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Children struggle with guilt in a parents’ divorce

Telling children about the divorce is often the hardest part for parents.

All children will react differently to the news of their parents’ divorce, but it is all too common for children to feel guilty – as if they are the reason their parents are divorcing.

Why do children feel guilty about the divorce?

Unfortunately, this is a common issue that parents face when they get a divorce, even though every family – and therefore, every divorce – is different. Particularly, it is grade school-age children who often feel overwhelmed with guilt and blame themselves for their parents’ divorce.

But many parents wonder: why is this an issue? Why would children blame themselves? It is common for children this age to think they are to blame for the divorce because of the emotional and developmental stage they are at in life. This is often because toddlers and grade school children tend to go through a stage of magical thinking.

This line of thinking leads children to believe that their thoughts or actions have a greater impact on the world around them than they do. For example, it could lead children to feel like they could have stopped the divorce if they:

  • Had been better behaved
  • Did better in school
  • Helped more around the house

The list could go on.

Although this response might be normal for the stage of development one’s children are at, feeling such guilt can have serious detrimental effects for children on top of the complex emotions they face during their parents’ divorce.

What should parents do?

Dealing with guilt and blame is also a significant obstacle that divorcing parents face themselves. Even so, parents should take special care to ensure children understand:

  1. The divorce is not their fault
  2. They are loved, no matter what

Families already go through a lot of emotionally taxing experiences during a divorce. Dealing with guilt proactively and making sure children know the divorce is not their fault can help protect everyone’s mental health throughout the process.

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