The Effects of Divorce on Children

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There is a great deal of personal, anecdotal evidence about the effects of divorce. Still, research by both psychologists and sociologists has provided many important insights into the short- and long-term problems that children face when marriages, and families, break up.

In the last several years, various college professors have done what are called "meta analyses," that is, studies of other studies. They were seeking to determine what the overall conclusions were based on the reports and the research. The findings are fascinating, if somewhat saddening.

Children's initial reactions to divorce

Naturally, divorce is a very stressful experience for everyone in the family, particularly children. One study from 1980 showed that under 10% of children felt supported by adults other than relatives while the worst part of the divorce was under way. Common problems for children at these times are the sense of vulnerability, grief reactions to losing an intact family and feelings of powerlessness.

Divorce is not like losing a grandparent or other family tragedies. In divorces, almost exclusively, children are hit with the loss of support systems, as a result of the unwillingness or ignorance of adults to offer other kinds of support.

Response of children at different ages

Over the past 30 to 40 years, a great deal of evidence has accumulated to show common reactions to divorce based on age group. Preschoolers ages 3 to 5 may slip back ("regress") from a recent developmental achievement, and suffer from sleep disturbances. The also tend to show great fear of losing the non-custodial parent ("separation anxiety").

Children from 5 to 8 are more likely to grieve openly over the departed parent. This age group also showed a strong preoccupation with replacement fantasies, with daydreams and "wishes" that their parents might reunite soon. The idea of a permanent change is difficult for children in this age range. From 8 to 11, the dominant responses are anger and powerlessness. In these children there is a tendency to label parents "good" and "bad," as well.

Adolescents have serious reactions

Adolescents between ages 12 and 18 are likely to respond to their parents' divorce with depression, ideas of suicide and occasionally violent episodes of "acting out." At this age, they start considering the moral issues of divorce and often judge the decisions of their parents. Adolescents are much more likely, too, to become anxious and afraid about their future relationships.

On the other hand, children in this older, more experienced and educated age group can perceive integrity if it truly exists in their parents' post-separation relationship. They are able to show compassion for their both parents and siblings without simultaneously neglecting their own emotional needs.

How divorce affects the parent-child relationship

Clinically, it is called "diminished parenting." After divorce, the majority of custodial mothers experiences various amounts of anger, and lowers their standards of what constitutes appropriate behavior from their children. Often these parents are unable to separate the children's needs and behavior from their own. Diminished parenting will be just a short-term reaction to divorce if parents work to rebuild their relationships with their children.

Problems also ensue when parents get involved in new romantic relationships that appear to move their children into second place. It is important that parents, while working on their own healing, do not neglect what is happening to their children. The balancing act is quite difficult, of course.

Basic conclusions

It has long been known, without clinical research to back up the notions, that divorce and its repercussions have serious, life-changing effects on children of all ages. Their wellbeing during the crisis, and afterward in their adult lives, is put to the test in the most severe fashion. Clearly, children need significant interventions to weather these storms and be "survivors" rather than victims.

Every aspect of a child's life is impacted. The parent-child relationship, developing emotions, behavioral mechanisms, psychological development and general "coping skills" are all affected directly by the trauma of divorce. The common sense reaction to these problems is to provide loving, involved support to the children, an important part of which is simply observing what occurs as a result of the divorce-then addressing the matter forthrightly and immediately.

On the professional front, there is a significant need for all child mental health professionals-in concert with such other child specialists as educators, counselors and physicians-to watch for a broad range of possible fall-out from a divorce. As children's reactions indicate what is going on with them emotionally and intellectually, families can provide the right kinds of professional support for children of divorced parents, and tend to all the necessary psychological and social aspects of the children's lives.The lawyers of Family Law Solutions are recognized for their integrity and professionalism. As one of Santa Cruz attorney firms our expert lawyers will have the skill and sensitivity your looking for. Visit online today.

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