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Can a parent's divorce stress affect their infants or toddlers?

Some parents choose to try to stay in a volatile marriage because they fear that getting divorced is going to harm the children. These parents might not realize that staying in a marriage fraught with abuse, even if the abuse is emotional and not physical, can be damaging to the children because they begin to view the horrible actions as part of a normal relationship.

There are many negative ways that living in a home that's filled with stress can harm children. Infants and toddlers might be deeply impacted by the stress that comes with a contentious marriage or divorce, even if they don't really know what's going on.

How does traumatic stress affect infants and toddlers?

Growing up in a home that is filled with stress can cause the child's stress response systems to develop abnormally. It can also impact the immune system and could potentially lead to significant health challenges when they become adults even if their adult life isn't filled with stress.

A child who lives their formative years surrounded by traumatic stress that's often involved in a dysfunctional home can suffer from mental illness. They might make attempts at suicides and become dependent on addictive substances when they get older. They're at an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease.

A high level of stress during the childhood years is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders. There's also an increased risk of heart disease. These are present even if they don't have a lot of stress during their adult years.

How can parents alleviate these risks?

Be sure that you don't equate the divorce with massive amounts of stress right away. In some cases, remaining in the marriage will be more stressful than walking away. If you do decide to divorce, try to keep the divorce matters away from the children. This is a good policy to follow regardless of their age since they don't really need to know all the details about their parents' split.

When you divorce your child's other parent, you won't be through dealing with them. You'll still have to handle normal parenting matters. Try to start the process off by showing them respect since this might reduce the contention and make it easier to work as a parenting team in the future.

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