How the Separation of Parents Affects Kids and Adolescents
Parental separation can have negative effects on children’s social and emotional development, well-being, and mental health. Emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or separating. Children can become very insecure, which can cause them to behave like they are much younger and therefore bed wetting, ‘clinginess’, nightmares, worries or disobedient can all occur. Separation is often associated with increased parental distress, reduced attention paid to the child by one or both parents, disruption of the home environment, conflict over money and custody/visitation, and reduced economic circumstances, all of which are not only stressors for the adults but also for children and teenagers.
How will my Divorce affect my kids/teens?
A minority of children of separated parents have long-term problems, which can affect them through their childhood and into adult life. But it’s the conflict between separated parents, and not the separation itself, which accounts for many of the problems children of separated parents experience.
Immediately before and after parental separation, children or teens are often upset. But for most children and/or teens, their adjustment improves across the next year or two. Most children adjust reasonably well in the long term. On average, children of separated parents do just a little bit worse than children of parents’ with intact families. This effect is evident across multiple outcomes. For example, children of divorced parents do a little bit worse in educational attainment, have slightly more behaviour problems, and are slightly more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
While the average effect of parental separation is small, children of separated parents have twice the risk of serious mental health problems and substance abuse, and are twice as likely to attempt suicide, compared to children of parents in intact families.
Emotional Impact of Divorce on children and teens
Divorce creates emotional turmoil for the entire family, but for kids, the situation can be quite scary, confusing, and frustrating:
- Young children often struggle to understand why they must go between two homes. They may worry that if their parents can stop loving one another that someday, their parents may stop loving them.
- Grade school children may worry that the divorce is their fault. They may fear they misbehaved or they may assume they did something wrong.
- Teenagers may become quite angry about a divorce and the changes it creates. They may blame one parent for the dissolution of the marriage, or they may resent one or both parents for the upheaval in the family.
Of course, each situation is unique. In extreme circumstances, a child or teen may feel relieved by the separation- if a divorce means fewer arguments and less stress.
Risks Families Face
Many children endure ongoing changes to their families dynamics. The addition of a step-parent and possibly several step-siblings can be another big adjustment. And quite often both parent’s re-marry, which means many changes for kids.
- Mental Health Problems
- Behaviour Problems
- Poor Academic Performance
- Risk-Taking Behaviours
Helping Kids and Teens Adjust
Adults who experienced divorce during the childhood may have more relationships difficulties. Divorce rates are higher for people whose parents were divorced. Parents play a major role in how children and teens adjust to a divorce. Here are some strategies that can reduce the psychological toll divorce has on children and/or teens:
- Avoid Putting Kids in the Middle
- Maintain Healthy Relationships
- Use Consistent Discipline
- Monitor Adolescents Closely
- Empower Your Children
- Teach Coping Skills
- Help Kids Feel Safe
- Seek Parent Education
- Get Professional Help
- Co-Parent Peacefully
When to Seek Help for your Child or Teen
Despite the fact that divorce is tough on families, staying together for the sole sake of the children may not be the best option. Children who live in homes with a lot of arguing, hostility and discontentment may be at a higher risk for developing mental health issues and behaviour problems.
Consequently, following parental separation, it’s normal for kids to struggle with their feelings and their behaviour immediately afterwards. But, if your child’s mood issues or behavioural problems persist, seek professional help.
If separated parents allow conflict to occur in front of their children or teenager, the kids suffer. If parents manage to be mutually respectful and keep their kid’s best interests as their shared focus, then the child/teen is more likely to do well.
Consulting with us at Alegna Solutions Psychology Practice, about the welfare of your children whilst going through any type of family difficulty is one of the best things you can do. Help yourself and help your children, attend for one or two sessions and see if it makes a difference. Call us to make an appointment.