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The Effects of Divorce on Children

Aug 05, 2014

Whether amicable or hostile, separation and divorce are a huge disruption in the home, according to Psychologist Katherine Sellwood.  Suddenly the child has two homes, and must spend time with each parent separately.  This affects children differently, some coping better than others.  A wide range of emotions should be expected, from depression to anger.  Despite the negativity that arises, divorce need not have any long-term effects on children.  However children react, parents divorcing will always have an effect on them no matter what age. 

The worst-case scenario for children is a high-conflict divorce.  As described by Dr. Sellwood, a hostile relationship between divorcing parents does not allow for a child to develop or use communication skills.  They end up withdrawing from conflict and concentrate on developing self-preservation skills.  In such scenarios, parents’ preoccupation with each other may create an environment where children don’t know where to turn to ask for help with their feelings.  They may fear approaching one parent may cause difficulty with the other.

Very young children are still exploring the rules of the world around them, according to child therapist Douglas Green.  Because they are learning about permanency in their lives, divorce can upset their perspectives greatly.  If they believe parents are always supposed to stay together, a separation will cause confusion and anxiety. In such a case, young children may believe the divorce is their fault.

Though certainly an important and disruptive life event, divorce need not be permanently damaging or negative.  Communicating with children and allowing them to ask questions and seek support or advice creates an environment that helps them better understand the situation.  It is especially important to communicate to children that the divorce is not their fault.  This is best achieved by continuing to partner as parents even during separation.  Maintaining openness, recognizing difficulty, and keeping a consistent parenting message is all possible with effective communication both between parents and with the children. 

Despite any negativity, Dr. Joshua Sparrow assures there is always hope.  Contrary to old wisdom, children need not carry any permanent effects from divorce.  While kids will suffer to some degree while parents heal, acknowledging this difficulty helps children reconcile the idea. Even separated, it is possible to continue co-parenting and providing a supportive environment.  A spirit of communication helps children develop problem-solving skills as well as the ability to ask questions, learn about their own and others’ feelings, and better understand what is happening to them.

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