The differences in how children react to divorce/separation are due in part to their capacity for cognitive and moral understanding, their developmental stage, and the makeup of their social lives. The other factor is the uniqueness of each child, their temperament and personality. For each stage there are vulnerabilities and opportunities.

1) Infants’ first and most important need is attachment to their caregivers. They can be well cared for in a two-home family if Mom and Dad can stay focused on the needs of the infant for bonding, stability, and an ongoing atmosphere of gentleness and love with each parent.

2) Toddlers are working on their own well-managed separation from and regular return to parents as part of strengthening their individual selves. coParents who understand the toddlers needs for regular contact and predictable rhythms continue to support healthy growth and development.

3) Preschoolers worry about losing parents, with accompanying sadness and fear.

4) School-age children bring their own concerns for justice/fairness/rules andgrief over losing family stability.

5) Pre-teens are torn between lunging forward into adolescence and falling back into childhood behaviors under the stress of change.

6) Early teens often feel betrayed by divorcing parents as they ride the roller coaster of their own unfolding puberty.

7) Older teens look for the loopholes in their co-parents’ relationship, and may be vulnerable to falling through the cracks as parents imagine that they’re
more independent and mature than they actually are.

8) College students may take the news of divorce/separation very hard. They are likely to experience family changes as if their launch pad is disintegrating after take-off, just when they are trying to find their own footing in young adulthood.

9) Adult children interestingly often respond with the harshest judgment to the news that their parents are divorcing. Adult children may question their family’s history, wondering “if it was so bad why did it last so long?” They struggle to begin their new relationships and regret that just when they long to reunite as adults, their parents’ secure and uncomplicated support is now vastly more complicated.

Just as we consider developmental needs of children in a one-home family, we’re called to consider the developmental needs of children as they negotiate change in their family and expansion into two homes. What kids need most at any age along with concern about their well-being, their developmental needs, appropriate structure, responsibilities and discipline, support for/involvement in their play, school activities, and peer relationships, is love.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK, Originally posted on Kids Before Conflict.