Divorce can have profound effects on children. This post will explore the many different ways divorce effects the lives of our kids. Typically, kids seem to struggle the most within the first year. According to research, “kids are likely to experience distress, anger, anxiety, and disbelief” during the following months after divorce. Suddenly, there are many changes in the child’s life that he or she needs to adapt to. For example, they will need to get used to new living arrangements and a disruption in daily routine. For example, many kids struggle with changing schools and moving to a new city. However, these kids will eventually adapt to their new environments, according to recent studies.
Children of divorce often struggle emotionally with the thought of their parents breaking up. It doesn’t seem to matter how old the child is when the divorce occurs. To clarify, divorce can have a negative impact on any child, regardless of their age at the time of parental separation. For instance, small children may begin to question their parents love for them. They oftentimes wonder, “If mommy and daddy stop loving one another, will they stop loving me too?”. Children in grade school may even believe that they are the reason, or cause, of the divorce. They seem to feel that somehow, the divorce is their fault. Some may fear their misbehavior caused their parents to separate. Teenagers, however, may react more angrily. He or she may blame one or both parents for the dissolution of their family.
It’s important to remember that, when studying children of divorce, every situation is unique. Not every child will fall in the same category. For instance, there are some children who are actually relieved that their parents are getting a divorce. Research suggests, “In extreme circumstances, a child may feel relieved by the separation—if a divorce means fewer arguments and less stress.” I am the child of divorced parents. My parents divorced when I was four. Actually, I remember being relieved when my parents divorced! For me, it symbolized a more peaceful environment. I no longer had to listen to the many arguments between my parents. This positive change helped me get used to my new life after the divorce. Luckily, I had a pretty smooth transition.
Many families also face financial hardships following a divorce. According to research, “Changing schools, moving to a new home, and living with a single parent who feels a little more frazzled are just a few of the additional stressors that make divorce difficult.” On average, more children end up living with their mothers. This can have a negative effect on their relationship with their fathers. As a result, children may feel less of an attachment to their dads.
All of these environmental changes can have a large impact on mental health. Research has shown that kids from divorced parents have a higher risk of depression and anxiety; regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, and culture. According to research, “Divorce may trigger adjustment disorder in children that resolves within a few months. But, studies have also found depression and anxiety rates are higher in children from divorced parents.” Kids from divorced families often experience behavioral problems, such as: delinquency, conduct disorders, as well as impulsive behavior. Children may also run into conflict with peers from time to time. Personally speaking, I often felt uncomfortable in certain after-school situations, such as Back to School Night and choir recitals. I still have memories of being annoyed when my friends asked me why I only had one parent (my mom) with me and not two. I felt sort of “out of place” and “awkward” during those after school events; but that was the only negative experience I had when I recall my parents divorce. Eventually, I moved past the situation, and adapted quite easily to my new environment.
These are just a few psychological effects divorce can have on children. Divorce can also lead to problems in academic performance, leading some to turn to alcohol and illicit drugs. There are also adjustment issues if (or when) their parents remarry. In case you were wondering, both of my parents have remarried. Growing up, I had to deal with my blended families: those families oftentimes mean new step siblings, half-siblings, as well as new aunts, uncles, and cousins. Many children can feel overwhelmed in this situation, and it is understandable.
So here’s the million dollar question: What are some strategies we can use to reduce the stress of divorce on kids? Some strategies are as follows: coparent peacefully, never put your kids in the middle, help your child feel more secure and loved, and consider seeking a counselor; either for you, your child, or both of you. If your child needs professional help following a divorce, consider “talk therapy”. Studies show talk therapy, as well as support groups can greatly benefit your child’s mental health. Talk-therapy can enable your child to be more open and honest with their feelings. Support groups geared towards children of divorced parents can enable them to meet other kids that are in similar situations. If you wish to seek professional support for your child, and are unsure of where to start, a good idea would be to ask his or her pediatrician for a referral to a mental health professional. If you or someone you love is in need of behavioral counseling, book an appointment with us today. We are here to help.