How divorce affects kids

How divorce affects kids. That is the focus of my blog today. Current statistics tell us that 60% of marriages end in divorce. Only acts of war and the events of natural disasters are more harmful to a child’s psyche than the divorce process.” (The Newsletter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, summer 1997).

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I’ve helped many couples over the last 15 years to save their marriage. But in some occasions clients chose to end their marriage and go separate ways. In most cases the breakdown starts with lack of communication. Which can lead to lack of intimacy, extra-marital affairs, substance abuse and even domestic violence.


How divorce affects kids- Statistics

According to the article, as many as 60% of marriages end in divorce. Regardless of the socioeconomic status or cultural background a child has the potential to be affected long-term by the divorce of his or her parents. At the very least, most children experience short term developmental disruptions. They undergo a certain degree of emotional distress (Palosaari and Aro, 1994).

Children of divorces often exhibit certain psychological, social, academic and behavioral problems as well (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995). While some of these impacts are short term others are long term and can continue well into adulthood (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995).


How divorce effects kids- Age groups

The age of children matters very much when it comes to divorce. See it is not the same for all children and each age group in the divorce process because each has its own challenges (California study on divorce, Wallerstein and Kelly). The pre-dominant feelings were anger, anxiety, and fear of abandonment. There was a pervasive sense of loss. One-half of the children were tearful and moody. In addition, one-third showed depressive symptoms such as sleeplessness, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.

How divorce affects kids- preschoolers

For preschoolers, there might be fear of abandonment issues so it is key to provide them with additional reassurance and feelings of security. Younger children may regress developmentally. For example such as wetting the bed or sucking a finger.

Most sadness was experienced by 6 -8 year olds. They didn’t use the fantasy as younger children to avoid the reality. They missed their fathers intensely and were also grieving the loss. It is important to talk to them and acknowledge their intense feelings of grief and loss.


How divorce affects kids-Nine to twelve-year-olds

Nine to twelve-year-olds reacted predominantly with anger which was typically directed toward the parent who appeared responsible for the divorce. What may help is let them express their anger in a constructive way, including drawing and art therapy.

How divorce affects kids-Nine to twelve-year-olds

On the other hand, teenagers, thirteen to eighteen-year-olds, reported being angry with their parents who started dating again. Which they experienced as competition with their own emerging sexuality. They also felt anxiety about whether the break up and how this would affect their own relationships.

It is interesting to note that children who grew up in low-conflict marriages had a more difficult transition. It would appear they couldn’t understand why their parents are getting divorced. On the other hand, children in high-conflict marriages were somewhat relieved that their parents are separating. They felt some relief from tension and arguments.


How divorce affects kids-Summation

In summary, children can be severely affected as a result of the divorce. The key is for parents to provide nurturing and support. To put their differences aside and instead focus on the well-being of the children and learn about co-parenting. Consistency is extremely important. This is so that children don’t experience two set of rules which can be confusing for them.

This article was adopted from Bayside Continuing Education

For more information:

Paul R.; Loomis, Laura Spencer; Booth, Alan. (1995, Mar 1). Parental divorce, marital conflict, and offspring well-being during early adulthood. (Children and Generations), Social Forces.

Gillespie, Nick. (1997, Oct 1). The Divorce Culture: How Divorce Became an Entitlement and How It is Blighting the Lives of Our Children.(book reviews), Reason.

Parks, Paula Lynn. (1995, May 31). Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce, Health Quest: The Publication of Black Wellness


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