There is an ancient Swahili proverb that says “When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers”. This same can be said of divorce. Divorce is a common phenomenon nowadays and does not carry the same stigma it once used to. Still, when parents divorce, it is the children who suffer the most. Effects of divorce on children is definitely are inevitable.
A period of divorce is filled with great sadness and time of uncertainty, especially for children. They have to witness the loss of love and affection between their parents. They also have to deal with the uncertainty that they may end up with just one parent if a child custody battle ensues.
The effects of divorce on children can vary depending on the age and gender of the child. Pre-schoolers experience feelings of rejection and abandonment and blame themselves for the divorce. They tend to show over-dependance on a single parent and act clingy. Some of them also exhibit irrational behavior. They’re refusing to do things in the hope of getting more attention from parents. In adolescents (9 to 13 years), divorce can create feelings of anger and resentment. It can leave them feeling betrayed and mistrustful of relationships.
How Divorce Affects Children Negatively
Several studies on the subject have revealed the following divorce effects on children:
One of the primary effects of divorce on children is their inability to handle conflicts in their life. Girls tend to become anxious and withdrawn. Boys tend to be more aggressive and physically violent when having to deal with conflict situations.
Children of divorce tend to have poor social and academic skills and face psychological and behavioral problems. They exhibit more anxiety, depression and antisocial behavior when compared to other children. Children whose parents have divorced under acrimonious circumstances tend to display greater behavioral problems. On the other hand children from low or medium-conflict divorced families have an easier transition period.
Attitude Towards Sex and Family:
Premarital sex, cohabitation, and divorce becomes more commonly accepted among them. On the other hand they believe less in marriage and family. Such children also tend to drop out of school, leave home early, start smoking, indulge in drugs and alcohol. Besade that, they also engage in early sexual intercourse with girls. That lead to increased tendency to have more sexual partners.
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD):
SAD tends to be more among children of divorced parents. They exhibit extreme behavior such as fear of being left alone, feeling sick when they are perfectly normal. They fear that something terrible will happen to their dear ones, nightmares and in some cases even refusing to go to school or step outdoors. Adolescents tend to become depressed. They’re exhibiting lethargy, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, social withdrawal and self harming tendencies.
How Parents Can Help Reduce the Effects of Divorce on Children
Despite the breakdown of the marriage, divorcing parents have a responsibility to reduce the divorce effects on children. Being honest with the children about the separation and having an honest two way communication with them is important.
Parents must allow children to grieve the loss of the family in the way they want to and offer a shoulder to cry on if needed. Despite the failure of their marriage, they must encourage children to build caring relationships. They must continue to maintain a personal relationship with the child. Even under difficult circumstances such as when there are child custody disputes.
Parents could do well to avoid making too many dramatic changes after a divorce. Allowing changes to happen slowly will help children deal with the changes better.
Identifying stress in children will also help divorcing parents better handle them. In case of children exhibiting SAD, parents must talk to them allaying their fears. They must be able to anticipate the trigger points of anxiety and help the child transition that difficult situation smoothly. Family therapy, school counseling and in extreme cases, medication can help children suffering from SAD.
The unfortunate reality of a divorce is that children suffer from the effects of divorce even long after the deed is done. They carry their insecurities, and physical and emotional scars for months and years following a divorce. Therefore in the interests of the children’s future and their own, parents could do well to constantly reassure them of their love. They try to establish a sense of safety, security, and predictability in their lives.