Can Divorce Cause PTSD In A Child?

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As a marriage breaks down, some parents wonder, “Can we stay together for the kids?” Divorce is the only choice for some parents.

Although it can seem/sound exaggerated to say that your child has PTSD as a result of your divorce, post-divorce trauma is very real. Divorce is one of the most traumatic experiences a child can go through, second only to a parent’s death.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health condition that develops following a traumatic incident. There may be a real or potential risk of injury or death as a direct result of PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that affects certain people after they have been through a traumatic, frightening, or dangerous incident. This can include things like:

  • observing a loved one deteriorate due to illness
  • Assault, either physical or sexual or verbal
  • divorce (whether you are witnessing or going through a divorce)
  • accidents (car crashes)
  • natural disasters such as tsunami, earthquakes, floods, and fires
  • Bereavement of a loved one, such as being separated from their primary caregiver
  • violent crime including street crime like shooting or snatch theft

It’s natural to be scared during and after a traumatic event. Fear causes a slew of split-second changes in the body to help protect against or prevent threat. This “fight-or-flight” response is a normal reaction designed to keep a person away from harm. After a traumatic event, almost all will have a variety of responses, but the majority of people will recover spontaneously from the initial symptoms. Those who continue to have issues can be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even when they are not in danger, people with PTSD may feel overwhelmed or afraid.

That incident may be an accident in which an individual is involved or witnesses, a tragic event such as the daily news coverage of bombings, conflicts, and plain accidents, or a family situation in which a child’s or family member’s safety is jeopardized. The loss of a loved one or a pet, or the divorce of a child’s parents, are examples of compromised situations. We also believe that we should protect a child from such suffering; however, this is not always possible.

A caring parent may attempt to clarify the family’s hostility to their child. In many families, divorce is openly debated, with swearing, crying, throwing objects, slamming doors, or the unspoken case of a parent not coming home or staying in another bedroom. How can you understand how their safe haven has devolved into a battleground? But the impact of divorce is not solely emotional. Divorce also can impact kids physically, psychologically, and academically.

Divorce has less repercussions for parents who are mindful of these consequences and take action to help their children not only deal with the situation but also recover from it. 

In reality, research shows that the psychological and emotional effects of divorce may last far into adulthood. For example, researchers at the University of Toronto discovered that men whose parents divorced during their childhood were more than three times as likely as men whose parents never divorced to consider suicide. Likewise, adult children of divorce also may be vulnerable to drug and alcohol use in adolescence, have fears about commitment and divorce, and have negative memories of the legal system that forced custody and visitation.

This reliving of the incident, as well as the fear of losing control over their own and their family’s safety, can lead to PTSD. Symptoms that you should be aware of in your child include the following:

  • Having recurring, unwelcome memories and flashbacks of the traumatic incident
  • Disturbing dreams about the traumatic incident 
  • Physical reactions or extreme emotional distress triggered by things that remind you of the event
  • Avoiding people, places, and objects that remind you of the event
  • Trying to avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic event
  • Negative shifts in how you think about the world or about yourself 
  • Detachment and a lack of interest in your daily pleasures, as well as other negative mood shifts 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of overwhelming remorse or shame 
  • Always on the lookout
  • Quickly startled or terrified
  • Acting or feeling as if the fighting, screaming, crying, and, worst of all, the lack of communication

A child who is unsure about their safety, their home, their future, and the future of their family will find it difficult to communicate their feelings. This could be seen in the child’s sleeping habits, such as tossing and turning and being unable to fall or remain asleep. A child’s inability to sleep can lead to a whole slew of other issues, including difficulty concentrating in school, staying concentrated long enough to grasp a new concept, dropping or failing grades, and/or a personality shift. Children who are rarely angry tend to become angry more often or more easily, and they can express their frustration and sadness physically, such as by fighting.

A child can have recurring dreams about his or her parents arguing, threatening each other, and the home being constantly tense.

When a child enters the front door, it is not uncommon for them to recall the chaos in their home, and in their minds’ eye, they see the violence or hear the words over and over again.

While parents are working on themselves or their relationship, it’s common for children to be left alone. The parent might not be tracking the games played or the peers with which the child interacts, and the television is the most readily available babysitter. Sex, infidelity, divorce, abuse, drugs, and foul language are all depicted in an increasing number of television shows.

When a child sees a parent cry, their first instinct is to try to help, but they can’t in the case of divorce. The parent may also go the other way and focus all of their attention on the child, creating a sense of suffocation or, worse still, the impression that the child is being relied on to solve the parent’s problems. 

When parents are actively arguing with one another on a daily basis, PTSD develops.

When parents become more unstable, PTSD grows. The home no longer functions as it once did. Divorcing parents aren’t always able to think as clearly as they were before they decided to divorce.

When it comes to children’s academic performance, research has consistently shown that children who have divorced parents receive lower grades than their peers. Statistics on the educational impact of divorce have backed up these claims over time.

However, according to a 2019 report, these results are more likely to occur in families where the divorce was unexpected. The effect on academics was less noticeable in families with high tension or where divorce is anticipated, according to the report. Academics may be affected by divorce for a variety of reasons. Kids, for example, will miss class time due to court dates and will have to change schools after the divorce is finalized.

Since they are either living with one parent or bouncing between two households, they may receive less parental involvement and direction in their education.

Then, in collaboration with teachers and counselors, parents should develop a strategy to help their children excel in school, regardless of what is going on at home. This could include assisting with homework, forming study groups, or even using tutoring services. Their teachers should also be able to make suggestions about how to deal with the educational issues they are facing.

The Collaborative Divorce

There is a way to lessen the chances that a child will experience divorce as a stressful event that leads to a significant mental health condition. The Collaborative Divorce is what it’s called.

A Collaborative Divorce may not eliminate the pain that is a natural reaction to the end of a relationship, but it does help to alleviate the worries that are a natural reaction for a child whose parents are divorcing. No one ever asks a child if he wants his parents to separate or if he wants his parents to divorce.

When parents decide to divorce, their first responsibility is to their child. How will a child be informed of the divorce and see their parents settling their affairs in a respectful and, hopefully, friendly manner?

Now, can divorce cause PTSD in a child? Yes, it is possible for a child to develop PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If parents make the correct decision and prioritize their children’s needs during the divorce process, during the divorce process, and, of course, over time.

As a result, you must work hard not only during the transition but also in the years afterwards to provide solid, reliable care for your children.

It’s important for parents to be reassuring, regardless of the reason for the divorce. Children thrive because they are certain that their parents will remain their parents. They need to know that even if their parents’ marriage is ending, they will still have parents who want to be involved in their lives.

The most successful parents would strike a balance between coping with the divorce and their feelings while still loving their children in the process. While you can understand why you are divorcing, keep in mind that your children may be confused. By focusing on fulfilling their needs along the way, they will be able to learn to deal with the situation in a healthier way.


At what age is a child most affected by divorce?

6–12 years old in elementary school This is arguably the most difficult age for children to deal with their parents’ separation or divorce. That’s because they’re old enough to recall the happy times (or happy feelings) you shared as a family.

Does a 5 year old understand divorce?

Younger children, such as 5- to 8-year-olds, do not grasp the idea of divorce and believe that their parents are divorcing them. They may be concerned about losing their father (if they live with their mother) and wish for their parents to reconcile.

How does divorce affect a child’s social development?

Children are more likely to struggle emotionally when their parents split. Bad emotions, low self-esteem, behavioral issues, anxiety, depression, and mood disorders are more common in divorced children.

What are the therapies available for PTSD in this divorce situation?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).  When it comes to treating PTSD, CBT is often the first option, particularly when coping with the long-term effects of childhood traumas in adults. The American Psychiatric Association suggests a 12-session recovery plan for PTSD.

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