America has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Though the number seems to be dropping, an estimated 50% of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce with over 60% of second marriages also ending in divorce. When you apply the math, potentially half of America’s children are raised by divorced parents. Numerous studies have been performed analyzing the effects that divorce has on men, women, and children. Though divorce takes its toll on all parties involved, our purposes here will be to discover the psychological effects divorce can have on children and how parents can help mitigate these effects. If you suspect your child is having a difficult time adjusting to your divorce, you may want to consider psychotherapy.
Older studies often highlighted depression, poor performance in school, and frequent trouble with the law as common effects in children of divorce. However, more recent studies have reported that these tendencies and behaviors were already on display before the divorce ever took place, especially in households where the parents frequently fought. Most children-of-divorce studies today focus on three areas:
1. The relationship with each of the parents before separation.
2. The level of intensity and duration of the parental conflict.
3. The attentiveness of the parents toward the children during the divorce.
Of course, there may be instances in which a perfectly happy child begins to show signs of depression or act out in school, but such occurrences are often affected by the three criteria listed above.
Depending on the maturity level and age of the child, a significantly increased level of stress can lead to a variety of other problems: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, the inability to concentrate or focus, delinquent behavior, insomnia, etc. Of course, some of these problems may have been smaller issues prior to the divorce, but they can certainly emerge as the result of a bad, lengthy divorce.
Though the divorce itself may not intensely trouble the child, the stress of what is to come afterwards can be overwhelming. Will they have to move? Attend a new school and make new friends? Who will have custody? Will the other parent make time for them once they are separated? These are just a small sampling of questions that the child may have in his or her head.
What Can Parents Do?
No doubt many parents ask themselves, “What about the kids?” But even caring, civil parents can become distracted and self-involved during a divorce, causing the children to learn how to self-soothe, many times in ineffective and unhealthy ways. Parents must be aware of how they treat each other and what is said about the other to their children. Certainly, there may be circumstances in which one parent must protect their children from the other parent, especially in abusive relationships, but too many parents are simply embittered towards their ex which can negatively affect their children.
Try to keep the divorce as civil as possible. Things can go quite smoothly when both parties have their children’s best interests in the forefront of their minds. Children must understand that there is no loss of love between them and the parents. Parents should also consider therapy for themselves and for their children. Family therapy is certainly an option, and there is even a couple’s therapy for those who are separating or getting a divorce. The goal here is to help the parents have a clean separation while still attending to their children’s emotional needs. Individual therapy for children is also extremely beneficial, especially for children who already suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.
Remember, there are many factors that can affect a child’s psychology during a divorce. Even in the most civil of separations, therapy can help both parent and child be prepared for a seemingly uncertain future. Mental stability is essential for a healthy life, so be sure that both you and your children get the help needed to meet that goal. Visit AnthonyTermine.com for more information on psychotherapy.
Dr. Anthony Termine
New York City Psychiatrist