If you’re ending your marriage, there will be divorce effects on children, whether your breakup is amicable or acrimonious. How you help your children manage these effects will play a key part in their future behavior, emotional well-being and even their own relationships and marriages down the road.
Psychologist Judith Wallerstein studied the impact of divorce on children for a quarter-century. Divorceinfo.com notes: “Wallerstein's most significant finding by far is that the effects of divorce on children are not short-term and transient. They are long-lasting, profound, and cumulative.”
Any research into divorce effects on children must take into account that every family’s situation is different, and may be impacted by many factors, including a family’s educational level, financial status and even ethnicity.
But generally, if after the first couple of post-divorce years, children are still having trouble coping, these are some of the more common problems that 20-25% of children will be facing: intense anger at one or both parents, manipulative behaviors at school and depression (which could include eating disorders, mood swings, irritability, sadness, compromised concentration skills, sexual acting out and secretiveness). That’s ample evidence that working through your children’s issues, through honest communication, coping strategies and if necessary, counseling, is vital.
Wallerstein isolated key issues that most families will need to address adroitly to handle divorce effects on children:
Rejection – The departure of one parent from a child’s daily life forms the basis of feelings of rejection, and may be amplified as a child grieves the loss of attention from both parents who are trying to sort out their own lives.
Loyalty – Children may feel torn if the divorce is contentious and ultimately side with one parent over the other to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
Anger – Children may be resentful of both the situation they find themselves in and the parents who caused it, displaying anger through verbal attacks, irritability and tantrums.
Sadness – Understandably, your children may feel very sad about your family’s situation and there will be tears and yearning for what has been lost.
Worrying – The behaviors children perceive in their parents–like emotional instability and lack of coping skills–can cause kids a huge amount of concern and doubts about what their future really holds.
Loneliness – The departure of one parent, parents’ preoccupation with the divorce, perhaps a mom going back to work for financial reasons, all of these feed a child’s sense of loneliness during a divorce.
Fear/Fear of abandonment – Family life upheavals can ramp up children’s anxieties and vulnerabilities, even causing feelings that their mother may leave them, just as their father did (or vice versa).
Your separation and/or divorce will require time and strategies to work through–and there’s no doubt your children will be impacted in some way. But, no matter what you’re going through, helping your kids cope is vital to best minimize the long-term impact on their lives and on their future relationships and marriages.
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