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Bob Livingstone, LCSWBob Livingstone, LCSW
Healing Emotional Pain and Loss

How Divorce Effects Children: What Parents Can Do About It

Bob Livingstone, LCSW Updated: Apr 4th 2011

Approximately fifty percent of all American marriages end up in divorce. Divorce can be devastating to children and have a long term impact on them. Parents can take steps to minimize the pain and confusion that ending a marriage can bring by being sensitive to their children's needs. Parents also have to have the willingness to separate their needs and hurts from their kids.

parents fighting above childThe effects of divorce on children are:

1. They often feel that the termination of the marriage was their fault

2. They come to believe it is their job to mediate their parent's arguments

3. They often feel that they are in the middle of their parent's conflict

4. They are sometimes used as "message carriers" between parents and they develop an identity as a message deliverer. They are also asked to report back to the other parent about what mom or dad is doing and they have mixed feelings about playing informer.

5. The conflict between their parent's becomes so overwhelming to them that they shut down emotionally as a means to escape from their parent's hostility towards each other.

6. Some will become substance abusers

7. Some will suddenly lose interest in school and grades will plummet

8. Some will no longer follow rules set up by their parents

9. There will be an adjustment period in getting used to living in two households

10. They may feel that they have to be loyal to both parents putting them in a terrible position if the parents are at war with each other.

11. There may be an increase in anxiety or depression symptoms

12. They may become fixated on the worry if my mom left my dad, maybe she will leave me one day.


What parents can do to prevent or lessen these affects:

1. Don't discuss the details of your divorce with your kids

2. Don't bad mouth the other parent to your children

3. If you are shattered by the end of your marriage, seek counseling

4. Don't say to your children when you are angry at them, "You act just like your mother when you cry like that".

5. Don't argue with your former partner in front of your children

6. If you are devastated by the break up of your marriage, don't expect your child to console your hurt feelings

7. Do tell your children that the divorce is not their fault

8. Do tell your children that just because their parents left each other doesn't mean that you will leave them.

9. Do check in with your children to see how they are feeling and ask if they would like to talk to a therapist about the divorce.

10. Be aware if your child appears to be depressed, anxious, acting out in some way or openly distraught about the divorce. If any of these behaviors emerge, seek out counseling.


Children of divorce tend to be happier and function well if their parents do not involve them in the intricacies of their separation and divorce. It is in your children's best interest to set boundaries around what material will be discussed with them. You could tell your kids that your marriage ended because mommy and daddy no longer love each other. You really don't need to go into much more detail than that. You don't want to blame the other parent for the end of the marriage because this will only place the children directly in the middle of their conflict.

Children are highly influenced by how they perceive how their parents are dealing with the divorce. If they believe that their dad is still in love with mom and he has given up on future relationships, they will become worried about their father and feel responsible for making him happy. They may also formulate a belief that the divorce if their mother's fault and therefore have deep resentment towards her.

If you feel stuck and hopeless from the effects of the divorce, seek the help you deserve.


Bob Livingstone, LCSWBob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for twenty-two years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and with adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager's Healing Journey Through Sandtray Therapy and Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain Through Exercise and his newly released book Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist. For more information visit

Reader Comments
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Kids and Loyalty Binds - StepMom Magazine - Apr 4th 2011

Thanks for a great article reminding us that the adults in a child's life are responsible for shielding them from the details and lingering anger surrounding divorce. The greatest gift all parents (step and biological) can give a child is peace in knowing that they don't have to take care of, play mediator, or feel guilty for loving both their mom and dad.

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