Elementary-aged children are going to have a more accurate understanding of exactly what divorce means, and they may even have some secondhand knowledge about divorce from other children at school. They may also have a much more sophisticated sense of romantic love, and will understand the divorce to mean that their parents do not love each other any longer.
Divorce & its effects the school-age child
Although their greater understanding of divorce reduces some of the irrational fears that younger children might have, it can also bring about more sadness and grief for the loss of the family, since school-aged children better understand the full implications of divorce.
Kids this age are preoccupied with family. Perhaps more than any other age group, grade school children are particularly sensitive towards family perceptions and dynamics. Family is a source of pride, of insult, and of frequent discussion among peers at school. Grade school kids can be brought to tears over a remark about their family just as easily as when the insult is against them.
As a side effect, children this age often feel deceived or betrayed by their parents’ divorce, and may see it as a personal rejection or judgment against them. Since they see themselves as part of a family, and this family is an important part of their identity, your rejection of their family will be felt as a personal rejection of them, whether you intend it or not.
School age children tend to be worry-warts, and may obsess about every aspect of the divorce. They’ll worry about living arrangements, money issues, and how their parents are getting along. They may fear not being picked up on time after school or having other custodial mishaps take place.
Children this age are likely to worry as much about their parents’ welfare as they are their own. They might concern themselves with thoughts about how their parents are coping: Will dad be okay? Who will keep mom company? Does she feel sad and alone? School age kids often sense their parents’ depressive states and respond by trying to become the caretaker of the family – taking it upon themselves to make sure everyone is alright.
It’s very common for school age children to harbor hopes that their parents will eventually get back together. A few tenacious youngsters may even begin to formulate plans about how they can make this happen.
How school age children react to divorce
- With greater social sophistication also comes the propensity for much more anger towards the situation, especially if they feel one parent is to blame for the divorce. Therefore elementary school children tend to respond with much more overt hostility than their younger counterparts.
- As the school age child becomes preoccupied with what’s going on at home, it’s quite common for their schoolwork or grades to suffer.
- An inability to concentrate on tasks at hand or symptoms resembling ADHD may also emerge.
Helping school age kids cope with divorce
1) Most elementary school children can more accurately gauge their own emotions, and should be offered some sources they can talk to if needed; whether that is a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a school counselor, or a family therapist.
2) Inform your child’s teacher of the situation. It will help him or her provide the proper support and watch for signs that a child needs additional help. Some schools may even offer professional counseling services for situations such as this.
3) Keep this age group informed about what is going on, talking with them in advance about parenting schedules and the like. They’ll feel a lot better about the situation if you keep them in the loop.
4) Since kids this age are preoccupied with the family, parents can help them cope by talking a lot about how the family is changing, not ending, and about what their new family will be like. Parents can also help by backing these words with actions, and going out of their way to continue special family occasions even after the divorce.