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Children's Developmental Needs

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INFANTS (0 - 18 MONTHS)

DEVELOPMENTAL TASKS:

BONDING AND TRUST

Critical period for development of trust
Later ability to develop trusting relationships depends on success of establishing early attachment bonds

PROMINENCE OF PHYSICAL NEEDS

Dependency and helplessness at a maximum
Tolerance for change is limited

CHILD’S DIVORCE ISSUES:

Large time commitment required of caretakers
Child’s first bond with the person who provides the most regular and steady child care
Stranger anxiety common between 5-10 months
Children are able to understand more than they can express verbally
Meeting the needs of children is the main parenting task at this age.
Predictable routines promote security
Children can sense parental conflict and are troubled by it even if they don’t understand the reasons

CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS IN DIVORCE

TODDLERS (18 MONTHS TO 3 YEARS)

DEVELOPMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS:

INDEPENDENCE

Negative, contrary behaviour, “terrible twos” is child’s way of developing into a unique individual.
Parent-child problems may begin to develop in response to child’s attempts at independence.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Primary bond with parents expands to include others.
Interactions with other children of same age begin. At first will compete with other children for the attention of adults. Later participate in side-by-side play.

CHILDREN’S DIVORCE ISSUES:

Child more concerned with having immediate needs met than with parent’s breakup.
Negative, demanding behaviour more likely due to normal development than “caused” by either parent.
Child will notice conflict between parents and appear nervous. May show problems in behaviour but not able to express anxiety verbally.
Insecurity about abandonment. Needs caring actions, not just verbal reassurance.

CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS IN DIVORCE

PRESCHOOLERS (3 YEARS TO 5 YEARS)

DEVELOPMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS:

MAGICAL THINKING

Confuse fantasy and reality.
Egocentric world view, exaggerated belief in own power.
Limited understanding of time, causality.

EXTERNAL SOURCE OF STABILITY

Develop an inner sense of security from the predictability of the environment.
Unable to understand that the distress in family is temporary and not connected to them at all.

CHILDREN’S DIVORCE ISSUES:

How parents and other significant people in children’s lives handle the divorce will affect how children will adjust.
Children will feel secure if their world is stable and predictable.
Keeping changes to a minimum is helpful.

CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS IN DIVORCE

EARLY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE (6 YEARS TO 8 YEARS)

DEVELOPMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Need for family and belonging is strong.
Family is the “anchor” for social exploration.
Persistent denial of reality of divorce and denial of own feelings.
Increased capacity for thinking may heighten worries about abandonment and rejection.

CHILDREN’S DIVORCE ISSUES:

Profound sense of loss and sadness.
Fears of becoming abandoned, rejected especially with involvement of new partners, step-siblings.
Worries about parent’s ability to cope, may take on “care-taking” role.
Wishes to have parents get back together.

CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS IN DIVORCE

OLDER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE (9 YEARS TO 12 YEARS)

DEVELOPMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Peer involvement becoming more important.
Greater involvement with world outside the family, such as school, friends, extra-curricular activities.
Increased ability to understand complex issues.
Wider variety of defenses:
denial of feelings, e.g. discusses upsetting things in an unemotional way.
displacement of feelings, e.g. fighting with peers when angry at parent.
rigid polarization, e.g. sees one parent as “good”, the other as “bad”.

CHILDREN’S DIVORCE ISSUES:

Explanation of divorce important, not able to “see for themselves”.
Need reassurance and support.
Takes on excessive responsibility for the family.
Tendency to become involved in adult conflicts.
Turning painful feelings to anger at parents, siblings and/or peers.

CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS IN DIVORCE

ADOLESCENTS (13 YEARS TO 18 YEARS)

DEVELOPMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Independence issues, psychological emancipation.
Moving away from family, developing own identity.
Thinking and language skills similar to adults, but emotional and moral development not comparable.
Mourning for loss of childhood, dependency may cause moodiness.
Handling sexual feeling.

ADOLESCENTS’ DIVORCE ISSUES:

Shocked by parental separation, critical of parents “failure”, feels embarrassed.
Loss of family base from which to move on toward independence.
Anger at one or both parents.
May take sides with one parent against the other, excessive responsibility.
Premature independence as a way to handle pain.
Fear of the future, fear of involvement in relationships.
Parenting plans must take into account teenager’s own school and social activities.

© Lena K. Jones

 
 


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Email: hgrabowski@barnessammon.ca
Lawyer: Hania E. Grabowski