Jean Piaget was an early 20th-century child development psychologist who published the stages of intellectual and cognitive development in 1936. His theory claims that there are four age-specific stages in how a child learns and perceives the world around them.
And, the age between 2 and 4 is considered the worst age for divorce for children mostly, because this is the time when their parents play the most primal role in their growing up.
After all, a human child, according to Piaget, learns through observation and perception. It creates thought processes in their brain, based on the realities of its environment.
Depending on which stage the child is currently in, they learn different things which would influence their general mindset for the rest of their lives.
There are physical manifestations of divorce. Couples fight, argue, or ignore each other. They are depressed or angry, which can also manifest in different ways and the impact of divorce on a child is devastating.
If the parents are separated, the children are moved around different caretakers from strangers to other family members while their parents sort out their life. Children, especially the young adolescents, cannot accept this constant change in their familial surrounding and that is the worst age for divorce for children.
Children’s reactions to divorce by age
The effects of divorce on children varies from child to child. So it is quite impossible to conclude which is the worst age for divorce for children.
However, if we can use Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, we can speculate their perception based on their learning stage and the manifestations of divorce. And, we can deduce the impact of divorce on children.
Also, we can use that deduction to determine the worst age for divorce for children.
Piaget preoperational stage and divorce
The preoperational stage starts approximately at the age of two and lasts until the age of seven. If we are looking into possible effects of divorce on toddlers, this is the learning stage that we need to consider as the worst age for divorce for children.
The key features of the preoperational stage
It is a tendency to focus on one aspect of the situation at a time.
They may change focus quickly. But parallel thinking has not yet developed to allow thinkers to wonder about the complex matrix that may or may not affect a particular situation.
In simpler terms, one thing is literally one thing, such as food is for eating, only.
It doesn’t matter what kind of food it is, whether it’s dirty or not, or where it came from. Some children may also relate food to hunger. They feel hungry and have an inherent need to put things, food or otherwise, in their mouth to relieve it.
In a divorce scenario, if they see their parents fight, they will consider it a form of normal communication. If there is physical violence involved, then they will end up learning that such behavior is quite acceptable.
During this age, children fail to consider others’ point of views. It is also during this stage that a child will learn to step away from it and think about “other people” in their environment.
One of the most common divorce effects of children is their speculation that everything is their fault. The egocentric behavior manifesting during this stage would mean that everything, including their parental spat, is directly related to them.
It may or may not be accurate, but a child will definitely perceive it as truth, as this is the worst age for divorce for children.
During this stage, speech is developed to externalize the thoughts of the child. They are unable to understand complex concepts such as compromise and diplomacy.
However, they do learn that saying one thing or another evokes different responses from people. This would make them correlate speech and interaction with other people.
Also, it teaches them to lie to avoid invoking adverse reactions that they previously encountered after saying a particular phrase.
Parents, going through a divorce, constantly lie to their children, depending on whether it is the worst age for divorce for children or not.
In an effort to protect them from reality, parents usually resort to white lies. Some children pick up on it and learn to lie. It is one of the adverse effects of divorce on children.
4. Symbolic representation
They start to relate symbols, (spoken) words, and objects from one another. It is also here that they begin to recognize the importance of their caretakers. Their bonds with caretakers (not necessarily parents) become specific and not just instinctual.
They start to know that a particular individual takes care of them when they are hurt, hungry, or afraid.
Separation due to divorce creates a disconnect between the parent and child.
Then again, some happily married parents are too busy with other activities to bother with child-rearing. It is at this point a child decides who is the true mother hen in their lives.
Divorce leads to parents being in an unstable mental state such as depression or anxiety, or they are just not there due to separation. This parental behavior would influence the child to develop a parental attachment with others or no one at all.
Parents getting divorced at this age creates a barrier between parent and child.
5. Pretend play
This is the age when toddlers and children begin imaginative role-playing. They play and pretend as doctors, mothers, or magically enhanced ponies. Who they want to be is heavily influenced by their environment.
If they see adults, their parents, in particular, acting negatively as a natural outcome of a divorce, children would see that as the desired behavior among adults. If the kids are old enough to understand the meaning of divorce and parental separation, they would deeply retreat to pretend play as a defense mechanism.
It could lead to future psychological problems. What can be the worst age for divorce for children than this?
Other stages of Piaget child development
1. Sensorimotor Stage
This stage starts at birth until two years old.
The child focuses on controlling their muscles for motor movement. They alternate between their instinctive need to eat, sleep, and discharge waste and practicing motor control. They try to learn everything through observation and then attempt it through trial and error.
Divorce and its effect on children at this age are minimal.
If the parents can settle into a form of normalcy before the preoperational stage, the child will learn his unique situation among his peers, and the adverse effects will stem from there.
The effects of divorce on toddlers with regards to their motor development is trivial, but once they step into the preoperational stage, things change.
2. Concrete operational stage
This stage starts around seven until 11 years old.
Children coping with divorce at this age will understand the situation between their parents and how it directly affects their lives. And, in terms of the worst age for divorce for children, this stage comes in as a close second.
At this point, they are solidifying the logical and theoretical understanding of the world and their relationship to it.
A disruptive situation such as a divorce is confusing to traumatic for a child.
However, it will not be as bad as those affected during the preoperational stage.
3. Formal operational stage
This stage starts from adolescence until adulthood.
Kids and divorce is a bad mix, but children at this age are more self-aware and have begun building their own lives independent of their parental household.
In terms of the worst age for divorce for children, this comes in last. But there is no “good” age for divorce concerning your kids. Unless they are living with verbally, physically, and sexually abusive parent, there are no other positive effects of divorce on children.