parents who go through divorce to struggle financially.  If you don't have the money necessary to feed your family a nutritious, balanced diet, then seek help.   There are programs in place that may be able to provide assistance.



The information provided by respective owner's ("we", "us" or "our) on Divorce Me Knot (referenced also as "DivorceMeKnot.com", "dmk", "DMK", "OurDMK.com", "OurDMK", "application" or "site") is for general informational purposes only and is subject to change with or without notice. All information on our site and application is provided in good faith, however we make no representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, validity, adequacy, reliability, availability or completeness of any information on the site or application.

The information in articles and all content on this site should not be considered psychological or behavioral health therapy, counseling or legal, financial, real estate, mortgage, insurance or professional advice. It should not be used in place of professional advice from a licensed professional or credentialed expert. Providers of content on this site, herein known as "Contributors" (inclusive of, but not limited to writers, bloggers, editors, employees, developers, graphic designers, advertisers, partners, affiliates, references, experts, professionals and site owners) are not legally liable for any misinformation, errors or omissions. Names, details and images may have been changed in the content of this site.

Under no circumstances should DMK and/or it's Contributors have any liability to users of the site for any loss or damage incurred to users as a result of the use of this site or application or reliance of any information provided on the site or application. Use of the site or application and reliance on any information from the site or application is solely at the user's own risk.

For complete site disclaimers review "Disclaimers" on this site or click the link below.

Read Complete Site Disclaimers Here