The two most challenging stages for children to experience divorce are between the ages of 5-7 and 12-14. At no other time in childhood is growth as rapid and as critical.
During both, children are stepping off into uncharted territory; between ages 5-7, children are beginning formal schooling and leaving home for extended periods of time. Even if they have attended preschool, this experience is qualitatively different. Separation anxiety, frequently experienced by 5-7 year olds, is evidence of the worry children have about the new challenges before them.
During ages 12-14, adolescence begins with an accelerated search for identity. Adolescents are unsure of themselves and of what they stand for, what they bring to relationships, and how they can establish their unique place in the world.
For all these reasons, children are especially vulnerable to change during ages 5-7 and 12-14. In order to grow emotionally and adapt socially to the changes divorce brings, they need a secure foundation in both parents’ homes. They need to feel that the ground under their feet is firm as they step off into the unknown. These are a few of the many ways parents can maintain security for their children during divorce.
Keep important elements of your child’s life constant:
- Attend the same school.
- One parent lives in the family home or stays in the same neighborhood.
Lifestyle security is important too:
- Maintain family friendships and familiar activities.
- Stick to a routine in both parents’ homes for mealtimes, homework, chores, and free time.
Emotional security is enhanced when both parents:
- Maintain a pleasant co-parenting relationship.
- Adhere to court mandated guidelines for visitation.
- Discuss potentially negative issues away from the children.
Divorce is inevitable during these ages and postponing marital separations is not often a practical option. It is most important for parents to simply understand what their children are going through developmentally and to find ways to provide as much security as possible.
When in doubt as to how to proceed, the sensitive parent asks, “Is what I’m considering in the best interests of my child?” and “Am I providing a safe and secure environment in which my child can grow socially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?”