How divorce affects children

How divorce affects children? Well, in multiple ways. Divorce is almost always stressful for children. Most children do not want their parents to separate.

A divorce affects children and the parent-child relationships and may lead to a lost contact with one parent, economic hardships, and increased conflict between parents. For all these reasons, most children have a hard time during the divorce transition.

How long the transition lasts depends upon on how calm or how chaotic you and your ex make it. Parents who do a good job managing the stresses of divorce for children often are surprised by how quickly their kids make the adjustment.

Divorce increases the risk children will suffer from psychological and behavioral problems. Troubled children can develop problems with anger, disobedience, rule violations and bad school achievements.

Other children become sad, depressed, anxious, or become perhaps overly responsible kids who end up caring for their parents instead of getting cared for by them.

However, the great majority of children whose parents divorce do not develop these kinds of serious behavioral or emotional problems. Most children from divorced families are resilient: they are not “children of divorce”, but just kids.

They still report painful memories and ongoing worries about divorce, their relationships with their parents, and their parents' relationship with each other. You may not be able to fully protect your children from the pain of divorce, and you probably shouldn't try. Children are entitled to their feelings.

Children need to be allowed to grieve. How divorce affects children is for instance in the parenting style. Whiteside and Becker, in the March 2000 Journal of Family Psychology, note that what seems to matter most is helping children adjust in the two years after the divorce. To minimise the negative effects and how divorce affects the children in general is for the children to experience an authoritative style of parenting.

Research has generally found this to be the most effective kind of parenting. Authoritative parents are able to provide structure but still remain flexible. They can allow the children to make some decisions on their own, while still maintaining parental control over the situation.

This kind of parenting is marked by flexibility and good consistency, coupled with emotional warmth. Parents showing an authoritative style are more likely to show active coping behaviors, feel more self-efficacy, and seek out and receive more social support.

How divorce affects children and what you can do to help the children adjust:

  • The child must be able to move between the custodial and non-residential parent's homes without guilt. This means no dirty looks or conflict about the visit. Unless this begins early on, it will be difficult to establish the child's connection to the non-residential parent as "safe" to continue.
    Conflicts and arguments over holiday visits, "idealizing" the other parent and announcing a desire to live with them during conflict, and resentment of the step-father are less likely to happen too.
  • The two parents must respect each other's rules and values. While they may not have been able to agree in marriage, they must be able to do so in divorce. A consistent bedtime, and rules about off-limit foods and television shows, indicates to a child that their world is still stable and dependable.
  • Maintaining the number of positive events in the child's life (for example, involvement in after-school activities) is crucial in how divorce affects children. They offer that stable events and schedules help the child feel their world is predictable and dependable. Although parents may feel and think differently, increases in positive events, such as increased recreational time with father (e.g., "Disneyland Dads") did not necessarily lead to better adjustment in children.
  • Parents must not fight in front of the children. Increasing arguments between parents is one of the negative events that Sandler and colleagues found to predict poor adjustment after divorce.
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