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With the divorce rate between 40 to 50% in the United States, there are millions of children who are negatively affected by divorce each year. Oftentimes, parents are completely unaware of how their divorce has affected their children, or how much intolerable stress has been added into their lives.
According to Kathleen O’Connell Corcoran, PhD and mediator of family conflicts, sometimes parents need some help in identifying both the signs and the amount of stress that have been brought into a child’s life as a result of the divorce. The interesting thing about it is that stress effects children’s lives differently, based upon their age at the time of the divorce.
Below are seven of the top stressors that cause the most tension in children’s lives as a result of their parents’ divorce.
- Court Appointed Custody Arrangements
The type of custody arrangement agreed (or not agreed) upon by parents plays a great role in a child’s life, as it influences the amount of stress that is imposed upon them. In fact, court appointed custody issues are among the top areas of stress that children experience as a result of their parents’ divorce.
- Children living with one parent
Custody arrangements in which children live with just one parent were found to bring on more stress for the child than any of the other custody arrangement.
- Living part-time with both parents in separate homes
Although still somewhat stressful, living part-time with both parents, and having contact with them every day appears to be less stressful and much more important to children than living in one home with one parent. It addresses loyalty issues that children may develop, according to Dr. O’Connell.
- Living with a Stepparent, Stepsister or Stepbrother
The stress of a child associated with divorce can sometimes be attributed to a divorced parent remarrying. This creates a new parental figure in their life, and often step-siblings. This situation can stress on children, which often results in lowered academic performance, and an increase in high school dropout rates. Children tend to leave home a lot sooner than they would if they were living with both, or one, of their biological parents.
Although there have been many studies surrounding this topic, several of the studies have arrived at different results. Some studies show differences in children according to whether they are as well-adjusted when living with both biological parents as they are when living with one biological parent and one step parent.
Nevertheless, issues such as self-esteem remained consistent between both family structures.
According to an article titled “The Effects of Remarriage on Children, ” by Amy Lofquist, family structures that differ from the traditional two biological parent structure have increased. This places children at somewhat of a risk since these arrangements typically require some form of adjustment. Even though this arrangement is more socially accepted, one should not assume that children of divorce or blended families will always have more problems than other children.
Many research studies have examined the effects on children whose parents have remarried, but have found inconsistent results.
- Becoming Sensitive to Signs of Divorce
Children who are more sensitive to the environment around them can understand the differences between sadness and happiness within their family, according to a study titled “The Implications of Divorce on Children” published by the California University of Northridge Research Study Group. When children see signs of unhappiness in their household, but notice happiness in other households, they become more aware of the reality of divorce; contributing to stress and unhappiness.
- Being Caught Off Guard
Children who do not see the divorce coming, or are not as perceptive to it as others, may become overwhelmed and stressed out at the time of separation. This situation is associated with higher levels of stress, anger, anxiety, and feelings of being deserted by one, or both, of the parents.
- Making the Transition to Learn How to Live
According to Carl Pickhardt, PhD, divorce introduces a massive change in a child’s life. When children begin to witness the loss of love between the parents, plus the absence of one of their parents, the divorce becomes more realistic. Divorce creates new family dynamics and circumstances that are exceptionally challenging to a child in terms of how to transition into a new life, and learning how to live with these circumstances.
- Dealing with Early Issues of Independence
A divorce that takes place during a child’s adolescent years tends to intensify a child’s level of independence, which also adds stress at the time. It makes a child respond more aggressively when they were previously more dependent on both parents.
- Loss of Trust and Reliability in a Parent
When children are younger, divorce adds stress in ways that shakes a young child’s trust in their parents as it relates to dependency and reliability. This is because one of the parents is now behaving in an undependable, unreliable way in the child’s eyes.
Some common problems children face that are associated with stress due to divorce include the loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, stomach aches, headaches, sadness, dizziness, and more.
Parents can learn ways to regain normalcy in their lives to minimize the stress that is added to their life, as well as that of their children. It’s not an easy road to travel, but a child will adjust better when their parents are adjusting to the divorce and helping maintain a sense of normalcy in the life and routine of the child.
If you or someone you know is in the midst of a divorce, there are a variety of resources available to help. You never have to go through this alone. Getting help for you child will benefit not only your child, but you as well.