Growing up is complicated enough on its own. Having parents divorce can make it even harder. To avoid the psychological effects of divorce on children, parents should go through the process gracefully.
How Children Perceive the Parents’ Divorce
The emotional impact of divorce on children can vary greatly, depending on their age. However, while adults are typically more prepared for what's about to come, it is a whole new experience for children. In many cases, it can be confusing and terrifying.
Kids are the ones that experience the most significant discomfort from their parent's divorce. Typically, new living arrangements cause a lot of stress and confusion for this age group. They cannot understand why their family is being separated and why their parents suddenly stopped loving each other.
Middle school-aged children often believe that their parents' divorce is somehow their fault. Without the proper explanation, such kids often experience extreme guilt.
Teenagers usually understand what's happening, and their most common reaction is anger. The divorce is interfering with their daily lives, and that becomes a reason for rage. It is common for teenagers to try and point fingers, blaming one of the parents for causing a divorce.
Factors That Influence the Psychological Effects
While a couple is ending their marriage, many aspects can influence the kids. One factor is the child’s age. The older the child is, the more developed their nervous system is to deal with stressful situations.
The Hoyt et al. (1990) report claims that kids often form different responses to their parents' divorce depending on the age group. For example, kids who are 7-8 years old often experience grieving and sadness. At the same time, an older age group (9-10) gravitates more towards feelings of anger, loneliness, and embarrassment.
The same study showed that if parents divorced while their kids were little, the effects could last even when they're teenagers. The second factor of influence is parental absence. According to McLanahan, Tach, and Schneider, the loss of a parental figure can lead to significant psychological effects.
Such kids tend to show worse social and emotional development and more regularly put themselves in risky situations. The study also proved that the absence of a parent after divorce could become a more triggering factor than death.
The lack of a father in a child's life can cause a substantial negative impact. If a mother leaves a child after the divorce, the negative consequences can worsen, especially for kids in Western cultures. As a result, such children can later develop severe anxiety or depression disorders.
Possible Consequences for Kids Whose Parents Got Divorced
Depending on the child's age and their parent's divorce circumstances, they might face different consequences. Some of the most common ones include the following:
Increased risk of developing mental disorders. Children whose parents got divorced are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, or other types of mental disorders. Kids face many challenges while growing up, and their parents' divorce only adds extra tension in most cases.
Increased chance of developing behavioral problems. Kids who grow up in full families (with both parents) are less likely to indulge in impulsive or aggressive behavior. At the same time, kids with divorced parents have more difficulties communicating with their peers.
Possible drop-in academics. An excellent academic performance takes a lot of focus. It is rather hard to stay focused during the parents' divorce. Such kids often struggle with their studies.
Increased chance of addiction development. Children of divorce have a higher tendency to engage in substance usage at an early age. Quite often, it results in a severe addiction. Such children also tend to start having sexual experiences at an earlier age than their peers.
Impacts of Divorce on a Child With Disabilities
CerebralPalsy.org reports that if a couple has a child with special needs, the probability of their divorce grows by 10%. Children with physical or mental disabilities have quite a few problems to think of other than their parents' divorce. That’s why such events usually tend to cause them more distress.
Typically, in a household with a disabled child, their parents are the primary caregivers and provide the majority of assistance. This means that such children rely on their parents emotionally and physically, some for the rest of their lives.
So how to protect such children from the harmful impact of the divorce process? You should consider the severity of the child's case, whether it is a mental or physical disability. Also, try to treat them just as you would any other child in a similar situation.
Ensure they understand that the divorce is not their fault and both parents will love them just the same. Be open to any questions your child might ask, don't lie or try to avoid answering.
Ways to Prevent Long Term Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children
A traumatizing experience like parents' divorce can make a child unintentionally carry the burden for the rest of their life. People who experienced such events with their parents usually try to avoid making the same mistake with their kids. Here are some things to consider to help children adapt to life during and after the divorce:
Avoid putting kids in the middle. Being a parent means that you should think about your kids during the divorce and not compete with your spouse. Doing so will only result in your child being traumatized. Don't try to be a "better parent" or persuade your kid that you love them more than your spouse. It is also wrong to use your child as a communicator between you and your partner. Such behavior might traumatize your child and cause them anxiety and depression in the future.
Co-parenting. Constant yelling and conflicts between parents will do their child no good. Try to find a mutual understanding and a civil way to communicate with your spouse. Even if you have conflicts, protect your child from seeing them.
Make the discipline consistent. Both parents should be on the same team regarding their child's discipline. It’s common for many parents to make up for the other parent's absence by letting children behave as they want. Consistency in discipline could reduce the chances of the child engaging in delinquent behavior later.
Spend more time with your child. Parents getting divorced can bring a lot of confusion to a child. Try to explain how things are and that you and your spouse's attitude towards the child won't change. By knowing the truth, your child won't resort to overthinking and will be able to see things for what they are.
Help your children cope with the situation. Divorce can cause lots of emotions, and it is the parent's job to teach their children how to manage them.
It is important to remember that parents' separation and divorce can become a traumatizing experience in children's lives. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will happen. Sometimes a divorce can do good if the family situation has been unhealthy from the start. It is essential to provide kids with maximum attention and all the necessary explanations during the divorce.