Did you know that divorce introduces new problems for children? It may also possess the capability to hinder a child’s wellbeing.
While parents may divorce for immediate relief, little research has been done on how divorce impacts children. A couple may divorce to alleviate marital strife, but divorce introduces new problems that may influence children. For example, fiscal problems such as uneven child support can impact wellbeing. But the parents also worry about how they are going to tell their children about divorce (download divorce worksheet) and how their children will react in response to the news. Most of the time, children do not handle the idea of their parents separating well.
Many children try to get their parents back together and sometimes it works. Other times, it is just fate saying that the divorce will be the family’s best decision. Children do not like this news because the aspect of togetherness is changing in their family. Most people aren’t good with change either. Perhaps trying out a new food like butternut squash is an easy change to handle, but something as large as a divorce is not as easy a concept to grasp.
For parents and future generations, we must realize how vital it is to consider the psychological issues our children may face from divorce. According to psychologist Edward Teyber Ph.D., “adolescents may become depressed and withdraw from peers and family involvement or lose their plans and ambitions for their own future” (Hoping Children Cope with Divorce, p.14). Divorce has a tendency to cause sadness and confusion for many children. Teyber reasons that divorce is why adolescents withdraw from their loved ones and their ambitions. Kids wonder why their family structure is suddenly changing? What is the cause of this change? Do their parents not love them? Depression is one of the most common psychological conditions post divorce. Depression might be hereditary, but it is valid to say that divorce may trigger a child to be depressed. Anxiety is a psychological condition that seems to become more of a long-term effect of divorce. Anxiety includes developing new and continuing bonds they had with their parents before the divorce.
A child’s incapability to handle such a rapid change causes psychological issues to arise as a result including depression, anxiety and blame. When people think of divorce, they reflect on issues with money or stress the parents are facing. As important as it is to consider the parents, it is also important to not ignore the psychological issues that are at stake for your child if you are a parent planning to get divorced.
According to Alan E. Kazdin, PhD’s Encyclopedia of Psychology (2000): “Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.”
A parent’s divorce is a huge change in a child’s life so it is highly likely that the child and the parent will face a period of sadness. When people become depressed from life events such as the death of a family member, friend, or even divorce, “depression [can be likely] the aftermath of divorce” (Teyber, p. 71).
Critics may argue that the child is just sad because of their parent’s divorce and they are not depressed. There is in fact a correlation with being sad and being clinically depressed, but that does not mean the child has depression. The Lucida Treatment Center, which is a company that helps people cope with depression, sadness as well as multiple mental health problems, shows that “a person can be depressed without feeling especially unhappy, and sadness doesn’t always indicate depression.” It is crucial for a parent not to assume their child is clinically depressed from the divorce. It is best to get professional help so that the diagnoses are accurate and not assumptions. Divorce is also a tough situation to mentally handle so it does introduce much sadness to families.
It is also arguable that depression is hereditary, but that does not mean divorce was not the trigger for the child’s depression. According to Stephanie Faris’ article Depression Genetics, which George Krucik MD medically reviewed:
“A British research team recently isolated a gene that appears to be prevalent in multiple family members with depression. The chromosome 3p25-26 was found in more than 800 families with recurrent depression. Scientists believe as much as 40 percent of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link. Environmental and other factors make up the other 60 percent.
Research has also shown that people with parents or siblings who have depression are up to three times more likely to have the condition. This can be due to heredity or environmental factors that have a strong influence.” (p. 1).
But divorce can be the environmental factor that can trigger depression in children. Similar to the likelihood that the child may just be sad or prone to have depression, environmental factors have a 60 percent likelihood to trigger depression, which is highly influential. If you are a parent planning on getting divorced, it is imperative to reflect how depression might affect your child, as it is a psychological concern.
Your child may have issues coping with the divorce, but that does not mean you can’t prevent depression’s environmental influences. For example, you can ask your child how the divorce concerns them. Their concerns can range from the belief that their parents do not love them or that their family life will not be the same. But it is crucial to be aware of rather than guess why they are upset. By intervening with the child, you can create a successful action plan of the divorce process.
When the parent is incapable to help their child cope with their sadness from the divorce, counseling or therapy can be considered. Most times, the court may even mandate family counseling for a certain amount of weeks after the divorce. Therapy and counseling are great ways to lower the likelihood of psychological trauma for the family. But no matter how the child is counseled after the divorce, the parent and child need to create their action plan.
Besides the high likelihood of sadness or depression post divorce, many children appear to have signs of anxiety, which is the feeling of anxiousness when making a big decision or when confronting a problem. The National Institute of Mental Health claims, “occasional anxiety is a normal part of life” (p. 1). Although if you have anxiety “that lasts at least six months [it] is generally considered to be a problem that might benefit from evaluation and treatment” (p. 2).
It seems that a lot of anxiety for children post divorce comes from a child’s unwillingness to open up to their parents post divorce. This can be out of the fear on how their parents might react to their opinions.
If the child is already having problems confronting their parents about the divorce, a child can begin a trend of having issues confronting their parents. This confrontation issue can even expand to the inability of forming new relationships with friends and significant others in the future. As a parent, it is vital to encourage your children that communication is crucial as it allows people to release their feelings on what causes them to be upset. By communicating, your child can prevent confrontation issues in their future relations.
Separation anxiety seems to be a larger concern for children. In psychology, separation anxiety applies to younger children and it is the fear that the parents won’t come back when the child wakes up. But in divorce, the concept of separation anxiety can apply to all children. Carl E. Pickhardt Ph.D’s article “The Impact of Divorce on Young Children and Adolescents,” shows that separation anxiety can create “unfamiliarity, instability and instability, [where the child will] never being able to be with one parent without having to be apart from the other” (p. 2). “What if I choose to live with my mom most of the time? Will I ever see my dad again? Do I want to live with my mom? Does my dad not love me?” These are common questions that can be going through a child’s head in terms of separation anxiety.
Many parents do not realize their children are going through these concerns due to a lack of communication. It is understandable that the parents are going through their own fears and their own anxieties, but as a parent, the main goal is make sure your child will make it out well after the divorce. As a reiteration, communication is always an easy preventative for these anxieties so that the parent can aware of the child’s feelings.
During a divorce, children often erroneously blame themselves for what has happened. To go into more depth, a child might think that it was their fault their parents divorced or that their father or mother hates them and they needed some outlet to get away from the child. These are major fears that a lot of children face and parents are unaware of.
As “blame” is not a common stage for all children that go through divorce, a parent must still consider it. Teyber studied that “children up to ten or twelve years of age believe they are to blame for the divorce” (p. 69). Parents might not always be aware that their child may think that the divorce was their fault. As some parents prefer to not inform their children why they divorced, the child becomes confused and they try to find conclusions on why their parents separated.
Adults are aware that marriages can fall apart for a multitude of reasons, but children are not as aware. This can cause them to think the divorce was their fault. It is not necessary to tell your children why you divorced, but it is important to inform your child that you were just not happy.
Due to a child’s age, we know that a child might be able to fully understand what it means to divorce. Consider for a minute these two terms: egocentric and cognitive immaturity. Egocentric applies to children when they think the whole world is against them, or in other terms, the divorce was their fault. Cognitive immaturity consists of child’s inability to understand the “cause–and-effect relationships” (Teyber, 69). By understanding what egocentric and cognitive immaturity mean, you can gain insight on the thought processes of a child.
Remind children that divorce can be positive for families, which can relieve the feeling of blame. Sometimes, separation allows people to become better people as well as stronger parents. Divorce also opens a window of opportunity for one on one bonding time between parent and child. By explaining to your child that divorce can be positive, a parent can alleviate the feeling of blame.
It is vital for parents to help their children cope with the divorce. There are many psychological conditions out there that can effect the behavior of children, but there are preventatives, that as an advocate of your child, you can fix. Depression and anxiety are common psychological conditions. Although depression and anxiety are not directly correlated to divorce, they should not be ignored. A feeling of blame is also a behavior that a child may acquire from a divorce. As previously stated, not all children will exhibit these characteristics, but keep in mind how they can affect the behavior of your child. By realizing that you child may face some psychological trauma getting out of the divorce, you as a parent can take on the initiative to make sure your child will be ok.