The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children


As a marriage breaks down, some parents wonder, “Should we stay together for the kids?” Divorce is the only option for some parents.

While all parents may be concerned about a variety of issues, ranging from their future living circumstances to the uncertainty of the custody agreement, they may be most concerned about how their children will cope with the divorce.

So, how does divorce affect children’s mental health? It is debatable. While all children are affected by divorce, some children recover more quickly than others.

The good news is that parents can take steps to help their children cope with the psychological repercussions of divorce. A few supportive parenting practices can go a long way toward assisting children in adjusting to the changes that divorce brings.

Why Is the First Year the Most Difficult?

As you might anticipate, research has revealed that the first year or two after a divorce are the most difficult for children.

2 Distress, rage, worry, and disbelief are common among children.

However, many children appear to recover. They become accustomed to changes in their daily routines and to their living arrangements. Others, on the other hand, never seem to return to “normal.” Following their parents’ divorce, a tiny percentage of children may face ongoing—possibly even lifelong—problems.

Young children frequently have difficulty comprehending why they must go between two homes. They may be concerned that if their parents can stop loving one other, their parents will eventually stop loving them.

Children in elementary school may be concerned that the divorce is their responsibility. They may believe they have misbehaved or that they have done something wrong.

Teenagers may feel enraged as a result of the divorce and the changes it brings. They may hold one parent responsible for the breakup of the marriage, or they may resent one or both parents for the family’s turmoil.

Of course, each circumstance is distinct. In extreme cases, a child may be relieved by the divorce if it results in less conflicts and less stress.

Stress Caused by Divorce

When parents divorce, children frequently lose contact with one parent on a daily basis—usually the father. Reduced contact has an impact on the parent-child link, and researchers discovered that many children feel less close to their fathers following divorce, according to an article published in 2014.

Divorce has an impact on a child’s bond with the custodial parent, which is usually the mother. Single parents often experience higher levels of stress as primary caregivers.

According to a 2013 study, mothers are generally less helpful and affectionate after their children divorce. Their discipline becomes less consistent and effective as well. 5

Parental separation isn’t the most difficult component for some children. The concomitant pressures, on the other hand, are what make divorce the most difficult. Changing schools, moving to a new house, and living with a single parent who is stressed are just a few of the additional pressures that can make divorce difficult.

Divorce often results in financial difficulties. Many families are forced to downsize or relocate, and they frequently have fewer financial means.

Risks Facing Families

According to the Pew Research Center, around 40% of new marriages in the United States in 2013 included one spouse who had previously been married, and 20% of new marriages included both spouses who had previously been married.

As a result, many youngsters are subjected to constant changes in their family dynamics. Another major adjustment is the inclusion of a step-parent and maybe multiple step-siblings. And, in many cases, both parents remarry, resulting in a slew of changes for the children.

Second marriages have an even higher failure rate than first marriages. Over the years, many children have experienced repeated separations and divorces.

Problems with Mental Health

Children and teenagers may be more vulnerable to mental health issues as a result of divorce. Children of divorced parents have more psychological issues than children of non-divorced parents, regardless of age, gender, or culture.

Divorce can cause children to develop an adjustment condition that lasts only a few months. However, research have revealed that children with divorced parents have greater rates of depression and anxiety.

Behavioral issues

Children from divorced households are more likely than children from two-parent families to have externalizing difficulties such conduct disorders, delinquency, and impulsive behavior.

Children may encounter more conflict with classmates after a divorce, in addition to increased behavior difficulties.

Academic Performance Issues

Academically, children from divorced households do not necessarily perform as well. However, according to a 2019 study, children from divorced households are more likely to struggle in school if the divorce was unexpected, but children from divorced homes are less likely to struggle.

Risk-Taking Attitudes

Divorced parents’ children are more prone to participate in dangerous conduct including substance abuse and early sexual involvement. Adolescents with divorced parents consume alcohol earlier and report higher levels of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and drug use than their peers in the United States.

According to a study published in 2010, adolescents whose parents divorced when they were 5 years old or younger were at a higher risk of becoming sexually active before the age of 16.

Separation from one’s father has also been linked to having more sexual partners during adolescence.

Assisted Adjustment for Children

Adults who were divorced as children are more likely to have relationship problems. People whose parents were divorced have a greater divorce rate. 11 Children’s adjustment to a divorce is heavily influenced by their parents. Here are some techniques to help children cope with the psychological effects of divorce:

Peacefully co-parent

Children have been proven to be more distressed when their parents are in a state of intense disagreement. Children’s behavior problems have been connected to overt animosity, such as screaming and threatening one another. 3 Minor strain, on the other hand, can exacerbate a child’s anguish. Seek expert help if you’re having trouble co-parenting with your ex-spouse.

Avoid putting children in the middle of a conflict.

It is inappropriate to ask children to choose which parent they prefer or to offer them messages to send to other parents. Children who are caught in the middle of things are more prone to suffer from despair and anxiety.

Maintain Positive Interpersonal Relationships

Children’s adjustment to divorce may be aided by positive communication, parental affection, and low levels of conflict. Following divorce, a solid parent-child relationship has been found to assist children develop improved self-esteem and academic success.

Maintain a Consistent Discipline

Establish age-appropriate norms and, when required, impose consequences. According to a 2011 study, effective divorce discipline reduced misbehavior and enhanced academic performance. 12

Adolescents should be closely monitored.

Adolescents are less likely to develop behavior difficulties following a divorce when parents pay close attention to what their children are doing and who they spend their time with. This means a lower risk of substance abuse and fewer academic issues.

Children Should Be Empowered

Mental health problems are more common among children who question their ability to cope with change and who perceive themselves as powerless victims. Teach your child that, despite how tough divorce is, he has the mental strength to deal with it.

Teach Coping Techniques

Active coping mechanisms, such as problem-solving and cognitive restructuring, help children adjust to divorce better. Teach your child healthy ways to control his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Assist Children in Feeling Safe

Anxiety can be exacerbated by fears of abandonment and worry about the future. Helping your child feel loved, safe, and secure, on the other hand, can lessen clinginess as well as the likelihood of mental health issues.

Look for Parental Education.

There are numerous programs available to help children cope with the effects of divorce. Parents are given co-parenting techniques and tactics for assisting their children in adjusting to the changes.

Obtain Professional Assistance

Reducing your stress level can go a long way toward assisting your child. To help you adjust to the changes in your family, practice self-care and seek talking therapy or other options.

When Should You Seek Assistance for Your Child?

While divorce is difficult for families, staying together just for the sake of the children may not be the best decision. Children who grow up in families where there is a lot of bickering, animosity, and dissatisfaction are more likely to have mental health disorders and behavioral problems.

As a result, it’s common for children to struggle with their feelings and conduct soon after a parental separation. However, if your child’s mood or behavioral concerns persist, you should seek expert help.

Consult your child’s pediatrician first. Discuss your worries and see if your child requires expert assistance. It’s possible that you’ll be referred to talk therapy or other supportive programs.

Your youngster may benefit from individual treatment to help him sort through his feelings. Changes in family relations may necessitate the use of family therapy. Some towns also have children’s support groups. Support groups allow children of a given age group to interact with other children who are going through similar changes in their families.