The most important consequences of divorce in children are the possibility of the appearance of psychological disorders, damaging personal relationships, creating feelings of guilt, imitation of negative behaviors, inciting drug use, stress or causing a worse academic performance.
Currently, the separation and divorce of couples with children is very common and seems to be on the rise. This fact can have negative effects not only for the children but also for the parents themselves.
Consequences of Divorce
Consequences of divorce in children at a general level
Although later we talk about some consequences that exist specifically depending on the age the child has when the separation occurs, we will now break down those that usually occur in a general way in children:
- The possibility of presenting psychiatric disorder. Children whose parents are separated or divorced are more likely to develop psychiatric disorders than those who live in a more complete and stable home.
- It can affect your relationships. A girl who grows up without a father can develop difficulties in her relationship with men or present inadequate attempts to recover the lost father.
It also occurs in the opposite case, although less frequently since it is usually the mothers who usually take custody of the children.
- It triggers psychological problems. Children can be exposed to the psychological trauma that precedes the divorce and the conflicting interaction that occurs between the parents after the separation. It does not always condemn necessarily a psychological imbalance.
On the other hand, the children of parents who are in conflict to distract their parents can develop psychological symptoms in order to pay more attention.
- Create the feeling of guilt. Children suffer from separation and may feel guilty for no reason, because of their parents’ marital problems. It is a fact that the children are involved in the fights of the parents since they compete for their affection and their custody, among others.
- Imitation of negative behaviors. Children, seeing constantly that their parents are arguing and insulting each other on a daily basis, can begin to imitate the parents’ conflicting behaviors.
- Increase behavior problems. On the other hand, a possible response to what happens and feels is to begin to have disobedient or challenging behaviors that trigger behavior problems.
Specifically, children from single-parent families in charge of the mother may present higher scores in aggressive behaviors, antisocial behavior, criminal behavior and alcohol and drug consumption (Canton and Justice, 2002).
- It incites the consumption of drugs. In single-parent families, high rates of drug use are high. Although it is true, it also depends on peer pressure (friends or colleagues) and exposure to deviant models. Their relationship tends to be stronger in adolescents who lack a father (Farrell and White, 1998).
- They suffer stress. The child to be immersed in a world where parents are tense and argue and do not know why can generate a lot of stress. This, added to the behavioral problems caused by this fact, causes the minor’s problems to increase considerably.
- They strive to get their family back. The child does not understand why his parents have separated, so he will try by all means that everything will be as before or at least maintain a frequent communication relationship.
- Resentment against the parent who takes care of him. Sometimes, the child may be resentful of the father or mother who remains at home at home, while the other parent has left.
This is his head has those feelings towards the parent who has been left in charge, since he blames it for causing the departure of the other. Normally in most cases, it is usually towards the mother since they are the ones who get custody most of the time.
- Resentment against the absent parent. As in the case of the parent who has been left in charge of the child, the child will also show resentment towards the one who has left the home due to the fact that he/she left.
In these cases, this may be because the child still does not understand what is happening and thinks that his father or mother has abandoned him. As we will see later, they tend to think that it was their fault.
- Acts as a messenger between your parents. Once the parents have separated, they unconsciously have their children act as a messenger between them. This can negatively affect the minor since he is being given responsibilities that are not according to his age and can be influenced by one of the parents.
- Start of sexual activities with younger age . Compared to intact homes, children from separated families begin sexual activities at a younger age. On the other hand, girls are more likely to become pregnant at a young age (Whitbeck et al., 1996).
- It negatively affects academic performance. Due to the separation of their parents, the children show greater absenteeism as well as less motivation to learn. This will trigger that some do not even finish compulsory education (McLanahan, 1999).
What effects can it have based on the age range of the children?
Depending on the age range at which it occurs, we can also talk about individual consequences for each one of them. However, as is logical, we can not classify the consequences to each of these, since there will be many that also occur in one or the other regardless of age.
Therefore, we present the ones that tend to stand out the most:
In children from 1 to 3 years old
- It may reflect the concern of the parent who takes care of it. Children see, hear, listen and feel. Therefore, if he finds that the parent who spends more time with him feels nervous or distressed and even cries in front of him. When he does not know what is happening, he may reflect the concern of the father or mother who is taking care of him.
- Need more attention. Due to age and the concern that the entire divorce process triggers, they will need to be given more attention to fill the gap and overcome the stress and sadness they present.
- Regression in its development. Some children, due to the stress and anxiety they have suffered during the divorce stage, may experience regression in their development. This can be seen, for example, in children who at a certain age should talk or walk and do not (Maganto, S / F).
- Other consequences: irritability, crying, fears, separation anxiety, sleep problems, aggressive behavior, among others.
Between 4 to 5 years
- They blame themselves for the absence or unhappiness of their parents and even feel abandonment anxiety. Because of this, they can act in two ways: behaving very obediently at home or on the contrary, extremely aggressive.
- They deny the rupture. A defense mechanism that tends to have these facts, is to deny the break of their parents and act as if nothing happened. Therefore, they ask about the father who is absent as if he were going to return, even though he has been told what has happened several times.
- They idealize the absent father. Sometimes, they can idealize the father who is not at home or even shows their rejection towards him, refusing to want to see him or enjoy his company.
Between 6 to 10 years
- Feeling of grief. They present ambivalent feelings between affections and rejection because of the situation they live in at that moment and especially because they have to choose since at this age they are already asked who they want to be with.
- They usually show anger, sadness, and nostalgia. They also tend to show anger, sadness, and nostalgia that affect their school performance. Even if they know what is happening, they find it difficult to assimilate it (Maganto, S / F).
Preteens and teens
- Desidealiza their parents. He feels that his family has been broken, so he blames the parents for everything that happened and they usually feel lost and afraid.
- Due to the above and the stage of development in which they find themselves, they will present high levels of aggression and disobedience that, if not properly controlled, will encourage the minor to consume drugs, among others.
- Antisocial behavior Depending on the personality of the child, another way of dealing with the situation will be to isolate himself from the world around him and turn to things that he likes and feel good to forget what is happening.
- Start of sexual relations at younger ages. On the other hand, compared to intact families, children raised in single-parent families have a high rate of starting to have sex at younger ages than the rest. Maybe it’s because of the feeling of emptiness and abandonment that they can feel (Maganto, S / F).
- Criminal activities. Due to the emotional and behavioral lack of control, along with the consumption of legal and illegal substances, the minor can engage in criminal activities to capture the attention of their parents or simply to fit into a group and be supported (Conger and Chao, 1996).
- Depression. There is also the possibility that adolescents may suffer depression due to separation from their parents, this will depend on their personality and temperament.
Although we have briefly developed some consequences that children may experience due to the divorce of their parents both in general terms and based on the age ranges. We have to keep in mind that everyone faces this fact differently due to their personality and temperament.
Therefore, not all children will present all the consequences we have explained here in the same way, nor do all those who go through a divorce process have to be so affected by this fact.
Some recommendations for parents in the process of divorce
For children, a divorce process is a traumatic event that can even mark a before and after in their lives. However, it is up to the parents to make this happen or, on the contrary, minimize its consequences as much as possible.
Here are some general recommendations that can help you avoid your child suffering more than he should:
- Do not argue in front of him. If you have to talk with your partner about something related to the relationship or even the child, you should do so when the child is not in front of you. This way we will avoid discussing in his presence and therefore those negative feelings that may influence him to arise.
- Be sympathetic to your son. On many occasions, we think that hiding the divorce process will be better than if we tell you about it. However, if we do this we are making a big mistake because it will affect you more sharply and it will be harder to understand why.
- Make the process something normal. One of the best ways to make this process not affect your child as much is to take it as something normal. Although this is difficult for us, we have to do it for him. Therefore, we have to be calm at all times.
- Do not speak ill of each other. It is not advisable that we try to put it against the other parent, let alone say negative things to the child from one another.
- Have some routine habits. Another action that will make the child assimilate the divorce process as soon as possible, will be to return to their usual routine habits. Therefore, both parents must agree as soon as possible on the activities that the child should do with each one.
- Agree on parenting guidelines. Something that is usually done usually, is to consent the child to awaken positive emotions that awaken the child the feeling of happiness more with one parent than with another. However, if we do this we are spoiling and consenting.
It would be advisable to agree on the parenting guidelines that will be followed from now on with your partner so that there is a stable environment and not harm the mental and physical development of the child.
- Support you during the process. Even if you believe that you are the person who suffers the most in the divorce process, the biggest victim is your child. Therefore, you have to support him and explain what is happening so that he can see that it was not his fault and thus avoid that the consequences that may affect him are as small as possible.
- Do not put the child in the middle of the discussions. Many couples argue for the child as if it were a war. This also affects you negatively and will increase your frustration since you will not understand what is happening.
Trying to avoid this type of action will reduce the level of anxiety not only of your child but also of the family in general.
As you can see, the divorce process can have many negative consequences for the child. This is the great victim of this process that, if it is not dealt with naturally, can affect and change the way you see the world and relate to your environment. As fathers and mothers, we must try to minimize these possible consequences and try that this process does not affect our son so much.
On the other hand, each child is different because of their personality and temperament. This will cause everyone to react to this fact in a different way, not showing all the effects we have mentioned here both in general and by age.
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Finally, it is important that we mention that not only a divorce can be a traumatic event for our child. It can be the same or even more growing to see that parents are arguing all day without control or have nothing in common.