Divorce and its’ Impact on Children

Orlando Play Therapist and Attachment specialist Jessica Conaway writes about a topic she works with every day, helping families navigate the emotions of divorce.

Jessica Conaway, MS
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Play Therapist

Parents who are going through separation or divorce are often concerned about the impact it may have on their children.  They wonder whether their decision will affect the happiness and health of their child. Divorce is almost always stressful for children, even in the best-case scenarios children have to adjust to major transitions in their life (ie. moving, changing schools, split time between parents, or significantly less time spent with one parent). Divorce/separation can be detrimental to children’s mental health when it becomes contentious between their parents. Children can easily internalize the chaos and instability of the situation, which in turn can cause low-self-esteem, anxiety, depression and feelings of helplessness. Some external presenting symptoms can be behavioral issues at home or at school, rapidly declining grades, and or becoming overly responsible at home.   

The good news is that children are very resilient. If parents are able to do a good job managing the stresses of divorce for children they are often surprised by how quickly their kids make the adjustment. If the divorce is not due to abuse, then there are steps that parents can take to help foster resilience in their children. First and foremost, when you are ready, sit down together as a family and have a discussion about separation or divorce. It’s important to reassure the children that both parents still love them.

Review how the process might directly impact them such as split time, school changes, or any external adjustment that they may have to face. Please refrain from speaking badly about your ex in front of your children and keep the conversation cordial. This will help the children to feel safe and not obligated to choose a side in a perceived war. Instead try being honest, but take a more general approach by saying things such as, “Mommy and daddy have grown apart” or “As you know, mommy and daddy have had a really hard time getting along and we think that it would be healthier to separate…”

The most important part of the discussion is leaving room for any questions or concerns that the children may have and creating space for any emotional response. These may change over the course of the divorce so it’s very important to maintain an open communication policy. Its ok if you don’t have the answers to all their questions, sometimes they just need to know that you are listening and care.  Sometimes even with the most amicable divorce/ separation children can have a difficult time with the adjustment and that’s where having a play therapist can be extremely beneficial. We work with the children directly while also providing tools for parents to navigate this challenging time.

At Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando we have multiple counselors with experience helping children and parents navigate the emotions of divorce and we would love to be a source of support for your family.  Most people who come to the difficult decision to proceed with divorce or separation have already explored every avenue possible to repair their marriage.  If by any chance you have not or if you are looking for one more try, we also have excellent marriage and relationship counselors here.  Our goal is to support your family across the lifespan and to help everyone become the healthiest and happiest individuals possible.  Call us at 407-355-7378 to schedule a free phone consultation.