The Effect of Divorce on Early Childhood Development

Divorce can be a traumatizing experience for the entire family, and the effects are especially felt by any children involved. Kids in the stages of early childhood development are especially vulnerable since it is a time of rapid change and learning, but an awareness of how your child can be affected can help you to be prepared. However, the University of Missouri Extension recommends that your child see his doctor if you observe any signs of stress, such as loss of appetite, changes in sleep, or headaches.


Children are particularly vulnerable to emotional trauma. Your child might blame herself for the divorce, regardless of the actual cause, and react with aggression, anger or anxiety. A divorce can affect how she feels about herself and cause her to become more emotionally dependent.


In early childhood, your child learns the basics needed to create meaningful relationships and learns to cooperate with others. If one or both of parents becomes busy or depressed as a result of the divorce, it can result in being less responsive to the child’s needs, which is particularly negative during infancy when attachment and bonding is necessary for healthy development 2. Peter Haiman, Ph.D. states that an emotional attachment to a primary caregiver is very important during the first six years of life, and any disturbance can cause problems with how your child learns to relate to and trust others.

Physical and Language

Physical developments such as growth and motor skills aren’t likely to be affected by divorce unless there is severe neglect involved, such as confinement or inadequate nutrition. However, Peter Haiman, Ph.D. indicates that the drastic change of a divorce can cause some children who were previously potty trained to lose bladder and bowel control and can cause verbal children to become quiet or start stuttering. These developmental setbacks will likely go back to normal after your child adjusts to the changes brought on by divorce.


According to Dean McKay, Ph.D., both parents working in the best interest of kids minimizes the negative impacts. Respond to your child’s needs with predictability and sensitivity, and avoid saying negative things about the other parent. The University of Missouri Extension recommends setting reasonable limits and providing consistent routines to make things easier for your child to adjust 3.