Helping Children During Divorce

During a divorce - the time between separation and the legal end of the marriage - the loss of established routines upsets the lives of everyone involved. Depending on the circumstances unique to each family, everything from the location of the home to even the bedtimes of the children may be deranged. This can be particularly upsetting to children.

During this time, life for everyone involved may seem uncomfortably improvisational, and this can be very difficult for children, who crave routines.

"A child’s perception of divorce will be largely determined by age and gender, as well as the child’s history of stress and coping. When stressful events outweigh available protective factors, even the most resilient child can develop problems," according to the North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. A growing body of information suggests that certain factors may make some children more at risk for maladjustment than other children. Some are unalterable and some existed before divorce. Others exert considerable pressure on children at the time of the separation, and still others influence the children following divorce.


According to the people at North Carolina Life Sciences, here are the risk factors:
  • Age. Young children may experience more confusion short-term because the loss of one parent. They are less able to make sense - that is, find an order - in the changes at home. Over the long-term, however, preadolescent and adolescent children may be more at risk because their alignment with their peers "represses their feelings about their parents’ divorce."

  • Socioeconomic status. Living standards may drop, particularly after the divorce. "Less money can mean some of the children’s needs may not be met."

  • Marital Conflict. "The more a child is part of the parental conflict, the more confusion, frustration, anger, and loyalty conflicts he or she is likely to experience."

  • Parental Relationships. When parents and children get along, "the risk of post-divorce problems is reduced. If problems with the parent-child relationship existed before the divorce, those problems will likely become worse following the divorce."

  • Spouse versus Parent. "Divorcing spouses who cannot peaceably make decisions about their children’s welfare and negotiate issues related to the children put those children at increased risk for problems."

  • Spousal Conflict. "The greater the conflict between the parents, the greater the risk for children to experience emotional turmoil."

  • Perceived Loss of Noncustodial Parent. "Unless extra care is taken by both parents to nurture the relationship between the noncustodial parent and the children, a child may feel loss and even abandonment."

Divorcing parents must actively listen to their children. For example, when a child says, "I’m scared," the parent cannot say, "Don’t be scared." Instead the parent should say, "What are you scared about?"

Divorcing parents cannot control the age of their children at the time of the breakup, nor can they often control all of the financial dislocations of a divorce. However, the mitigation of marital conflict, the stress of parental relationships, the civility between the spouses, and even the perception of loss of the noncustodial parent - all can be worsened or improved by parental behavior.



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