5 Ways Your Kids Might React to Your Divorce

Divorce is a significant event in a child's life. It can elicit a range of reactions, from self-blame to regression. As a loving parent, it’s wise to prepare yourself for whatever may come with your kids so you can help them. 

While it's possible that a child might not have much of a reaction if the split is uneventful and amicable, usually divorce has at least some kind of impact on them, at least short-term. Here are five of the most common reactions seen in children of divorce so you know what to expect and how to handle each.

1. Regression

It's not unusual for children to revert to earlier behaviors following a divorce. This could manifest as bedwetting, thumb-sucking, or seeking a security blanket. While alarming, understand that this is your child's way of coping with change. Maintain routines, offer reassurance, and give them time to adjust.

2. Anxiety

Children may feel uncertain about their future post-divorce. They may worry about living arrangements, school changes, or losing contact with a parent now that the family structure has changed. Open communication is key here. Discuss changes honestly but sensitively, reassuring them that their divorced parents will always care and remain involved in their lives.

3. Depression

Some children might internalize their feelings, leading to sadness or withdrawal. If you notice signs of depression, such as loss of interest in activities or changes in sleep or appetite, professional help may be needed. Don't hesitate to seek guidance from a mental health professional.

Divorce affects children. Read our article, Understanding and Protecting Kids’ Mental Health in Divorce, for more information.

4. Irritability and non-compliance

Divorce can lead to frustration and anger, resulting in defiant behavior. This can be challenging to handle, but try to respond with patience and understanding. Set clear boundaries and consequences, but also allow space for them to express their feelings.

5. Social and school problems

Changes at home can spill over into a child's social life and academic performance. They may struggle with friendships, grades, or behavioral problems. Adolescents may experiment with substance use, which could turn to substance abuse. They may engage in sexual activity as a way of dealing with this parental conflict.

Inform the school about the situation so they can provide additional support. Encourage your child to communicate their feelings, and reassure them it's okay to ask for help. If your child’s safety is in jeopardy, or if they are at risk for mental or physical health problems, you may need to do more.

Co-parenting for your child’s well-being

Co-parenting, when done right, can be a silver lining in the cloud of divorce. Successful co-parenting looks different for every divorced couple, but essentially, it's about setting aside your personal differences with your ex-spouse and focusing on your child's well-being.

Healthy co-parenting matters. It's not just about scheduling or logistics; it's about providing stability, minimizing conflict, and modeling mature problem-solving. When children see their parents working together, they learn resilience. They understand that love for them transcends marital ties.

So, how can you nail co-parenting?

  • Communicate with your co-parent. It may be easier said than done, but open, respectful communication sets the stage for successful co-parenting. Keep discussions child-focused. Consider using tools like co-parenting apps to streamline communication and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Give your child consistency. Consistent rules, routines, and discipline across both households provide kids living in two different homes with a sense of security. It tells them what to expect, which can reduce anxiety.
  • Support each other. You and your ex may no longer be together, but you’re still on the same team when it comes to your child. Speak positively about each other in front of your child. Support each other's roles and relationships with the child.
  • Stay flexible. Plans change, and life happens. Be willing to swap weekends or adjust schedules with your co-parent as needed. Flexibility reduces stress, and it shows your child that co-parenting can work smoothly.
Read: Parenting Coach Elisabeth Stitt on Co-Parenting Success

Getting help for your child

Sometimes, the emotional impact of divorce on children can exceed a parent's capacity to manage alone. This is not a failure. Your job is to be aware of the effects of divorce on children and to monitor your child for signs that they need additional support. So, let's discuss when and how to seek professional help.

If your child displays prolonged signs of distress such as persistent sadness, drastic changes in behavior or academic performance, or mentions of self-harm, it's time to look for professional intervention. You might start with their pediatrician or school counselor; this person can point you in the direction of someone who is college-trained to help you and your child deal with the negative effects of divorce on kids.

Engaging a child psychologist or licensed counselor may be best. These professionals can offer therapeutic interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy, play therapy, and family therapy. The experience they offer will be tailored to your child’s developmental needs.

Support groups are also helpful. Support groups for kids offer a safe space for young people to express their feelings and learn from peers who are experiencing similar situations. You might want to join a support group, too. We like to recommend Circles, an online platform that provides the opportunity for many different types of social support.

Seeking help isn't a sign of weakness; it's an act of love. Your child's emotional well-being is paramount. Sometimes, they need a little extra help to understand and manage their feelings. It's okay to reach out and ask for help. 

Suggested: A Kid with Two Homes: A Child’s Perspective on Divorce


Parenting Coach Elisabeth Stitt on Co-Parenting Success. Hello Divorce interview with CEO Erin Levine.
Supporting Kids During a Divorce. Child Mind Institute.
Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.