There's never a good time to get divorced -- and there's no doubt the children has an impact on children, but a new study suggests it may be more difficult for younger children.
It seems obvious that divorce rocks a child's world. Their routine is gone, and the safety net seems lifted -- but researchers at Georgetown University say changing the family structure before a child is five years old can be even more influential because those are the years when children learn attachment.
"From when they are a baby to a toddler -- 'I am safe, the world is a safe place. My parents love me. I can try new things and that's okay,' that's what attachment is all about," explained professional counselor Miriam Itkowitz.
The study continues, saying infants and toddlers require more intensive parenting and supervision than older children. Crucial brain development occurs during those first years, and fundamental attachments are formed with parents during that time as well.
According to therapists, that means divorce can break the natural progression for children.
"If you are learning to ride a bike, first you have a big wheel with some big foundations," said Itkowitz. "Then, you have training wheels. Then, a two-wheeler. Life works like that. So, if a toddler is still in that training-wheel stage -- if you change things and take away training wheels -- it's unbalancing."
Elizabeth Royster, of Crosstown Counseling, says the off-kilter feelings often manifest in misbehavior, adding that children who are younger often act out because they are not old enough to express themselves.
"They may not have the communication skills or the words to say it, so they are going to act out about the transition and the change -- the chaos in the house," Royster said.
Still, Royster said there are some steps parents can take to help children cope with the divorce.
"Maintain your connection. Spend time with them," she recommends. "Create opportunities for those relationships. Be very clear and concrete on what's happening. If you don't know what's going to happen in the future, don't make promises you can't keep."
Itkowitz also recommends making sure that children are not present during discussions between parents, and reinforcing with the child that the divorce did not occur because of them.
"Sometimes, I think therapy can be very helpful," she added.
Those steps should continue as the child grows to create a new routine and a sense of security.
Despite the special significance of the early years in a child's development, the family therapists who spoke with FOX 9 News warn that trying to put off a divorce until children grow up could be even more detrimental.