Divorce Effects on Children - Conflict

Effects of conflict

To fully understand the divorce effects on children, we need to examine the issue of parental conflict.

Children need supportive co-parenting; this means that parents must cooperate sufficiently well to see that the children's needs are met.

The children do not need parents who fight and argue with each other in front of the children, or fight "through the children&dquo; by criticizing the absent parent in front of the children, or saying somethinh like &dquo;You're just like your Father/Mother.&dquo; This indirectly holds the message that since the custodial parent has &dquo;expelled&dquo; the absent parent from their life for being &dquo;bad,&dquo; it stands to reason that the child too could be &dquo;bad&dquo; and be expelled from home as well.

One study on divorce effects on children found that 66% of parental interactions after the divorce were marked by anger and conflict. Conflict drops significantly after the first 2 years for most divorced families, but for another 25% the level of stress after 2 years remains similar to the level of distress of just after the divorce.

Witnessing conflict between the parents has disruptive effects on children of divorce.

These children are more likely to have behavioral and emotional disturbances, suffer social and interpersonal problems, and show impairment in their thought and reasoning processes. Studies dating back to the 1930's have consistently shown this.

Numerous studies show how prolonged marital conflict is a very good predictor of child behavior problems. Parental conflict is more likely to lead to emotional and behavioral problems if it continues after divorce.

Escalation of conflict

When conflict escalates to physical levels, the children are 500% to 600% more likely to have severe behavioral problems, and much more likely to be abused themselves as well.

Why would conflict, even only verbal conflict, have these divorce effects on children? Children are like sponges in some ways, and easily &dquo;soak up&dquo; the emotions around them, especially when the arguments center on them, their behavior, and their needs.

They become overwhelmed and confused, and may feel a need to side with one parent or intervene to stop the arguing. Their adrenaline levels are elevated, their heart rate increases, and their blood pressure rises. As noted, when depression or alcohol use in a parent reaches clinically significant levels, serious problems become much more likely.

When the parents show better emotional adjustment after the divorce, this has possitive effects on children of divorce. When parents are able to argue over some child-rearing issue, reach an agreement, and stick to the compromise, children show much less anxiety, insecurity, and distress. It is as if the two &dquo;pillars&dquo; that support their world remain steady this way.

Divorce effects on children from higher SES (socio-economic status) families also showed better adjustment. It would appear that adequate financial support can have a buffering effect. Said diferently, higher SES families don't have the additional stress that a lower standard of living can cause, and may be able to use financial resources to free up more time to heal through rituals (e.g., Friday night movies and pizza), greater exposure to extended family.

It may be that having more financial resources, vacation time, etc… makes it easier for the children to spend time with each parent, and for the parents to get psychological help when needed.

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