September 13, 2022

The Impact Divorce Has on Children’s Mental Health

by Psych Times Staff

Divorce is a hard time for everyone involved. For the couple, it means the end of a life that they once thought would be permanent. For the children, it is a complete uprooting of the family structure that had been fundamental to their development up until this point. 

In this article, we look at the emotional and mental impact divorce has on children. We also examine how you can make your divorce go smoother for your family. 

Myth: Divorce is Necessarily Bad for Children:

We only stayed together this long for the children. 

It’s a common enough phrase that has found itself on the lips of many a couple headed for divorce court. Certainly, there are merits to trying to make a marriage work when there are children involved. That does not mean that separations, when they are inevitable and necessary are bad for children. 

Bad marriages can be just as harmful to children as relationships that have formally ended. Chronic fighting and uncertainty in a relationship are observed by children. Often, this behavior leads to stress, anxiety, and depression, which then manifests itself in the child’s behavior. 

Children who are experiencing volatility in their household are more likely to act out and get themselves in trouble both at home and at school. This is an attention-getting mechanism, allowing them to be seen by adults. 

So, we…shouldn’t try to stay together for the children? 

Every divorce is unique. Where the child’s mental health is concerned, variables are everything. It’s true that bad marriages can lead to mental health problems in children. It is also true that divorces can cause many of the same factors. 

It’s a matter of asking yourself: is the home environment we are creating for our child happy and stable? If it is possible to salvage a marriage that can produce a happy home life, it will be worthwhile to do so for your child. 

If not, prolonging the process will only produce more stress. 

Regardless, the divorce may still be hard on your child. However, from a mental health perspective, their stress levels may be better with a civil, clean divorce than they would be with a long, drawn-out, volatile marriage. 

Conflict with peers

Children of divorce are more likely to experience problems with their peers than children whose parents are still together. Studies have shown that children who have recently experienced divorce are more likely to be aggressive and obstinate with their peers than those who have not. 

These behaviors are often acute, building up during the separation, and peeking in the short term that follows. 

Depression

Divorce has also been linked to heightened levels of depression in children. Once again, this experience is most often felt acutely and can be observed in the period immediately following the separation. 

Academic Performance

Divorce can potentially lead to dips in academic performance. The statistics on this are mixed. Children who were taken off guard by their parent’s divorce usually perform poorly in school. Children who knew the divorce was coming and had time to prepare for it usually do not see educational dips. 

There are similar statistics for a wide range of potential scenarios for school-aged children. For example, sudden death, or a significant, observable change in a family’s financial situation can also undermine educational performance, suggesting that uncertainty is the most significant contributing factor. 

Avoiding Trauma

Divorce will be difficult for most children, no matter what the parents do to make it easier. However, there are ways you can make your separation as easy as possible for your family. The last thing you want your children to experience is traumatic grief and depression.

Civility

Civility is key to preserving family stability in the time leading up to and following a divorce. As stated above, regular fighting produces many of the same outcomes that divorce does in children. If you and your spouse can avoid arguments in front of the children, it will go a long way toward making the divorce process go smoother. 

Custody

Custody arrangements following divorce are regularly messy and complex. The path you take will be very personal and subject to variables. However, it is worth noting at least, that children who have regular, consistent access to both of their parents typically do better than those who do not. 

Children as Middlemen

It’s easy, and tempting even to use your children as middlemen following the divorce. Perhaps you want to know what your ex is up to. If they are seeing anyone, how they live, etc. Though curiosity is natural, using your children to satisfy it is not appropriate. Nor is it advisable to use your children to convey messages to your ex. Your kids will do better if they can see you and your former spouse communicating civilly. 

Continue to Co-parent

Your role as spouses might have ended. Your role as co-parents has not. For best results, it is good to maintain consistency in terms of rules and discipline in both households. This will not always be easy. However, by reaching a compromise between you and your ex-spouse, you will establish a level of consistency that is key for mental and physical health in children. 

Monitor Your Children

In the months immediately following the divorce, it is a good idea to monitor your children’s emotional health. It’s ok to regularly ask them how they are feeling. You can also get a good idea of how they are doing by speaking with their teachers. Has their performance dipped? Are they displaying any unusual behaviors in the classroom? By catching any symptoms of mental distress early, you not only position yourself to treat it quicker but you also have an opportunity to adjust your behavior as quickly as possible to calibrate your post-divorce life in a way that is best suited to the child. 

Parenting children after divorce is universally difficult. However, with patience and effort, you can ensure that the process goes smoothly.


Psych Times Staff

At Psych Times, we strive to help increase the awareness of mental health, to reduce the stigma of mental illness, and to provide our readers with high-quality content to help them cope with the stresses of everyday life.

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