Divorce isn’t easy.
Many songs, books, articles, and general discourses have been written and talked about it advising on when and to get a divorce, how to overcome it minimizes its financial, psychological, and societal impact. But when kids are involved, divorce becomes a much more complicated and sensitive situation.
Divorce has a huge impact on kids and sometimes, in ways that parents don’t expect. Some kids react inwardly while others struggle with the transition by exhibiting outward effects.
Parents need to understand each child adjusts to crisis differently, mostly according to ages and temperaments. They should approach divorce by understanding the different effects on children of every temperament. Both the parents play a critical role in maintaining the child’s mental health when they are going through the divorce proceedings.
With this in mind, let’s explore the psychological effects of divorce on kids.
Short-term psychological effects of divorce in kids
When parents undergo divorce, it can turn acrimonious, fast. Sadly, children are usually the first-hand witnesses the contentious relationship and it can lead to:
1. Constant stress
Many children falsely blame themselves as the reason for their parent’s divorce, and as such, they assume and take the responsibility of trying to mend the broken relationship.
This can lead to pressure and immense stress on the child leading to repercussions like thoughts of inadequacy and not being enough.
Stress in kids manifests itself in different ways according to age.
- Toddlers and Infants
At this age, the kids become clingier, have problems sleeping, or start exhibiting separation anxiety. Additionally, they may take a step back on learning table manners, eating by themselves, or even going to the toilet. Expect more crying, temper tantrums, and an uptick in their antisocial behavior.
- 3-5 Years
The kids may resort to having lapses in toilet training, sucking of the thumb, and also suffer fear of abandonment. They may also experience unrestful sleeping patterns, anxiety, especially at bedtime, and frequent temper outbursts, aggression, and tantrums.
- 6-8 years
Children in this age group will suffer frequent sobbing, feeling rejection, abandonment, and sadness. More so, they may have reconciliation fantasies, loyalty conflicts, have unorganized behavior and impulse control.
- 9-12 years
At this age, kids may have intense anger toward other people and especially their parents, suffer from the fear of being abandoned, feel lonely, and have physical problems like upset stomachs and headaches. Some may start feeling ashamed of their families and falling into the wrong crowd, experimenting with alcohol and drugs to escape the family crisis.
Teenagers may worry about their future concept of love and relationships, become angry with their parent’s future sexuality and dating, experience loneliness, and become isolated.
More so, they may worry about their parent’s ability to financially support them and meet their needs such as paying for college and extracurricular activities. This may lead to them lacking concentration, having chronic fatigue, dropping in their academic performance, and possibly turning to alcohol, drugs, and early sexual experimentation.
The aftermath of things that have happened before and after the divorce may cause the children to become nervous, tense, and anxious. The younger ones have more anxiety problems than the older ones since they depend more on both parents. When a child becomes anxious, they may lack concentration, especially in academics, and lose interest in the activities they love.
3. Intense sadness
Acute sadness may be experienced in the mind and heart of the child. This may make them feel like nothing good happens in life, thus plunging into depression or even long-term sadness.
4. Irritability and mood swings
Children may suffer and exhibit various mood swings when relating with familiar people and strangers. Some kids go into withdrawal mode while others stop talking and shut themselves away. Others may prefer to be quiet and become loners.
5. Distress and disillusionment
Some children may become disillusioned and hopeless if they lack comprehensive emotional support from their loved parents. The situation may worsen when only one parent looks after the child.
Long-term psychological effects of divorce in kids
During the process of separation and divorce, many adults constantly bicker, become petty and vengeful, and go out of their way to hurt the other parent financially, emotionally, and socially. Children will witness this and with their minds being still plastic, this can have long-term effects that they will carry into adulthood and possibly, their entire lifetime. These effects include:
1. Trouble with relationships
Children are highly impressionable and when they witness a failed marriage and the subsequent divorce process, many develop doubts about harmony and love in relationships. They will have subconscious thoughts such as “relationships eventually fail”, “divorce is inevitable”, “you can’t trust another person to keep their wedding vows”.
These deep-seated trust issues spill over into their future relationships and make it difficult to form long-term connections.
2. Social and behavioural problems
Children from divorced backgrounds have a higher risk of becoming antisocial and violent. They may lose their temper at the slightest provocation and assault others without hesitation.
This is learned behavior, especially if there was violence within the parents’ marriage.
Unfortunately, this behavior predisposes one to crime. Some may join gangs, especially during the teenage and adolescent years. Unfortunately, once a teenager joins a gang and other criminal elements, they are unlikely to change into adulthood and may end up spending their entire lives in the shadow of the law and society.
3. Substance abuse
Alcohol and drugs usually become an avenue for stress relief in teenagers from divorced homes. Habits picked up in our teenage years often carry on to adulthood. The long-term substance can lead to physical, economical, emotional, and societal damage.
Depression doesn’t just affect adults. Kids, especially after going through the trauma of a divorce can slip into depression. Signs of depression may include:
- Eating problems
- Social withdrawal
- Sleeping problems
- Withdrawal from normal routine and activities
5. Poor social-economic and education position
Due to the psychological, emotional, and financial effects of divorce, children are more likely to experience diminished interest in education and other activities, which means they are less likely to get into college and other trades. This will have an adverse effect on their future careers, earning potential, and skills development, thus preventing them from having a successful socio-economic status.
Divorce is a caustic pill for everyone involved. But it’s still better for parents to seek divorce than stay in a toxic relationship for their children’s sake.
However, it’s vital to prevent your kids from undergoing chronic psychological effects and find a way of speeding up the divorce process. Avoid long court battles by engaging divorce lawyers who are interested in keeping the process collaborative and peaceful, with the best interests of the children at the forefront.
Remember, divorce isn’t an event; it is a process that goes on long after you have signed the papers. Setting the correct tone from the get-go ensures that your children come out of the process with minimal damage.
Written and provided by Aiello Harris, Marth, Tunnero & Schiffman, P.C, who are running a successful law firm in New Jersey, US, and is a well-known law firm, which offers their services across different practice areas like personal injury and employment law to criminal defense and complex federal tax litigation.