Effects of Divorce on Children
“Only acts of war and the events of natural disasters are more harmful to a child’s psyche than the divorce process.” The Newsletter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, summer 1997.
Growing up with battling parents made me a prisoner of war that waged long after the sound of the battle cries fell silent staying together did me no favors, journaled by an anonymous adult client in treatment.
The topic of how divorce affects children is not a simple one.The research, and there is much out there, will strongly support that staying together in almost every circumstance, short of abuse, is best.However, many individuals who have been in the circumstances first hand disagree.For example, on many sites dedicated to family issues, grown children post advice and comments that contradict the research.
This course will explore the research and the detrimental short and long term effects of divorce, the types of divorce situations that are more detrimental than others and how to help clients minimize the destruction.
As many as 60% of marriages end in divorce.Regardless of the socioeconomic status or cultural background, a child has the potential to be indelibly affected by the divorce of his or her parents.At the very least most children experience short term developmental disruptions and undergo a certain degree of emotional distress (Palosaari and Aro, 1994).Children of divorces often exhibit certain psychological, social, academic, and behavioral problems, as well (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995).While some of these impacts are short term others are long term and can continue well into adulthood (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995).
In 1920 there were only eight divorces per one-thousand married females but by 1985 this rate had risen to almost twenty-two per one-thousand (Gillespie, 1997).Divorce has become more and more prominent since the mid-1960s (Zinsmeister, 1997).Approximately sixty percent of current-day divorces involve minor children (Gillespie, 1997).In the United States alone over one million children experience parental divorce each year (Amato, Loomis and Booth, 1995).These rates are sometimes higher for minorities (Parks, 1995).
Divorces typically end in children living for some period of time in single parent households. Reports show that the average length of time a child spends in the single parent household is a minimum of five years.Some children enter step-family situations at some point after the initial parental divorce.Over a third of those children who enter step family situations eventually even experience the breakup of the step families, as well.
Parental divorce can result in one of following situations with regard to the non-residential parent and child relationship:
2.a form of ritualistic parenthood
That is not to suggest it is impossible for a child to have a good, healthy relationship with a non
custodial parent, but it is a crucial part of counseling to explore this relationship with the potential in mind.
The child of a divorced family lives with the mother approximately ninety percent of the time.Only one-tenth of children from divorced homes sees their non-custodial parent on a weekly basis and only one-fifth enjoy a close relationship with both parents.
In recent years, one solution to the decrease in parental involvement in divorced families is joint custody, a situation in which parents share the responsibility of housing and caring for their child on a somewhat equal basis (Zinsmeister, 1997).Joint custody presents an interesting solution but is also at the mercy of divorced parents that can get along on a daily basis.
Regardless of the particulars of the custody arrangements after a divorce, it is commonly acknowledged that divorce has a high potential to negatively affect children.As has already been mentioned, the impacts children experience due to parental divorce can have numerous effects, many of which are long lasting.Experts in the field, Amato, Loomis and Booth report:
…adults who experienced parental divorce as children, compared with adults raised in continuously intact two-parent homes, have lower psychological well-being, lower socio-economic attainment, poorer quality marital relationships, and an increased propensity to divorce.
Money, or lack of it, frequently becomes a problem. Child support payments and financial assistance place a monetary strain on one or both parents, which directly affects the children.
Beyond the stress anyone would feel due to financial issues, research suggests it is not just about the money. It has been found that child support receipt is positively related to child well-being, including cognitive skills, emotional development, and educational attainment.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 39 percent of custodial parents fail to receive child support in the United States. Even more disturbing, it would seem that even if parents provide child support, it’s too little to support the family. The amount of child support given monthly is estimated to be an underwhelming $280 a month.
When you take into account the sick days needed to take care of the child, food needed to feed the child and the general mental pressures of being an adult, it’s clear that the custodial parent (which it should be noted could be either the mother or the father) needs much more than a person wiring money to an account and going about their day. To fail to provide a presence in that child’s life is the ultimate transgression of love and connectedness that could put them through. It also puts a strain on the relationship between the parents, and the child caught in the middle.
The importance of “child support” isn’t only financial but mental and emotional as well. The non-custodial parent has to be in the life of the child in whatever way is worked out between the parents (if the child is old enough, their input should be an essential factor as well). Even though the custodial parent may love the child, single parenthood isn’t a walk in the park. The child may become psychologically damaged by the absence of the non-custodial parent.
Studies have looked at the absence of both mothers and fathers. Dr. Edward Kruk, in his Psychology Today article “Father Absence, Father Deficient, Father Hunger, ” explains this damage in stark clarity. He states, “Children [have a] diminished self-concept, and compromised physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing)… behavioral problems (fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report problems with friendships, and manifest behavior problems…).” The child is also much more likely to feel unworthy and unlovable. They often feel as if they have to prove themselves and find love in other places. In an article on Livestrong.com called “Mother Abandonment and the Effects on the Child,” Genevieve Van Wynden explains: “He experiences confusion and asks questions about why his mother left him. He feels guilt, believing that he did something so bad that it made his mother leave him behind…. He is fearful of developing bonds with other adults–teachers, stepparents or caregivers. The child believes that if he begins to love the new adult, that person will also leave. He grieves for the lost relationship.”
The presence of the custodial parent also has far-reaching effects. What if the parent has to take a number of vacation days off because the child is sick? They can’t always afford time off so this may cause a lack of cash flow coming back to the household. This could be made even worse by the lack of money for child support I spoke about in the beginning. How will the parent deal with the stressors of not being able to feed the child(ren) and put food on the table? The answer lies in the support and cooperation of both parties involved. The children come away feeling “if mom or dad loved me they would buy me what I needed.”
THE LOSS OF THE FAMILY
In some instances, one of the parents may have to relocate. This brings with it a new set of problems; children having to adjust to a new school, friends, and environment.
Equal or shared parenting can be made to work when parents live some distance apart, particularly with older children. At the same time, in the interests of stability and continuity in children’s lives, relocation should be undertaken only after careful consideration in regard to the impact such a move will have on children and on their relationships with both parents. It is no surprise that research indicates that children of divorce fare better if their parents remain in the same local area.
In a study where 500 college students who grew up with divorced parents were studied, the students were divided into two groups based on the moving history of their families: In the first, neither parent moved more than one hour away from the original family home, while in the second, one parent did move more than one hour away. Children’s psychological and emotional adjustment, health status, and other factors were measured. Results showed those whose parents had been separated by more than an hour’s drive were “significantly disadvantaged,” scoring poorly on numerous measures, including hostility, distress over their parents’ divorce, and generally poor physical heath and life satisfaction.
The study concluded that relocation stresses and often disrupts psychologically important parent-child relationships, and this in turn has adverse consequences for children. Younger children are particularly vulnerable to disruptions in attachment formation and consolidation, and therefore are likely to suffer the most when relocation occurs, with long-term consequences.
Yet moving is ubiquitous in North American society, with statistics indicating that 16 percent of all Americans move during a year’s time, 43 percent of them outside of their current metropolitan area. Moving is most common among people ages 20 to 34, the age group most likely to have young children. Thus, kids are even more likely to move than adults. Moving with children is particularly common after divorce.
There are some useful guidelines for maintaining children’s relationships with both parents if relocation is to occur. First, divorced parents wishing to relocate should consider waiting until their children are at least two or even better three years old, because the children are then better equipped with the cognitive and language skills necessary to maintain long-distance relationships. As children grow older, their changing developmental needs must remain at the forefront of whatever arrangements parents make to modify their schedules and to accommodate co-parenting of their children over long distances. Parenting plans should also make explicit reference to the regular use of telephone calls, videotapes, e-mail, and web cameras, in which communication can take place during periods that children are separated from either of their parents—although a disembodied voice over the phone or an image on the screen is never a substitute for actual physical contact. Thus co-parenting over long distances requires a good deal of creativity and flexibility, and parents in these circumstances may particularly benefit from support services such as mediation, parenting coordination and the development of parenting plans.
Courts have generally upheld the ability of custodial parents to relocate, based on the assumption that “what is good for the custodial parent is good for the child.” The “distress argument” is often made that to deny a parent’s application to relocate will cause such psychological harm to the parent that it will damage her or his ability to provide care. Such a position overlooks the fact the relocation will cause the non-resident parent even greater distress, and importantly, threatens the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent and thereby the child’s well-being. Court decisions are beginning to change, however, as studies demonstrate that children’s relationships with both parents are best safeguarded by legislation that discourages child relocation when both parents are actively involved in parenting after divorce. New legislation in Wisconsin, for example, requires a moving parent to prove that prohibiting the move would be harmful to children’s best interests. In contested cases a rebuttable presumption that children remain in the community in which they have become adjusted would safeguard children’s existing relationships and should be part of equal or shared parenting legislation.
Above all else, children’s best interests should be the main concern in any discussion about relocation. Primary among these is the preservation of children’s primary attachments to both parents, and bearing in mind that children have a different concept of distance to adults; what may seem manageable to the parents may be experienced as an infinite distance away by children. To the degree that children’s meaningful relationships with both parents can be accommodated after relocation, a key factor in their post-divorce adjustment and well-being, the decision to relocate is made easier. The likely effects of moving on the children’s social relationships must also be considered. To the extent that relocation threatens children’s relationships with a parent, and their existing social network, the potential adverse effects of relocation should be at the forefront of decision-making about the residential arrangements of children after divorce. The choice to have children necessarily involves sacrifices, and one of those sacrifices may come down to having to prioritize a child’s needs to maintain a fulfilling relationship with both parents over an often selfish desire to start afresh following divorce.
Relocation is not the only influence on connectedness post divorce. By the nature of shared custody the children will see less of either parent as they are divided. In some situations, they see very little of one of the parents and in this there is significant loss.
Family structure is very important. Divorce, by definition requires the family to restructure. It is very important that both parents continue to play an important role in the life of their child.
HOLIDAYS & SPECIAL OCCASIONS
Imagine not spending your birthday with someone you love.For children that is the frequent outcome from divorce.Divided holidays gives each parent a turn for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but the child is without one of his or her parents for both. Some studies will say, “put the children first and celebrate the birthdays together” while other studies will tout, “spending holidays together just confuses the children of divorce”.
The first set of holidays following a divorce is likely to be the most difficult because the parents are still figuring out what works, and what doesn’t, in terms of co-parenting. In addition, changes to and the loss of shared family customs, and the creation of new traditions, will elicit difficult feelings for all family members. Even if the divorce occurred earlier in the year and there has been ample time to deal with it, the first set of holidays are still going to present challenges. There is a grieving period that comes with the first holidays following a divorce, with the realization that things are no longer going to be the same. The first holiday season in particular typically tends to be a very difficult time for everyone in the family. While the children often have the most difficult time adjusting, the entire family is dealing with a sense of loss. Yet even though the parents are likely dealing with plenty of their own issues, the holidays are a time when it becomes more important than ever to attempt civility. This is particularly important because children are more sensitive around the holidays, because of the increased focus on traditional family events with the idea of everyone coming together to celebrate. The cultural belief of families coming together at such times is what causes children and parents to feel an acute sense of grief during the holidays, and to feel lost and displaced. It is vital that parents recognize that the priority should be on the needs of the child.
Children will thrive when spending time with both parents and extended families, especially during the holidays. Keeping in mind the special challenges of co-parenting during family vacations and festivities is an important measure to allow them to do so during these special occasions.
Some children look to step parents to fill in the gap left by a parent that is no longer in the picture.Some children build walls to ward off a step parent attempting to replace a parent.Step-families can be very complicated.
The number of children that are involved, and how the children get along with each other and the new step-parent are very important factors to explore when dealing with the structure of a step-family.
According to a research study completed by the Heritage Foundation statistically, if Mom remarries, the risk of abuse to her children with the stepfather is 6 times greater than if she had stayed married to the biological father. If she lives alone with the child, the risk to the child is 14 times greater, presumably from visiting boyfriends. If the mother lives with the child and with a boyfriend, the risk is 33 times greater.
In the last decade research has shown that many more problems occur on a short term basis.These include lowered academic achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, social relations, self-concept, and the quality of mother-child and father-child relationships.The degree to which a child experiences either short or long term problems appears to be dependent, at least to a certain degree, on the age of that child at the time of the divorce of his or her parents. Taking age into account other factors also exist.
The greatest focus of divorce’s effect on children has been on the weeks, months, and the first few years following the divorce. But what about the long-term effects of divorce?
Divorce affects all the children in the family at some time and to some degree. Some effects of divorce emerge rapidly following separation and some of these increase over the first years following divorce and then decline; still other may emerge later. Although most children are not permanently traumatized by the divorce of their parents, there is evidence that children of divorce are affected in some ways throughout their lives.
Emotionally, they had persistent problems with:
- Fears of betrayal, abandonment, loss, and rejection.
- Rising anxiety in late teens and early 20’s feelings and memories about their parents’ divorce arise with new intensity as they enter adulthood.
- Life-long vulnerability to the experience of loss.
- Anger, resentment, hostility.
- A reduction in psychological well-being and self blame.
- Depression in young adulthood.
- Low life satisfaction.
In a California study on divorce, Wallerstein and Kelly found the major reactions of children broken down by age and symptom as follows:
A pervasive sense of loss. One-half of the children were tearful and moody. One-third showed depressive symptoms such as sleeplessness, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.
Anxiety. Three-quarters of the children worried that their basic needs would not be attended to. One-third feared that their mothers would abandon them. Most felt that the world had become uncertain and unpredictable. They feared being left alone. They worried about money and about their parents’ emotional and physical health.
Feeling rejected. Half of the children reported feeling rejected by one or both parents.
Loneliness. Two-thirds of the children longed for the absent father, and many were preoccupied with fantasies of reconciliation. In general, children received less attention from both parents.
Anger. One-quarter of the children studied showed symptoms of explosive rage. One-third of all children reported feeling extremely angry. For the majority, the anger was directed at the absent father.
Conflicted loyalties. Two-thirds of the parents studied competed for their children’s affection and allegiance. The children walked a tightrope, afraid that enjoyment and intimacy with one parent might seem a betrayal of the other. In the same study, the researchers found that children of different ages had very different responses to separation and divorce.
Preschoolers (three to five-year-olds) were fearful of being abandoned. They often became anxious at bedtime and exhibited disturbed sleep. During the day they were clinging and cranky and showed increased irritability and aggressiveness toward other children. Preschoolers often regressed to earlier habits such as bedwetting, thumb sucking, or carrying security blankets. Masturbatory activity increased. Some children denied that a parent had left, while others spent hours fantasizing of a father’s return. Many of the preschoolers blamed themselves for the breakup. One child felt that her play had been too noisy, while another thought that daddy didn’t like her dog.
Six to eight-year-olds felt the most intense sadness of any age group. Unlike younger children, who used denial and fantasy as a defense, these children were often on the brink of tears. A great yearning for the departed parent accompanied their sadness. Half of the children missed their fathers intensely. Many felt abandoned and grieved openly. Although one-quarter of the children were under pressure from mothers to reject their dads, few criticized or expressed anger to their fathers.
Many of the children in this group worried about being left without a family or deprived of food and toys. Half slipped significantly in school performance. In contrast to the younger group, most of these children denied feeling any responsibility for the divorce. But most continued to wish for a reconciliation and clung to such fantasies even after the remarriage of one or both parents.
Nine to twelve-year-olds reacted predominantly with anger. This anger was usually directed toward the parent who appeared responsible for the divorce. One-fifth of the children in this age group were seduced into a strong alliance with one parent against the other. Alignments with the mother occurred in twice as many cases as alignments with the father. Particularly susceptible to being caught up in one parent’s anger and rage, this age group became faithful allies and agents in parental wars. The nine to twelve-year-olds also grieved and felt anxious and lonely, but these feelings were less marked than their anger.
Teenagers (thirteen to eighteen-year-olds) expressed anger about their parents’ dating, which they experienced as competition with their own emerging sexuality. They also felt anxiety about whether the break up foreshadowed failure in their own relationships. Like the youngest children, many adolescents experienced a deep sense of loss. They reported feelings of emptiness, troubled symptoms of mourning reflect a grief for the lost family of childhood.
Approximately one-third of the teenagers used the divorce as a catalyst for growing up. They took on more household responsibilities and helped in the care of younger children. They showed increased sensitivity and maturity in their relationships. Another third reacted by pulling away and distancing themselves from the family crisis. They displayed a marked increase in both social and sexual activities, often as a way of acting out anger toward their parents.
Adjustment problems associated with children of divorce include numerous forms of antisocial behavior to difficulties is subsequent relationships.Although the specifics of the problems vary according to the study it is apparent that problems do exist and these problems are related to parental divorce. Adolescent boys are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior such as alcohol use, truancy, and criminality than are girls. Girls on the other hand are more likely to experience problems with sexual development when their father left their household as a result of divorce (Palosaari and Aro, 1994).
Divorce is often adverse to a child in terms of their overall development.To make this less the case there are numerous approaches, one of the most obvious of which is continued communication and support of each of the parents (Todays Parent Group, 1998).Pursuing counseling for both the parent and child and joining support groups is helpful as well.Numerous books are available which discuss the topic of divorce from a number of different perspectives.These books are written for a variety of age groups and offer a ready means of information for the struggling child and indeed the parent.
Perhaps the most appropriate observation regarding the effects of divorce on children comes from Surviving the Breakup:How children and Parents Cope With Divorce by Judith Walerstein.She writes:
“the child’s suffering does not reach its peak at the breakup and then level off. On the contrary. Divorce is a cumulative experience for the child. Its impact increases over time. … The effect of the parents’ divorce is played and replayed throughout the first three decades of the children’s lives.
High Versus Low Conflict Marriages and Divorce
The two categories of children who are most at risk for future psychological problems: those who grow up with parents who stay married but remain conflicted and hostile, and those whose parents are in low-conflict marriages and divorce anyway.
According to Paul Amato, These low-conflict divorces are very disturbing for children,” he says. “The first time they discover something is wrong is when they come home to find Dad has moved out.”
In the case of the other category if a pre-divorce situation is particularly volatile or intense the child might actually experience positive impacts from the divorce.Researchers have found in these instances that children in particularly badly functioning two-parent families are actually better off in a single-parent family.Unfortunately the positive aspects of some divorces are dwarfed by the negative aspects of thousands more.
I want to show my children a good role model for seeking happiness.People who choose divorce sometimes say that the decision was made because of wanting what was best for their children. Our fighting is making the whole family miserable!A number of marriage and family experts do agree that under the circumstances of these high conflict marriages it can be in the child’s best interest in the long run for some parents to separate or divorce. No one should stay in a violent relationship.
However, it is estimated that only 30% of divorces occur under these circumstances. Approximately 70% of all divorces end “low conflict” marriages. In a low conflict marriage, many experts believe that continuing the marriage would not produce more negative stress for the child than would ending the relationship.
The research found that when children from divorces in low-conflict marriages reach adulthood they often experience increased psychological distress, reduced happiness, fewer ties with family and friends and reduced marital quality.
But staying together for the sake of the kids raises red flags for many researchers. Amato measures only one type of marital conflict, overt fighting, but there are many other damaging types that children
absorb, says Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce. Telling the parents to stay together is “just dangerous” for kids. She also challenges some of his methodology.
A loveless marriage dubbed low-conflict is not a good environment for a child, says Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-profit think tank of family researchers. “It is so obvious that if you can work your marriage out, it is an investment worth doing for yourself and the kids,” Coontz says. “But at what point does intense unhappiness for the parents get balanced out by a slightly increased chance of success for the kids?”
Some studies show that 5- and 6-year-olds perceive their parents’ low-conflict marriage as high-conflict, she says. And others show “boys raised in two-parent families where the parents were very cold to each other have a harder time showing intimacy than those raised in divorced families.”
Also, in addition to divorce, chronic conflict between parents who remain married increases the risk of many problems for children (Emery 1982; Grych & Fincham 1990). Prolonged exposure to interparental conflict during childhood may also create a predisposition toward psychological and marital difficulties in later life.
There are many religious and cultural impacts, as well.Research supports that children of divorced parents are less likely to continue to practice their religious beliefs.In many religions divorce is not acceptable.In some cultures a husband is responsible for keeping his wife and children in line with any means necessary.A Iranian woman I counseled who divorced her abusive husband had lost the respect and relationship she had with her adult son because of the her desire to leave the marriage. The son was aware of the abuse, but could not reconcile the divorce as acceptable.
The following is an expert from Paul Amatos research study:
Previous research has been unable to specify how parental divorce and parental marital conflict are related to offspring well-being. We consider four models. The first is that divorce and parental marital conflict have independent effects on children. A second possibility is that the apparent “effects” of divorce are due to the conflict that precedes marital dissolution. Because marital conflict is a cause of both divorce and behavioral problems of children, the association between divorce and child behavioral problems may be spurious. A third possibility is that the effects of marital conflict are mediated by divorce; that is, marital conflict leads to divorce, and divorce, in turn, lowers children’s well-being. The fourth possibility is that parental marital conflict and divorce interact, with the consequences of divorce depending on the level of conflict that precedes marital dissolution.
In relation to the fourth model, when conflict between parents is overt and intense, the consequences of divorce may be positive. Many observers have suggested that children are better off in well-functioning single-parent families than in two-parent families marked by severe and persistent conflict (e.g., Barber & Eccles 1992; Emery 1988; Furstenberg & Cherlin 1991; Kurdek 1981). Furthermore, reasons given for divorce frequently include mental and physical cruelty and alcohol abuse (Kitson & Sussman 1982). Under these conditions, children may recognize divorce as an escape from an aversive environment. But when parents display little overt conflict prior to marital dissolution, children may not anticipate or welcome divorce. Under these circumstances, children may gain little but risk losing a great deal, including the absence of one parent from the household, a decline in standard of living, and a less stable and less predictable home environment. In these cases, the consequences of divorce for children are likely to be negative.
This issue can be clarified by including both divorce and parental marital conflict (measured prior to divorce, in cases where divorce occurs) in statistical models to predict children’s well-being. However, few data sets contain information on parental marital conflict measured prior to divorce. We use a 12-year longitudinal study of married people first interviewed in 1980, some of whom divorced over the course of the study. In 1992, we also interviewed adult offspring who had lived in the same household as the respondent (parent) at the time of the initial parental interview in 1980. Because we have detailed information on parental marital quality prior to divorce, as well as data on a range of outcomes for offspring 12 years later, we are able to estimate the effects of both parental divorce and predivorce marital conflict on offspring during the transition to adulthood.
In the face of all of these negative influences, as divorce becomes more and more prevalent a few of the factors causing negative effects have diminished such as a feeling of being alone and different.It is not infrequent for a child whose parents are divorcing to be in the majority rather than minority.At the very least they usually have other friends who have experienced divorce.
Will the negative effects of divorce continue to decrease as we reconcile the ever-changing structure of the family?School programs, churches and Barney the Purple Dinosaur are teaching children a family is made up of people who love each other and sometimes that includes a mommy and step-daddy and a sister or sometimes a daddy a grandmother and a brother.
WISHES AND DESIRES OF THE CHILDREN
Regardless of the potential for diminished negative effects, currently over 60 percent of couples seeking a divorce have children still living at home. For these children, the break up of the family begins a period of unparalleled sadness, fear and stress. During the period before decision the stress in the home is frequently evident; once the decision and process begins there is fear, sadness, guilt, inappropriate responsibility and then often anger and resentment. Perhaps a handful, but few children feel relieved by the decision to separate even in homes exhibiting neglect and abuse. When faced with the broken family children almost always prefer a bitter and violent family to the unknown.Is this phenomenon explainable?Is the bond of parent and child or the fear of change so strong to stifle the hierarchy of needs?Does security come from the known chaos or the comfort of not living in fear of constant fights?What is in their real best interest long term?
COUNSELING A FAMILY FACING DIVORCE
Our society may have erased the stigma that once accompanied divorce, but it can not turn away from the resulting current massive detrimental effect.
Although it is not the family counselors decision, with the insight the research has given us into the future of the children facing divorcing parents what can we offer the family?Amato suggests, We should lower the divorce rate not by restricting access to divorce, but by strengthening marriages.”
The statistical data is not intended for the counselor to use as a weapon to control those exploring divorce or shame those who have divorced.Rather it is an exploration into the many issues a family counselor should be prepared to help a family through as a result of discord.The decision to divorce carries with it obvious negative effects and should not be entered into lightly, just as the minister says at the inception of the marriage.Divorce carries with it many potentially harmful and life changing consequences for everyone involved.
Questions Your Clients Should Ask Themselves
Before They Choose Divorce:
When divorce seems inevitable, parents should look at specific ways to help themselves and their children:
- Parents should let children know that they are loved unconditionally.They should help them understand that they are not at fault.
- Understand that children need predictability.
- Be keenly aware that children need relationships with both parents, if at all possible.
- Keep children out of the middle of parental conflicts.
- Do not expose children to casual relationships with members of the opposite sex. If a serious relationship develops, parents should introduce the person slowly into the children’s lives.
- Before starting a second family, parents should remember obligations to the first family.
Many children are referred to therapy to help them to adjust to divorce. They typically feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. They may feel anxious about the therapeutic process and be reluctant to talk directly about the divorce. Activities that are creative and play-based can engage children and help them to safely express their thoughts and feelings. The purpose of this article is to provide practitioners with creative therapy techniques for children of divorce.
In order to effectively treat children of divorce, a number of key issues need to be addressed, including developing effective coping skills, facilitating the appropriate outlets, disengaging from parental conflict, eliminating self-blame for the divorce, and enhancing positive perceptions of self.
A primary focus of treatment aimed at helping children cope with divorce-related stressors is to build cognitive behavioral skills including:
Sessions with children can include play therapy, the use of cartoons and pictorial stimuli, writing newspaper articles, and other games. Treatment should focus on skill-building through methods of teaching and modeling. Skill-building activities include the rehearsal of skills such as labeling feelings, problem solving, self-control, communication, relaxation techniques, and anger control.
Providing emotional support and teaching cognitive-behavioral coping and internal control skills, link to sources of resilience that are empirically related to post-divorce adjustment.
Divorce is a phenomenon which indeed has many impacts to both the estranged couple and to their children.The intensity of these impacts depends on a number of factors such as the degree of conflict which exists prior to and after the divorce, the custody arrangements, the degree to which the estranged parent stays involved with the children, and the age a child is when divorce occurs.Parents who are cognizant of the many impacts a child may experience can intercede in those impacts by providing the appropriate degree of attention, counseling when needed and informational materials such as books for those children who are affected.