When a marriage is about to end, some parents find themselves asking questions like should they stay in the union for the sake of the kids. However, others discover that divorce is the only best option. In cases like this, the kids may feel like their world has been turned upside down. So, what are the effects of divorce on children’s mental health?
While divorce is stressful, some kids recover faster than others. These psychological effects of divorce vary among children depending on their age, how the divorce was done, the existence of support from extended family, and friends, and how much they understand what is happening.
Divorce can interrupt a child’s normal growth sequence, especially on their mental health. Regardless of gender, age, or culture, children may experience the following psychological problems:
Feelings of tension, nervousness, and anxiety are typical among children from divorced families. This is more prominent among young children who depend on their parents. This commonly affects a child’s academic performance and makes them disinterested in their fun activities.
Young children may be confused as to why they have to juggle between two homes. The kids may worry that their parents may one day stop loving each other, and in the end, stop loving them. As for grade school children, they may start to think that the divorce is their fault. They may assume that their misbehavior is the cause of it all.
Some children who witness their parents’ divorce go through depression. During the court proceedings, a child may feel heartbreak, anguish, and may lead to social withdrawal.
Children going through a divorce may suddenly become easily irritated and develop mood swings when interacting with people. Other than these negative feelings, children dealing with a parental split might feel anger towards their family and friends.
The lack of emotional support and stress can brood hopelessness, and this may worsen over time. A child may experience a sense of loss. Separating from a parent may sometimes mean losing a home and even a way of life.
Children from divorced families may show signs of insecurity and may feel rejected. Feelings of loss generate feelings of insecurity. Children who experience any loss tend to show signs of insecurity and may develop a fear of losing other things in their lives. Some feel like it is their doing that one parent left the other, and this creates rejection feelings. Unless a parent communicates why they are separating, a child may start feeling guilty that they are the cause for the parental separation.
This is most evident among teens. Teens tend to blame one parent for the marriage breakdown or show resentment to one or both parents for the turmoil experienced in the family.
However, each situation is unique, and not every child will experience such feelings. In rare circumstances, does a child feel relieved by a separation – if this separation means fewer arguments?
Researchers have identified these characteristics about the effects of divorce on children:
The behavioral and emotional problems among kids arise mostly when their parents fight or are separating.
Adolescents from divorced families are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as substance abuse and early sexual activity. Some of these problems may extend into adulthood and create relationship difficulties.
Children begin to feel insecure and this makes them behave like they’re much younger than they are. Therefore behaviors like clinginess, bedwetting, disobedience, nightmares start to occur. Such reactions are common immediately after the child visits the parent who’s living apart from the family.
Additionally, these kids may start to show externalized problems such as delinquency, conduct disorders, and impulsive disorders. Teenagers may find it difficult to concentrate in school or associate with their peers. In families where the divorce was unexpected, children tend to have more trouble with their academic performance than in families where the divorce was likely.
Separation or divorce severs the relationship with one parent. The loss of daily contact with this parent – mostly the father – will affect the child’s bond with them.
Divorce may also affect a child’s relationship with the custodial parent – who are mostly mothers. Single parenting isn’t easy for a parent who had previous support from an ex-spouse.
Some children don’t get the most stress from the parental separation, but from what accompanies this decision. More often, these kids have to move to a new home, change schools, and live with a single parent who’s also struggling to cope with this new normal.
Financial difficulties are also common among families that have gone through a divorce. Some of these families have to move to smaller homes, move to cheaper neighborhoods, or transfer to cheaper schools.
Parents play a significant role in how their kids adjust to divorce. Here are some things you can do as a parent to help your child:
Let your children know that you still love them and will continue to care for them. Establish a balanced communication, reassuring them that they aren’t responsible for the divorce, and making them enjoy parental warmth.
Parental conflict, even after divorce, only increases stress and depression. Even minor tensions between parents can put a child in distress. If you wish to prevent the agony of a drawn-out fight, bring up your children together without putting the children in the middle and making them choose the best parent. Seek professional help if you have struggled with co-parenting with your ex-spouse.
You can avert feelings of insecurity and fear of abandonment by protecting your kids from adult worries. Being available emotionally can also help your child feel loved and avoid developing mental health problems.
If you find it challenging to help your child cope with divorce, it’s not a bad idea to seek outside help. If you succeed in reducing your own stress levels, you’ll be able to help your child adjust to the changes. You may need a professional counselor to help you and your family cope with the new situation and help you be attentive and loving parents.
Most children adapt well to new circumstances if the situation is managed sensitively. Individual therapy, family therapy, and support groups are all recommended to address these changes in family dynamics.
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