5 Ways Divorce Mentally Affects Children

by Frank

Divorce is not something that is planned before and after two people get married. Often, they start a family with the hopes of growing old watching their children mature and succeed in life. Unfortunately, in over half of marriages, this is not the case. You may have heard of the 7-year itch. It references a point in time when two people are no longer satisfied with each other and may look for satisfaction and happiness elsewhere. If not worked out, this often leads to divorce.

There is debate on whether divorce is worth it where children are involved. One thing is for sure, divorce has long term effects on a child’s mental health. While relationships that are together have potential for repair, divorce leaves an emotional scar on both parents and children for a long time. This scar can lead to further relationship problems and even mental illness in children. If you are in the process of considering divorce, or are in the middle of one, understanding how your children may be impacted can help you to prepare them for what is to come. Preparing your children for this transition helps to prevent emotional damage that may affect them throughout their lives.

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Children Blame Themselves

The biggest factor in mental health for children of divorce is self-blame. This is an emotionally damaging action that affects them far into adulthood. If it is ignored, a child stays angry and this anger can fester deeply and affect adult relationships as they age. As adults these responses can seem like an autonomous reaction of anger because, as adults, they will not realize the source of their pain.

While deep seated anger can be combated with therapy and social acceptance, every child succumbs to this same equation – “I must have done something wrong,” or “They don’t love me anymore.” Self-blame comes from a reduced ability to logically discern that the parents are the problem, not the child. This could result in a child affixing blame on one parent over the other, leading to anger and resentment of one parent.

Divorce Lessens Success in School

A recent report summarized how children of divorce have problems with developing reading skills, passing on to the next grade, and even fall behind in major skills. Part of this may be the stigma that divorce still carries among young children, meaning they face rejection and ridicule at school. Young students who have been through divorce often lack coping skills, making the stress of progressing from grade to grade more difficult.

The pressure that school places on a person is the biggest target for problems with children who live in a divorce lifestyle. The kind of pressure that ensues includes parental approval, peer acceptance, and feeling lost in the crowd when there is a high teacher to student ratio. Unfortunately, students who deal well, often get more attention than those struggling. The imbalance leads to lower self-esteem as the child develops.

To lessen the impact of divorce on your child, keep a routine of working on school projects, homework, and picking up from school as usual. Keep the lines of communication open and speak with your child’s teacher to let him or her know of the change that is coming. The teacher can be a staunch ally in helping to keep your child engaged and may also become an additional trusted adult in whom he or she can confide.

Inconsistent Discipline Leads to Acting Out

As parents divide, so do their tactics for disciplining and caring for their children. It could be a good cop vs bad cop scenario with one parent always having to be the “bad guy.” Or it can simply be differences in rules at each home that are confusing. Either way, a united front among divorced parents is necessary to properly raise children with good boundaries and solid self-esteem.

If you and your spouse are divorcing, agreeing to the way in which the children will continue to be disciplined is of the utmost importance. Many divorce decrees have these terms written out because they are so crucial to children.

It is important that children have consistency in their split homes because it teaches them how to set boundaries in the future. Consistency also sets the tone for a child’s own parenting style as they become child-rearing adults. From youth to adult, the discipline he or she receive plays a big part in how the world at large is perceived, and colors interpersonal skills. When children get into trouble, this is often a way of acting out their pain.

Long Term Effects on Coping Skills

Studies show that children of divorce can become stunted in their ability to cope well with the stressors of life. This is especially true in a scenario where abuse has occurred or where parents are not amicable after the divorce. Because of this stunted growth, children may become more involved in substance abuse, and be more likely to harm themselves.

This is why, as your divorce proceeds, and even after it has taken place, you must strive to get along with your ex. He or she may make this difficult at times, but in the long run you both care for your children, and it is what is best for them. Avoid the temptation to speak badly of the other parent in front of the children, or where they will overhear.

Besides drug abuse, children can become complacent in their approach to life. On the other hand, they could run with a rougher group of friends or exaggerate discipline problems to gain attention. Or children can withdraw and engage in isolating activities that stunt their social growth and even lead to depression. They simply do not know who or what to trust in their present or future, leading to silence that bottles up feelings. These feelings eventually explode.

Ultimately, children thrive best when there is a routine where they know what to expect from day to day, from both parents. It is no wonder there is resentment in having to divide their lives between parents who are not getting along. Without intervention, coping with these feelings becomes difficult and skewed. If you are divorcing as a result of domestic abuse, then consider enlisting the services of a trained family therapist.