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Do kids have a physiological reaction to divorce?

As a parent, you know your children often react differently to stressful situations than you do. They don’t have the financial concerns of adulthood and are often shielded from emotional problems that could negatively affect them.

As you and your spouse dissolve your marriage, the stress of the situation can have a physiological effect on your children. The stress hormone, cortisol, may increase during conversations about the impending divorce and escalated situations between the two of you.

Three ways divorcing parents can reduce their children’s stress levels

However, research suggests the cortisol levels of children whose parents comfort and emotionally support them recover quickly. And as you process the thoughts, fears and emotions about divorce in your own way, you can help your children adjust as well, to reduce their stress levels during this difficult time.

Throughout your divorce proceedings, you can support your children as you:

  • Provide reassurance. In the midst of familial changes, your children may question your continued presence in their lives, if you still love them and whether they are to blame. Being vulnerable can help them understand that while there are changes happening within the family, they are loved and you will be there for them.
  • Engage in conversation. Children need to feel heard and respected. And regardless of how young they are, you should be (age-appropriately) open about why your marriage is ending, without making negative comments about their other parent. Dedicating one-on-one time with your children can allow you to both share and listen to them as they speak openly.
  • Maintain civility. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, you might feel angry or hateful toward your soon-to-be ex. However, keep in mind that in most situations, your children need to maintain relationships with both of you. Be conscious and deliberate about how you to talk to — and how you talk about — your estranged spouse in your children’s presence.

For as much as you would like to protect your children from trouble, the unfortunate reality is that they will have many challenges in their lives. Setting an example of grace and dignity during your divorce can teach your kids how to respond to difficulties in an appropriate, healthy manner. Hopefully, you find that doing this for your children will help your healing process as well.



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