The Effects Of Divorce On Children

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Deciding to end a marriage is an enormous decision for all parties involved. One thing is for sure — divorce is not easy. A major question is: What effects divorce will have on children.

A contentious divorce can have a serious negative impact on children 

Mason Gomberg MD

Mason Gomberg MD

Growing up in a loving, nurturing, happy family is ideal. There is a lot of data to show that chronic marital distress has a deep impact on children’s emotional, psychological, physiological and interpersonal development. These external behaviors range from excessive aggression, vandalism and delinquency to internal behaviors such as depression, anxiety or social withdrawal. Growing up in constant turmoil can bring about a negative self-image and distrust of the world.

Once parents decide the pathway of divorce, the long term effects on one’s children will depend on how the parents conduct themselves during the divorce and after. Your children will likely suffer lifelong negative effects if parents are combative and adversarial, especially if they put the children in between both parties.

If parents are cooperative and collaborate, their children will have a much greater chance to adjust and heal

This often starts from the initial separation period. Initially, both parents should tell their children together that they have decided to divorce. This sends the message that the decision was arrived at by mutual consent after a long process.

Children should not be told the details of the issues between the parents, and the family meeting should be in a safe setting. The message needs to include that parents and kid(s) are still a family but will be now defined differently than what they have known. The words parents choose during this discussion should be age appropriate, based on their children’s cognitive and physical development.

Children should be reassured that there was nothing they did to cause the divorce and there was nothing they could have done to prevent it

Children need to know that even though their parents will live separately, not as husband and wife, and their love for each other has changed, they will always love their children and the kids will always have whatever they need. Even though parents can divorce from each other, they never divorce from their children.

Divorced parents need to rise above the anger for each other and do what is best for their children 

Belittling or ridiculing one’s ex-spouse in the presence of the children will not cause the kids to love or trust one parent more. Instead, this will cause more psychological damage. When it comes to living arrangements, custody, visitation, schooling, etc., the one rule should be: What is in the best interest of each child?

Parents have to put the needs of their children above their own. This will create a supportive, nurturing and loving environment for their children and increase the likelihood that their children will grow up to be well adjusted, self-confident and loving adults. If not, there could be much heartache, trouble and psychological issues in the months and years ahead.

Most children need to speak to a professional at some point during the divorce process 

This can be their pediatrician, a teacher, a religious person, social worker or child psychologist. Early signs that a child is not handling the new situation well could range from school absences; withdrawing from school, extracurricular activities and friends; falling grades; anti-social behavior; and physical illness (abdominal pain, headaches or muscle aches).

It cannot be stressed enough that if children come first and foremost and divorced parents continue to show them love and affection, they will handle the initial and later periods of their parents’ divorce much better and healthier.

By Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball