Few people enter into marriage with the idea they will someday divorce. Once you have kids, the divorce process becomes even more difficult. Children may be resilient, but seeing their parents go their separate ways can be emotionally traumatic. However, many parents don’t take the time to consider how divorce affects young children. When you take the time to consider how your actions will impact the lives of your children, you can make the transition easier for them and encourage them to become well-adjusted adults who understand that relationships don’t always work out the way people want them to. Discover How Divorce Affects Children!
The older thinking in regard to divorce and children was that unhappy parents meant the children would be unhappy as well. On the flip side, if the parents were happier apart, the children would also be happier. In general, this idea may still hold true, but more recent studies of the affects of divorce on children have revealed that this isn’t necessarily the case. While parents should never stay in an unhealthy relationship for the sole reason of giving their children a two-parent household, it is important to realize that divorce isn’t necessarily the easier route to take. In fact, many parents and subsequently their children still feel unhappy after the divorce.
Even though there are many types of families today, children who have spent their entire lives in a two-parent household know this as their normal. This means there will be feelings of loss when the parents separate and ultimately divorce. For some children, these feelings of loss exist for a short period of time. Other children feel these effects for much longer. Allowing your child to work through these issues and talk about it is essential to ensure a healthy adjustment. It is important not to take some of these feelings and thoughts personally.
In the immediate aftermath of the divorce, it is common for children to experience short-term effects that will go away with time. Learning how divorce affects children in the short-term will prepare you for dealing with changes in behavior and other problems that may crop up during this volatile time. Some of the common short-term side effects that occur for a shorter period of time include:
- Lashing out in anger
- Increased dependency
- Low self-esteem
Many of these behaviors are part of the adjustment period. The children must adjust to switching between households based on the custody schedule. They may be moving into a new home or changing schools. Some children may even have to make the adjustment from being with a parent at all times to going to day care on a daily basis because a stay-at-home parent can no longer afford to stay home. All of these adjustments will take time before these behaviors level off and normalize again.
While many of these short-term effects are unavoidable, it is important for parents to take whatever steps they can to help their child overcome this adjustment period and curb as many of the behaviors as possible. Parents can help this adjustment period go more smoothly by:
- Handling divorce-related conflict and anger appropriately
- Maintaining a solid parental relationship with the child, whether the custodial or the non-custodial parent
- Providing a support system to the child, which may include therapy or time with other family members
Other factors that can influence how long these effects last and which symptoms occur include the personality of the child, as well as age and sex.
Understanding the short-term effects is important, but learning how divorce affects children over the long-term is just as important. In fact, because these effects are more likely to shape the child’s future, especially the relationships he or she will enter into in adulthood, it can be even more important to understand these effects and how to handle them. No parent wants to see their child become a confused adult that falls into patterns of abusive relationships or solitude.
After five years, many children still harbor anger and resentment against both parents or the parent they perceive was at fault for the divorce. If one parent is not as involved in the child’s life at this point, there can be feelings of abandonment and longing for the absent parent. Many children also envision their parents getting back together, even in situations where it is no longer feasible, such as one or both parents have moved on to new relationships.
By 10 years, more children are willing to accept that divorce was the correct decision, but may still resent one or both parents. However, they will also feel stronger and more independent as a result of all they have gone through. Despite this positive effect, many children will also experience negative long-term effects, such as:
- Fear of abandonment and rejections, which can lead to relationship problems.
- Increased anxiety
- Vulnerability to loss
- Anger and aggression
- Psychological problems
- Poor life satisfaction
- Delinquent behaviors
- Fear of commitment
- Lack of trust in relationships
Fortunately, not all children exhibit these negative long-term effects. Some children are able to adjust and learn from their parents’ mistakes so they can move on to have better relationships as they grow. Some children find they have more conservative moral views and take a more traditional view of marriage, striving to make their own marriages work so they can avoid the same situation for their own children.
Much research has been done over the years to find out how divorce affects young children versus older children, as well as what common effects there may be. Some parents think divorcing when their children are young is best so they don’t remember much of it and the divorce situation becomes their new normal. Others feel they should stick together for the sake of the kids. Unfortunately, neither option is ideal. Young children often have a close connection with both parents and can be damaged from the separation. Remaining in a volatile relationship is also not healthy for the kids and can negatively shape their view of relationships, putting them in a similar situation when they grow up.
For this reason, researchers have placed importance on determining what effects divorce can have on children and how parents can make this transition easier. Knowing what to look for can help parents create a better environment and help their children adjust into healthy adults with a good outlook on life. Some significant findings include:
- Poor performance in school, even for students who were previously doing well
- Behavioral problems that can have a negative impact on academics and social relationships
- Higher likelihood of not graduating from high school or being incarcerated
- Being five times more likely to live in poverty due to income loss
- Increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse and early sexual activity
- More illnesses and slower recovery times
- Increased risk of child abuse
It is incredibly common for children of divorce to suffer psychologically from the experience. They will feel an array of emotions regarding this aspect of their lives well into adulthood. In fact, the way their parents handle divorce colors their view of the world in general and more specifically, relationships.
How Can Parents Help?
After learning more about the positive and negative effects of divorce on children, it is important for parents to learn how the can help their children adjust and reduce the risks of the negative effects taking hod for long periods of time. Some of the things you can do to help your child learn to cope with the idea of divorce and the aftermath include:
- Seeing a counselor, both together and individually, to learn coping skills and express feelings in a safe environment
- Discussing feelings and thoughts with your child
- Answering questions in an age-appropriate manner
- Agreeing to and maintaining a consistent visitation plan that gives your child time with both parents to promote healthy relationships
- Reassuring your child that it is not his fault and you both still love him just as much and will be there for him
- Maintaining a cordial relationship with the other parent for the sake of your child
- Establishing a support system for your child, which can include friends in similar situations and relatives he can trust to talk to
- Maintaining a routine for your child
- Getting him involved in extra activities to help him focus his energy elsewhere
There are many things you can do to help your child adjust after your divorce. However, if you don’t understand how divorce affects children, you may not even realize there is a problem. While it is important for parents to do whatever they can to fix their marriage before making the final decision to file for divorce. If you determine that divorce is the only answer, taking your child’s needs and the potential effects of your divorce on their future is essential. When you put your child first during your divorce, you give him the best chance at adjusting well with minimal long-term impact on his life