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Your divorce may accelerate independence in adolescents

Children of different ages handle divorce differently. When their lives are suddenly split between two parents and two households, younger children often show fear of the future and express their longing for the former family life. Adolescent children, however, usually have a better understanding of the finality of divorce. They may pull away from their parents and assert their need for independence.

Young children are more dependent

Children younger than nine are still at the stage when family life means everything. They are closely connected to their parents and depend on them for love, security and ongoing care. It is not unusual for young ones to fantasize about their parents getting back together; in fact, such wishful thinking helps to soften the sharp edges of the pain caused by the family breakup. By providing the day-to-day routine and consistency that children need, and making sure they understand they are still loved as much as ever, divorced couples who have implemented an effective co-parenting plan are sure to find that young children will gradually accept the new changes in their lives.

Adolescents may rebel

Children who are nine and older are able to understand divorce better and are more able to suppress the grief that their younger siblings exhibit. The older they are, the more realistic; they realize that reconciliation between their parents might not happen and that life is simply going to be different from here on out. Feeling a rift in family life that cannot be repaired and that their parents can no longer be trusted, some may give in to their resentment and anger and react to the divorce in rebellious ways.

What to expect

Those who are entering their teen years are usually not as dependent as younger children are in the family unit. Since their parents have failed to keep family commitments, adolescents may decide they are under no obligation to adhere to family rules. They have developed outside relationships and may begin to rely more heavily on friends, teachers and coaches than on their parents. They may act in a more aggressive manner and begin to distance themselves from family members.

Helping children survive the divorce

Three factors help children of all ages adjust to life after divorce. They must have a strong relationship with both parents, there must be a good co-parenting plan in place and parents must ensure that children have limited exposure to conflict. Divorce is a life-changing event for everyone in the family, and those who have questions or struggle with acceptance by older children may wish to seek advice from an attorney experienced with family law matters.