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Resources > Identifying Divorce Stress

Identifying Divorce Stress in Children Developmentally*

When children are experiencing stress, it is not unusual for them to regress to an earlier developmental stage when they felt more secure. Older children can show signs of hypermaturity which may be their attempt to self-nuture or take control of what feels like an uncontrollable event. The following general guidelines are offered to assist you in identifying children's reactions and adjustment to potentially stressful events in their lives.

I. INFANTS AND TODDLERS:

A. Regression in terms of sleeping, toilet training or eating; slowing down in mastering of new skills

B. Trouble sleeping or not going to sleep

C. Afraid to leave parent; clinginess

D. General crankiness, temper tantrums, crying.

II. THREE TO FIVE YEARS:

A. Regression: returning to security blankets and discarded toys, lapses in toilet training

B. Immature grasp of what has happened; bewildered; making up fantasy stories

C. Blaming themselves and feeling guilty

D. Anxious at bedtimes, fretful sleep, frequent waking

E. Fear of being abandoned by both parents; clinginess

F. Greater irritability, aggression, temper tantrums.

III. SIX TO EIGHT YEARS:

A. Pervasive sadness; feeling abandoned and rejected

B. Crying and sobbing

C. Afraid of unrealistic fantasies

D. Fantasies of parents' reconciliation

E. Loyalty conflicts; feeling physically torn apart

F. Problems with impulse control; disorganized behavior.

IV. NINE TO TWELVE YEARS:

A. Able to see family disruption clearly; try to bring order to situation

B. Fear of loneliness

C. Intense anger at the parent they blame for causing the divorce

D. Physical complaints; headaches and stomach aches

E. Become overactive to avoid thinking about the divorce

F. Feeling ashamed of what's happening in their family; feel they are different from other children.

V. ADOLESCENTS:

A. Fear of being isolated and lonely

B. Experience parents as leaving them; feel parents are not available to them

C. Feel hurried to achieve independence

D. Feel in competition with parents

E. Worry about their own future loves and marriage; preoccupied with the survival of relationships

F. Chronic fatigue; difficulty concentrating

G. Mourn the loss of the family of their childhood.

*Materials developed by Kathleen O'Connell Corcoran, MS, NCC. Some ideas developed from the work of William Hodges, MD.



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