Helping Children Cope with Divorce

There are about 1.25 million divorces per year in the United States. Of all U.S. children, 50 percent will witness the breakup of their parents’ marriage, and almost 50 percent of those children will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.

These numbers are staggering and draw attention to the number of children in the United States who need assistance in coping with this traumatic life event. 


How does divorce affect children?

For many children, the pain of loss that comes with a divorce is comparable to that of a death. To a child, these losses can be just as difficult to process. A divorce alters a child’s sense of his or her family unit, the first group of support and love that they know. Children can feel guilt and believe that they are to blame for the split of their parents. Divorce turns a child’s world upside down by shaking up its main source of stability. Children may have trouble understanding the introduction of stepfamilies or new partners, and may need help adjusting to this new sense of family. However, with the proper support from the adults in their lives, children can learn how to cope with this life change.

Grief can be a very confusing emotion for children, and without the proper guidance, they may not be able to grieve properly. Divorce and the trauma that comes with it can increase the risk for learning, emotional and behavioral issues, physical health problems, aggression, and substance and alcohol abuse. Effects can change over time. It may appear that things for a child of divorce have gotten easier, but grief can ebb and flow based on a child’s context or age. Long-term effects of divorce on a child can continue to surface for decades to come. It is so important to offer children help in the early stages of their grieving process. It is here that we can minimize the short- and long-term effects of divorce.      

How can you help?

Whether you are a parent, teacher, relative or a concerned adult you may feel at a loss when trying to figure out how to offer support to a child of divorce. It may be hard to understand what the child is thinking and feeling, but it is important to be aware of how signs of grief are manifesting in a child. This is often very different than how an adult would grieve, and adults should be on the look out for signs such as a withdrawal from previously enjoyable activities or other changes in behavior.

It is important always to offer a child support and let he or she know that he or she is not alone. In order to do this, you need to work with a child to help him or her learn how to express him or herself around the topic of divorce and grief. Age-appropriate curriculum is essential in this process, as children in different age groups will feel and process quite differently. For an older child, you may introduce certain vocabulary to discuss the topic, while for younger children you could spend more time talking about how to articulate feelings.

Where does Rainbows for All Children fit into the process?

By joining the Rainbows community as a facilitator or a participant, you gain access to an effective and engaging curriculum, a community of peers for those experiencing a loss, and materials and training to help facilitators prepare. Rainbows for All Children has helped more than three million youth over the past 32 years, and continues to make the sessions available to all children, regardless of age, race, gender or financial ability. If you have a child suffering from a loss, click here to learn more about Rainbows programming near you. The Rainbows program is free for all participants, and we continue to make the facilitator training and materials as low-cost as possible, so we can bring healthy processing to children in schools and groups across the country. Sign up today, and begin your process as a facilitator with Rainbows for All Children.