Exploring the Mental Health of Children of Divorce

  • Behavioral issues can arise when a child of divorce is experiencing mental health challenges.
  • Talking with your child about what they are going through can be beneficial.
  • Time can be a healing factor for children of divorce.

The difficulty that a parental divorce can have on a child cannot be understated. The two most important people in their life are no longer together, and that can be a difficult concept for children to grasp.

While they may not struggle with the challenges forever and may be able to overcome these hardships and find success in the future, their present is not as certain as they would prefer.

The present issues that many children of divorce face can be harder to quantify, due to the fact that so many of them are mental, rather than physical.

Many of the mental health-related issues that a child may face after a parental divorce depend on their age and maturity level. Their behavior at school will correspond with that.

Behavioral issues

At younger ages, they may blame themselves or any bad conduct on the divorce, according to New York University. They also may experience levels of regressive behavior, such as throwing tantrums, wetting the bed, or needing a pacifier. The children also may experience separation anxiety or complain of stomach pain and/or headaches.

If the child of a parental divorce is older, they may show a variety of emotions, such as frustration, anger, and embarrassment. As the emotions grow more intense, their inclination to lash out against peers or parents may grow. They may experience moodiness and experiment with dangerous behaviors, like substance abuse.

Information and context

Part of the problem that children face when they are caught in the crossfires is that they are not given any information. They have trouble making sense of what they do not understand, so their natural inclination situation is to blame themselves or blame the parents.

When a child of divorce lashes out at a parent, many look to blame the other parent, which is understandable. Parental alienation is a real and serious issue, backed by countless studies.

However, the information the child has access to is not always sufficient enough to prevent outbursts from occurring. They may find themselves exposed to only half of the conversations during arguments between parents either before or after the divorce is finalized.

Without context or explanation, that level of exposure can be detrimental to a child’s mental state. In order to avoid the negative consequences of misinformation or information heard out of context, it is beneficial to meet with your child to discuss how they are feeling and what is happening in their lives.

This not only gives them a sense of clarity during a time of uncertainty, but it shows them the importance of being open to confronting difficult subjects.

Benefits of co-parenting

This strategy works most effectively when both parents are able to set aside their differences for the sake of their child and share in this necessary and enlightening discussion. It promotes the necessary place that both parents have in their shared child’s life and puts the needs of the child ahead of the emotions of the parent.

If a parent does not respect the role that the opposite parent has in their shared child’s life and begins to disrupt the custody schedule, it can have a detrimental effect on a child’s mental health, as well as the mental health of the afflicted parent. It is vital that the afflicted parent contacts their attorney, in order to rectify the situation.

Parents need to be able to respect each other’s place in their child’s life. A child already is dealing with a lot when it comes to their thoughts and feelings, regarding the divorce. A child’s perspective on their parents may change during a parental divorce. While giving a child the ability to grieve and adjust, they still have to be parents and not allow a child to behave in a way that is detrimental to themselves, their future, or others around them.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

Mental health challenges

This can be challenging, given all of the changes all at the same time and how these changes can interact with a child’s mental state. According to psychologist Carl Pickhardt, a child faces four typical mental health challenges when processing a parental divorce.

“Obviously kids have a certain amount of despondency because of the loss – they’ve lost the intact family,” Pickhardt said. “That’s one. There is anxiety, because now the world has changed and all of the sudden, the family system is being reorganized, and there’s a lot that is unknown. This is two. There’s usually some anger, because there’s been a violation … Kids assumed that their parents would always be together, and the family would always be intact. Now all of the sudden, what’s happening is the parents are deciding to separate the family. That’s three. And of course, there’s stress – so much to let go, so much change to adjust to.”

Passage of time

Time is a healer that many children rely on, when processing a parental divorce. Like with many traumas, the more time that passes after the divorce is announced, the less mental strain the divorce puts on the child. According to a study from Penn State University, the passage of time has a positive effect in lessening the pain of the divorce experience.

Without parental or professional guidance, a child can find themselves in a tough mental space during this experience. However, with the passage of time, a child will gain the resilience they need to overcome these present struggles and forge a better future for themselves.

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