How Does A Divorce Affect Children?
Divorce affects all children differently, and to varying degrees in both positive and negative ways. For the most part people, including children, do not like change. But even though divorce usually represents a dramatic change in children’s lives, the effects can be positive. A divorce can also affect children negatively, especially when children experience negative or resentful behavior from their parents.
Negative behavior can have a detrimental affect on the development of children during this uncertain time, but there are things parents can do during and after a divorce to help their children become well adjusted and thrive.
Lead By Example to Reduce Negative Effects on Children
Parents who support one another, who communicate after the divorce, who respect the rules at each other’s house, have a better chance of raising children who are well adjusted, self-confident and less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Parents who don’t support one another, show respect for one another, or engage in risky behavior often find themselves with children who have problems.
Negative Effects of Divorce With Misbehaving Parents
So specifically, what are the problems we are talking about when we look at what can happen to children if the parents are not willing to or can’t behave? When parents are unwilling to act responsibly in a divorce their children are impacted significantly.
Children of Divorced Parents are More Likely to…
- Go through a divorce themselves when they become adults
- Higher odds of starting to smoke marijuana before the age of 18 and more likely to take other illegal drugs
- A higher likelihood of developing ADHD and depression
- Greater chance of having poor math and social skills
- More susceptibility to illness
- Less likely to finish high school
- Higher risk of behavior problems
- More likely to turn to crime
- More likely to consider suicide
- More likely to have a teen pregnancy
- An increased risk of stroke and a decreased life expectancy
What do we mean by a parent who will not or cannot behave during a divorce?
How do parents “not behave?” There are countless ways, but there are also patterns we can identify.
- Bad mouthing other parent in front of children – A parent who directly says negative things about the other, who indicates distaste for the other by their body language, their lack of response, and even their eye movement, may be hurting their children.
- Not talking to children – A parent who refuses to communicate with the other in a positive and respectful way is cutting off any meaningful communication and is damaging their child.
- Not respecting other parent’s rules or decisions – A parent who refuses to support the rules of the other parent, though they will usually say it’s for their child’s best interest, is often doing it more out of spite. For instance, if a child’s phone is taken away at mom’s house for talking back, dad might consider continuing the punishment at his house until both parents agree it should be given back. Continuity of parenting is important.
- Crying on children’s shoulders – Sometimes parents, though unknowingly, reverse roles with their children. Some parents who have gone through divorce have been emotionally damaged and need a shoulder to cry on. Too many times that shoulder is that of their child. Children are not equipped to be their parents caregivers at 6, 10 or even 20 years old and children should never be put in a position of feeling sorry for their parents or becoming their emotional caregivers.
- Complicating visitation with other parent – Visitation schedules are there for a reason, but flexibility is important. Parents who strictly adhere to the schedule without variation, no matter what the reason, are often acting dogmatic and not thinking about what is best for their children. That being said, continuity and routine are also important for children. A schedule that is so fluid that the children don’t know where they will be from one day to the next can also be harmful.
Guidelines for Raising Healthy Children After a Divorce
Set a positive example. Parents should work hard to have a positive attitude about one another. Children are perceptive – more perceptive than we usually give them credit for being. If we hold a negative opinion of the other parent, the children will often pick up on it. They will internalize it. Speaking in “code” when talking about the other parent usually doesn’t work. They know and those negative attitudes will hurt them.
- Don’t force children to keep secrets or divulge information about your ex. Don’t ever try to get the children to keep secrets from the other parent. If you don’t want the other parent to know that something is happening at your house, don’t do it. By the same token, don’t try to extract information from the children about the other parent’s house. Your children should be free to express themselves, tell you about what’s going on in their lives and voice their concerns when they feel the need to do so, not when they’re being coerced to do so.
- Let children have ownership of their own belongings. If you give your child something – a toy, clothes, a book – let it be theirs. If they want to take it to the other parent’s house, it’s their choice. That doesn’t mean you get them a replacement for your house. Let the children own their things and own responsibility for those things.
- Make pragmatic visitation decisions. Be flexible, but not too fluid. If a change in the schedule needs to happen, it’s usually alright if it does. But don’t have a schedule that changes so often that the children don’t know where they will be from one day to the next.
- Communicate with the other parent in a civil manner. Communicate often with the other parent and support them when you can. Even though you’re divorced, you still have to parent together. There will be times when you don’t agree with the other parent’s style of discipline or teaching. That’s okay. But if the children don’t have a clear set of rules, they will be less confident and more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Divorce Doesn’t Have to Affect Children Negatively
Children can do better after a divorce than they did when their parents were married in some cases. If parents commit to working together to raise their children, they can open up a new and positive world for their children’s development. Although divorce can have a negative affect on children if parents misbehave, children can also flourish after their parents divorce.