A divorce is, by it’s very nature a traumatic and unpleasant experience for all concerned. This is a very difficult time for children, but parents may unknowingly make the experience harder than it needs to be.
Divorce can have a long-lasting negative impact on children’s development and in this article we look at some of the risk factors that may impede children’s adjustment after divorce.
- Conflict between parents
In most cases the fighting starts a long time before the conflict culminates in divorce which means that children are exposed to constant conflict over a long period of time. Several studies have found parental conflict to be the single most damaging factor in a child’s development. Many children express relief after their parents’ divorce and say that they feel happier as the constant fighting has stopped. Remember that it is the fighting itself and not the divorce per se that is a risk factor – so parents who claim to “stay together for the children’s sake” but constantly fight might be doing more damage. Children sometimes feel “caught in the middle” and asking them to take sides or inform on one parent is HIGHLY stressful for children. If you have to fight, fine but then do so via e-mail or meet when the children are not around but try and make every effort to be civil to one another in front of your children.
- Life stress and socio-economic disadvantage
Divorce can be accompanied by lots of changes – a parent might need to move to a new house or put the children in a new school which means that they will be separated from friends – it is very difficult for children to try and cope with all of these losses. Try to keep things the same wherever possible and stick to your usual routine as much as you can. The temptation to get away and start a new life in a new place can be very tempting, but be sensitive to what your child is going through and if a change is inevitable, make sure you get the timing right – try to leave at the and of a school year and make sure that your child has the chance to say goodbye to all of his friends. Divorce is also often associated with a decline in economic circumstances as parents no longer pool their resources – they might have to stop well-loved extra-curricular activities or learn to share a bedroom with siblings.
- Parental distress & unavailability
A divorce may create huge emotional stress in parents and this distress may spill over into the parent child relationship. Children realise tat their parents are unhappy and feel helpless in trying to improve the situation. As hard as it may be for you to deal with what your (ex) partner did – try to keep it to yourself. Children are loyal by nature and telling them about the other parent’s misdeeds will only serve to confuse them and make them feel guilty for still loving the other parent. Practice extreme caution when chatting to your child about the divorce – it is important to inform them about the divorce in a gentle and open manner and to prepare them well in advance for any changes, but keep info on a need to know basis – there might be some of the finer, more unpleasant details they simply don’t need to know.
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