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Impact of a Divorce on a Child

Divorce results when parents no longer love each other and decide to live apart it make a child feel as if their world has been turned upside down and are a major loss in the lives of children. Children look at the world differently than adults. Much of what they understand about divorce depends on their gender, age and stage of development. A toddler will not understand as much as a 5-year-old understands. A school-age boy will not handle his emotions the same way his teenage sister will. However, generally they experience a grieving process very similar to mourning a death and conflicts of loyalty.

The level of upset the child feels can vary depending on how their parents separated, the age of the child, how much they understand, and the support they get from family and friends. Children younger than age five or six are particularly vulnerable to the effects of parental separation. The disruption of attachment relations, combined with the child’s limited cognitive abilities to understand divorce, is central to this vulnerability. The changing economic and social conditions at the beginning of the twentieth century are a major contributor to divorce.

Studies show that children experience the greatest impact from divorce within two or three years of its occurrence. They may worry that their parents do not love them anymore. They feel abandoned. They feel like the parent has divorced them too. They feel helpless and powerless to do anything about the situation. They may feel that something they did or said caused a parent to leave. Because of divorce children’s act out behaviors can range from the mild such as sleep difficulties to extremely destructive, such as drug or alcohol abuse, violence or suicide attempts.

Other behaviors may include school problems, nervous habits or regressive behaviors such as bedwetting or using comfort items, such as a stuffed toy or blanket. The demographics and sociocultural factors Several factors increase the probability of divorce, divorce rates are almost twice as high for black as for white families, two to four times higher for individuals who marry while in their teens, about 50 percent higher for couples who lived together prior to marriage, and about 25 percent higher for individuals whose own parents were unmarried at their birth or whose parents were separated prior to the individual turning sixteen.

Young boys have greater difficulty adjusting to divorce than young girls, and mothers appear to have greater difficulty managing sons who are responding poorly to the divorce. Since boys are acting out more and mothers are especially depleted during those first couple of years, the extra effort required to be effective disciplinarians is not there. Mothers often see the difficult son as being “just like his father”, making it harder to relate positively to the boy.

Girls who have fathers who are warmly and positively engaged tend to have healthier relations with the opposite sex. In addition, girls lacking a father have a greater chance of becoming sexually active at young ages as they look for male affection and being valued. Parental conflict is a major source of reduced well-being among children of divorce. Research indicates that joint physical custody and frequent child-nonresidential parent contact have adverse consequences for children in high-conflict situations.

Children whose parents will subsequently divorce are often doing less well than their counterparts whose parents will remain together, implies that it is also desirable for studies of post-divorce parenting and child well-being to control for the well-being of children prior to divorce. For example, father’s education is an important influence on a wide variety of indicators of child well-being; child well-being tends to be higher among the children of more highly educated fathers. Father’s education is also an important influence on post-divorce parenting.

More highly educated fathers are more likely to have joint physical custody arrangements, tend to see their children more often, and tend to be more involved in their children’s. Many primary residential parents and their children must move home shortly after the divorce. These moves are nearly always to less desirable neighborhoods. The consequences of this for children, due to loss of access to friends, familiar surroundings, changing schools, and so on, range from the traumatic to the merely disruptive.

Nevertheless, these moves account for a significant portion of the disadvantages experienced by children of divorce. When circumstances necessitate frequent moves, the effects are compounded. Instability and the breakdown of family and conjugal ties have relevant consequences of demographic, social and economic nature for the persons involved. On one hand, reproductive plans and expectations are not fulfilled, on the other children are born in the reconstituted families. There are changes in residential and housing conditions and modifications of working strategies – particularly among women.

There are negative consequences on the wellbeing of separated or divorced partners as well as on their children’s, and the risks of poverty for women with children increase. Studies show that fathers often are more physically engaged and less emotional with their kids than mothers are. Take the simple example of pushing a child in a playground swing. Moms tend to push cautiously, not wanting the child to fall, while dads shove harder and higher, getting the child worked up with both fear and delight.

This type of play, studies show, can help teach kids emotional self-control. Dad’s pushing forces children to learn to express their own feelings, as when they feel danger or pain. They also learn to read their father’s facial and body cues, such as when they really have gone too high, or when dad thinks they can do more, and this is not the case when parents divorce because most children move with their mother and end up losing the father figure in their lives.

on the other side that boys raised by mothers alone have a more difficult time shifting away from the maternal orbit later in their life’s. Higher education levels are related to lower divorce rates, which is due in part to the tendency for more highly educated individuals to marry later and to have been raised in intact families. Families with one or two children are less likely to divorce than those without children or those with more than two children.

Divorce rates in families with a pre-school child are about half of those for childless families and lower than those for families with school-age children; however, this protective effect may be limited to firstborns. Thus, the likelihood that a child will experience a divorce depends on a number of social and demographic factors. Conclusion The research on divorce shows that if couples will slow down the process and seek outside professional help, many marriages can be saved.

Growing up in a divorced family does increase the challenge for successful marriages in early adult years. This is especially true when the wife is from a divorced family, since her wounded trust impacts her role as facilitator of connections, my experience is that young couples who have experienced divorce are much more sensitive to the risks and are seeking marital counseling much earlier on which gives their marriages a greater chance to succeed. I have been especially struck by the change in the percentage of men initiating counseling and wanting a better quality marriage.

Divorce mediation leads to speedier dispute resolution, greater compliance in payment of child support, and greater involvement of the father in the children’s lives. Although parties who participate in mediation and in education programs tend to be satisfied with them, there is little evidence to suggest that they benefit children If you are finding it difficult to help your child cope, you may want to seek outside help. Some children may need specialist help from the local child and adolescent mental health service. Usually parents are the ones who need help in sorting out their differences, so that they can fully support the child.

Children need connection to caring adults and a teacher, counselor, nurse, or coach can provide some of that much needed support. Parents need to inform the school about impending divorce and school staff needs to respond by identifying someone who will try to reach out and make that important special connection. In addition, there often needs to be some assistance during those first two years to help insure academic success with special sensitivity to the fact that doing homework will often become a much greater challenge during those first two chaotic years.

School-based support groups for children of divorce are especially helpful in reducing the children’s sense of shame and providing coping strategies. Individuals whose parents divorce are also more likely to get divorced themselves, which may reflect difficulties in developing satisfying interpersonal relationships or simply a greater tendency to see divorce as a viable option when marital difficulties arise.

It is possible that divorce shapes children’s attitudes and expectations about close relationships, which in turn influence their behavior and parents must stop and seek alternative ways of solving their differences for the sake of their children’s future.

References

Allison, Paul, Frank Furstenberg. 1989. “How Marital Dissolution Affects Children: Variations by Age and Sex. ” Developmental Psychology 25:540-549. Amato, Paul. 2000. “The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children. ” Journal of Marriage and the Family 62:1269-1287Emery, Robert. 1999. Marriage, Divorce, and Children’s Adjustment, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Wallerstein, Judith, Joan Kelley. 1980. Surviving the Breakup: How Children Actually Cope with Divorce. New York: Basic. Sweet, James, Larry Bumpass. 1992. “Disruption of Marital and Cohabitation Relationships: A Social Demographic Perspective. ” New York: Springer-Verlag. Amato, Paul, Bruce Keith. 1991. “Consequences of Parental Divorce for the Well-Being of Children: A Meta-Analysis. ” Psychological Bulletin 110:26-46.

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