The Mediation and Family Counseling Group

Co-parenting After Divorce:Age-appropriate Ways Your Children Can Cope

August 15, 2017 /

By Amanda Craig, PhD

Co-parenting After Divorce: Age-appropriate Ways To Help Your Children Cope.

Divorces are difficult underany circumstances, but they can be especially painful and challenging when there are children involved. The transition usually takes over a year and requires for all family members to find their new ‘normal’. 
For parents, figuring out how to ensure that the kids are secure and least impacted during the transition is usually a major source of anxiety and fear.

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Here is what you can expect from children of different ages during divorce, and how you as parents can support them through this difficult experience.

 Children of different ages grieve divorce differently, but all need support from parents who put them first!      

Children ages 6-8:
  • They may openly grieve the loss of the family as they know it.  It may mean grieving for the parent that moved out of the home.  Grieving for children this age can look like sadness, anger or general crabbiness.
  •  They are still “magical” thinkers and they may create interesting tales stemming from their  yearning for reconciliation.
  • They are fearful about being replaced, particularly if a parent is too busy, has remarried or has new children. 
  • They are fearful of losing their primary parent.  The logic for them is that if they can lose one parent, they could lose the other parent somehow.  
  • Children this age may regress into earlier behaviors such as bed-wetting, nail biting, baby talk, or playing with an old toy.  They are looking for safety and familiarity.
  • Children this age may be vulnerable to physical signs of stress such as headaches, stomach problems or sleep distributes.

What Can Parents Do:
  • Use a relaxed informal tone when asking them how they are feeling.
  • Make eye contact and pay attention to what they are saying.
  • Offer conversation during Lego play or drawing to keep it “light”.
  • Let them know both parents are safe to ask questions they might have.
  • Share with them enough information so they feel apart of the family and know what to expect and feel structure but also keep it age appropriate and don’t add a lot of detail.
  • Remind them often both parents love them and the separation or divorce was not their fault.
  • Ask open ended questions like: What do you worry most about now that the family has changed? What do you think of your new home?
  • Do not keep the other parent at a distance.  They will need both parents.

Children 9-12 years old
  • They may have strong feelings about divorce but they often try to hide them or pretend they don’t care.
  • They have a tendency to blame one parent or choose sides.
  • They will be protective of the parent they think has been wronged.
  • They will often express a great deal of anger.
  • Children this age may be vulnerable to physical signs of stress such as headaches, stomach problems or sleep distributes.
  • School performance may suffers they may be moody and distracted. 

What Can Parents Do:
  • Do not put them in the position to be a spy or a messenger.
  • Keep them out of the conflict.  Triangulating them only makes the divorce harder for them. 
  •  Encourage them to talk about their worries and fears.  Let them know its ok to have them.
  •  Anger is OK, how they deal with it that can become a problem.  Give them healthy outlets for coping with anger: conversation, physical activities, or spiritual exposure, and normalize their feelings for them. 
  •  Both parents want to make a concerted effort to support them physically, emotionally, and financially.

Children 13-17 Years old

  • Divorce may interfere with (delay or speed up) the need to separate from family. 
  • They may seek outside sources for support or reassurance to avoid family problems.
  • Anger often leads to depression or risky behaviors when not dealt with or avoided.
  • A parent not in their life as often does matter- no matter what they say.
  • New intense relationships may be a way to avoid what is happening at home.
  • Parents’ dating may be difficult for teens to watch as it finalizes the end of the family as they knew it.
  • They may worry about the future, who will pay for what, when things will happen, and how they should help.

What Can Parents Do:
  • Family is not just a home but the individuals within the home.  Remind them that the ‘family’ is as they define it.  Even though there was a divorce, both parents are still their family.
  • Give them information to ease their mind. Let them know structure and consistency still exist. 
  •  They may thrive with independence.  Give them some space to cultivate a new normal relationship with each parent.   
  •  Set expectations early on what communication should happen between each parent and a teenager.
  •  Offering similar expectation at both homes allows for consistency.


10 common post-divorce behaviors that are harmful to children:

  1. Poison – When one parent is bad-mouthing the other parent.
  2.  Scapegoat – When parents blame the failed marriage on each other or the children.  
  3. Messenger – When parents use the children to communicate hurtful or angry messages. 
  4.  Spy – When parents use the children to get information.
  5.  Weapon – When parents use the children to punish the other (Visitation and money issues).
  6.  Substitute – When parents use the children as a partner, friend, or confidant.
  7.  Sky’s the Limit – When a parent gives the children every thing they want.
  8.  Secret Keeper – One parent asks the children to keep a secret from the other parent.
  9.  'I’ll call my lawyer’ – When one parent threatens legal action in front of the kids.
  10.  Silent treatment – when one parent refuses to engage in a healthy way with the other parent in front of or about the children. 


Manhattan Marriage and Family Therapy is pleased to offer co-parenting counseling to divorced and separated couples. For more information, please call 917-510-6422 or e-mail

Contact Dana and Don if you are interested in a FREE Consultation to help you understand your divorce Options.  Visit us at

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