Positive tools for thriving families.

Divorce can be a significant life stressor for children and teens that can trigger anxiety in multiple ways. Children are resilient and the research indicates that most children of divorce fare well. Nevertheless, even healthy, typical divorces can lend themselves to heightened anxiety because of the a major life transition. Moving homes, changing schools, shuttling back and forth between two homes, changes in routines, and even rotations in caretakers can be very stressful for children and teenagers. The increased stress and multiple simultaneous changes can result in heightened anxiety, which if not paid attention to, could blossom into more severe anxiety disorders. Hence, early interventions can prevent anxiety disorders in children and teens.

Anxiety in children and teenagers can exhibit itself in a variety of behaviors, and parents and teachers should be mindful of changes in mood, responses, and attitudes in the home and the classroom. Anxiety can be tricky to recognize, particularly in young children and teenagers, as it can mask itself and present in unusual ways that are not easily identifiable, and sometimes even misleading. Hence, it is important for adults to increase their awareness and recognition of varying presentations of distress, so that they can intervene early and hopefully prevent the further exacerbation of symptoms. Some typical markers of anxiety to pay attention to include:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Increase in irritability
  • Increase in anger
  • Increase in fearfulness
  • Difficulty in focus and attention
  • Increase in temper tantrums
  • Increase in opposition and defiance
  • Increase in arguments
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased difficulties in friendships
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Bed wetting
  • Poor or inconsistent academic performance
  • Decrease in motivation
  • Separation difficulties

Although the above are possible indicators for anxiety, in a situation of divorce some children and teenagers may be further burdened by strong feelings of confusion, anger, blame, and guilt. They may be unable or unwilling to express these feelings given the complicated family situation, which can exacerbate their sense of helplessness, confusion, worry, and anxiety. Hence, it is important that the adults noticing these changes in the child’s or teenager’s behaviors, mood, and attitude further explore underlying feelings of loss, grief, helplessness, guilt, blame, and anger that could be fueling the anxiety.

Divorce and anxiety often occur simultaneously and are not uncommon experiences for children and teenagers living in the U.S., where approximately 50% of marriages end up in divorce. Most children are resilient and can overcome the major life stressor of divorce and cope well. Nevertheless, it is important for parents and teachers to increase their awareness and attention to the anxiety children are likely to experience during this major life transition. Recognizing the markers of anxiety, exploring underlying feelings related to the divorce, and providing appropriate early intervention and support will enhance your child’s and teenager’s adaptation, coping, and resiliency. Although divorce may not be easy for children to process or adapt to, early interventions can help enormously in ensuring your children will continue to thrive during and after this significant life change.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eighteen − 1 =

  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf