How Does Parental Separation Affect a Child’s Mental Health?

How Does Parental Separation Affect a Child's Mental Health

Separation between a marital couple, as it is, is hard for the couple to cope with, on top of it if they are parents, then one can imagine how it must be difficult for the couple, as well as for the child to deal with the parental separation. The task here is how to break the news of separation or divorce to the child and help them cope with it. It needs to be evaluated on the child’s age, because even though we consider them kids, their varying age needs to be taken into consideration.

Separation can happen due to any reasons, and even though the separated couple are parents, they are not to be blamed for the decision that they have taken as parents. With proper guidance separated parents can take care of their child’s metal health. How? Read on to know about it!

Why Does Divorce Affect Children’s Mental Health?

Since childhood, parents are pillars for children. For children, the idea of family means having both the parents, even if one of the parents spends less time with the children. During the circumstances of divorce or separation, the child can feel that their entire family is getting separated and that everything might crumble down. At such times, it is important for the parents to convey it to their child that even if they have separated, they will always be together as parents, and this need to be shown in the parents’ act.

Every child’s view of their parent’s divorce will be different depending on their age. If the child is in the 1-3 years of age group, then it becomes easier for the parents because at that age, the child’s knowledge about surrounding is just forming. Between 4-10 the child can get extremely confused because they don’t understand the meaning of half of the things and conveying the same to them becomes slightly difficult. Then comes the tween, children between ages 11-13, who can look at this as a big shock and not know how to deal with it and at the same time may feel that they are the reason for their parent’s divorce. For adolescents, social relationships matter the most, so along with their own emotions, they also might have hard time adjusting to the separation by the thought of what their friends or peers will say about it. That’s why teenagers can show a lot of resentment and anger towards either one or both the parents, and may form a passive-aggressive relationship with them.

Along with this, divorce can affect children’s mental health in following ways:

  • They may feel that they have to pick sides.
  • If the divorce has taken place out of abuse or conflicts, then they may have seen ugly fights between parents.
  • The thought of living away from one parent can feel hurtful upsetting for the child.
  • They may feel that the parents do not love them anymore.
  • They may fall prey to joking or bullying by peers due to the divorce.
  • They might get uncomfortable by the questioning regarding the divorce.
  • The child may feel that they are not being understood and can take a wrong turn towards it by indulging in attention seeking.
  • They may blame themselves for their parent’s divorce.

How Parents’ Divorce Impacts Children’s Mental Health:

The after effects of the parent’s divorce can be very difficult to cope with for most of the children, even for those children who know that the divorce was the right decision or the ones who pushed their parents to take this step, empathetically.

As a whole, parents’ divorce can have following impact on the child’s mental health:

1. Dealing With Emotions

The child can suppress unhealthy emotions, feelings and thoughts, that is, they may not share the thoughts which are going on their mind with anyone, and may not express their emotions or feelings in front of anyone. They themselves might not accept these thoughts and emotions, and may try to run away from it. Because they suppress the emotions and they don’t want to express the emotions they feel, they can get easily frustrated, irritated or angry regarding the divorce talks or even by parental presence whereas all this might be coming out of concern, fear or hurt.

2. Behavioural Issues

Younger children may start throwing temper tantrums very frequently, to the point where calming them down may become a task. Younger kids may also go back to early childhood behaviours like bedwetting, being clingy etc. Elder children may avoid their parents completely and choose to spend time alone in their bedroom or may stay out of the house for most of the times. In teenagers, passive-aggressive behaviour can be seen evidently. Sometimes, children may exhibit stubbornness or destructive behaviour. Few kids may become timid and may get scared every now and then.

3. Academic Issues

The ability to focus on academics gets reduced because all the focus is centred on dealing with the parental divorce. The distraction from academics can persist for long-term if not dealt with at the right time. The academic issues may look like- sudden drop in grades, complains from teacher regarding late or no submission of assignment, child not answering the questions in the class, or child not wanting to continue going to school, child seeming to be distracted in class frequently. Less interest in academics due to divorce distraction, may lead to reduced interest in continuing and getting further higher education.

4. Reduced Confidence

The self-esteem and confidence in children may get affected post parent’s divorce because kids may feel that their world shattered down because their parents are not like other ‘normal’ parent’s who stay together and grow a family together. They may feel like giving up every now and then, without even trying because they might think that what is the whole point of trying. Their concept of their own self might start changing.

5. Can Easily Develop Mistrust

Mistrust can be developed in many ways. It can be projected on people who the kids are in close relationship with such as best friends, boyfriends or girlfriends close family members etc. The thought behind the mistrust could be related to abandonment that is they may feel that people who are close to them may leave them suddenly and that’s why they start having trust issues. When a friend says that they can’t hang out on a Saturday night as they have homework, the child might think that their friend is going out without them, then the continuous questioning may start. And then forming trustful relationships further in life can become difficult.

Another part to not trust people is- if the father is abusive and that’s why divorce takes place between the parents then the child might start developing trust issues towards all the men, thinking that all the men will turn out to be like their father and vice-a-versa if the divorce takes place due to the mother. It all depends on how the child perceives the entire process of divorce, including the process of before and after the divorce.

6. Feelings of Loneliness

The child may feel lonely because of the divorce because of lack of social support. They might not feel connected with people around them and may feel unhappy around parents and friends. They may also have difficulty articulating their feelings which could make them feel disconnected from the friends, other family members and parents which could lead them to loneliness.

7. Changed Outlook Towards The Society

This can mean that the child may stop believing in romantic relationship thinking that all marriages end in divorce. They might feel that there is no thing as ‘love’, everybody is selfish etc.

They may even find parenting to be a hard or selfish job because they me think that their parents were bad or selfish parents. So, their outlook towards romantic relationships, marriages, parenting may change altogether in their developing years and this might reflect in their own relationships in adulthood.

8. Changed Patterns

One can observe change in the child’s eating or sleeping pattern. The child may lose their appetite or start stress eating. Their craving for junk food may increase rapidly which may show in their body weight.

The child may experience difficulty in falling asleep, maintaining the sleep throughout the night or difficulty waking up in the morning. They may also suffer from nightmares, can get scared in their sleep and may start crying in the middle of the night.

9. Separation Anxiety

The child has to live with only one parent, for long-term, and can spend some time with another parent, based on mutual understanding of the both the parents. At such time, the child may develop separation anxiety feelings regarding one or both the parents. It may look like- they may feel distressed or worry about the thought of staying away from home or the parent(s), excessive worry that their parent(s) may get hurt when they are not with the child, worry that they will fall ill if the parent(s) are not around them, refusal to go to school, playground, with friends because they will have to go without the parent(s). Reluctance in staying alone or being alone without parent(s) for even small amount of time, sleeping only next to the parent(s), having nightmares regarding separation from parent(s).

10. Physical Health

Impact of psychological stress can get transferred to physical issues. Children may have frequent headaches, stomach aches, their legs may hurt or they might complain about issues related to physical health. This happens because of the impact of stress that they are facing due to the separation from parents or because of the hostile environment at home post-divorce.

When To Seek Help For Your Child?

You can seek help for your child when you and your partner decide to separate. It is better to get some guidance from the beginning of this process so that it gives the child good amount of time to cope with the divorce process, and the counsellor can also provide proper information to the child about the divorce procedure. You can also opt for counselling in-between the divorce process, there is no hard and fast rule that it should be done only at the beginning.

Secondly, you can start counselling sessions for your child when you observe any of the issues mentioned in the above points like- them having hard time dealing with emotions, behavioural or academic concerns, changed patterns, anxiety etc.

Most of the cases that come to a counsellor post parent’s divorce is child’s excessive anger, aggression and stubbornness. The start of rebelliousness, frequent anger outbursts or frustration can be the cue to start counselling session for your child.


As parents, it must be really confusing and overpowering to break the news of separation or divorce to your child and it must be equally challenging for you to handle your child’s mental health along with the challenges that you are facing yourself because of the divorce. So, do not be hard on yourself for taking this decision.

Professional help is available and you should grab this help and guidance, and this is not because you are bad parents or because you have failed to help you child, but it is because there are professionals out there who know how to help and guide a child by using scientific methods which will help them to get out of any issues that they are facing due to the divorce.

Online Divorce Counselling for Children

The best you can do to help your child is provide them a space to talk about themselves, be their support system and provide them counselling guidance. And we are here to reduce one job of yours that is finding the right counsellor for your child. We at WAITT, are providing online as well as in-person counselling for children who are having hard time coping with their parent’s divorce. Our child counsellor is Dr. Yajyoti Singh who is a developmental psychologist and a special educator. She has extensive knowledge and deals with child counselling cases with great precision.

If you feel like your child might need a psychological guidance to cope with your and your partner’s separation or divorce decision, then click onto https://www.waitt.in/therapy/ and book your child’s counselling session with our experts!


About Author

Shriya Khalate

Counselor, Team WAITT

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