What Do Children Understand About Divorce? It Depends On Their Age

Divorce is one of the most disruptive times in a child's life and depending on the actions of their parents, it can be a traumatic time too. Children often feel sad, angry, anxious, and sometimes feel like it was their fault that their parents are splitting up. What do children really understand about divorce? It really depends on their age.

Toddlers to Pre-Schoolers

Children of this age don't understand divorce at all. All they see is their parents are no longer living in the same home and often blame themselves for the divorce. Children most likely will act out and either cry more often or be angry and sometimes withdrawn. Some children regress and give up potty training and no longer enjoy playing alone or being alone out of fear of abandonment.

You can help by trying to keep their routine as normal and as possible. If the child is old enough to talk, then let them discuss their feelings.

Young, School-Age Children

Young, school-age children typically fear they will be abandoned when one parent leaves the home, and this can include the parent still living with them day to day. They don't have a complete understanding of what divorce is and, like their younger counterparts, will often blame themselves. They often wish their parents will get back together and may try to fix the marriage.

The older school age child may blame the parent still in the same home for the fact that their father or mother is no longer in the home. They may become angry and blame the parent at home for being mean or selfish. Children of this age range will feel more stress and may physically become ill over it.

You can help your child by being supportive and reassuring. You can work together to build your child's sense of security and have each parent spend time with the child and make sure they understand they are not to blame for the divorce. It is important to ensure that each parent has equal time with the child and to keep their issues away from them and not bad-talk the other parent in front of the child.


Teenagers are old enough to understand what divorce is but often will experience stress and sadness over the separation. They may also blame the one parent still in the home for the divorce and may feel that the other parent was pushed out. There are some instances if the teen is younger where they may feel responsible for getting their parents back together and are disappointed if they fail.

Teenagers may not be that open to talking out their feelings but you can help them adjust and understand better if you make yourself available to them to talk and spend time with them when they feel vulnerable.

For a divorce attorney, contact a law firm such as Burgess, Harrell, Mancuso, Colton, La Porta & Shea.