For children of divorce, the key is time. Whether the changes to their routine are major or minor, how much time passes between occurrences can determine how they adjust. Between the conflict between parents and the possible moving that may occur, children have a lot happening to them, leaving them in control of very little and all occurring in a very short period of time.
As parents, limiting the pain that you child may be suffering from due to a parental divorce is your first instinct. As difficult as it may be to watch them go through the emotional tapestry of watching their parents end their relationship, it is their journey to go on, and all you, as their parents, can do is help them cope with the newer aspects of their life.
One positive to keep in mind is the resilience of children. Many studies around the globe have been done regarding the resilience of children. A recent study, published in Psychology Today, created a model of how to identify resilience in children. Each of the four quadrants compares the resilience of children against the potential risks that they face in the future. The four quadrants represent each possibility.
This model found that children that at lower levels of risk, a boost in self-esteem, help with self-regulation, and meditation can have a huge impact on a child’s life. At higher levels of risk, parental interventions have to focus on shaping a child’s environment, in order to allow them to succeed. They need better schools, better services, and mentorship, in order to help them avoid the risks of their situation.
This model also found that when the risk is low, the focus of parental intervention is more directed toward helping a child develop positive thoughts or adjusting personal behaviors, like who they develop friendships with.
The resilience depicted in this model can be especially important during divorce situations. With how different the exchanges during divorce can be, it can be difficult to generalize how it would affect a child. For example, during an amicable divorce, parents may be more receptive to coming together to compare notes and co-parent with a more effective level of communication. They may be more willing to help one another, if the other asks.
Mental health issues
Conversely, if the divorce is aggressive and emotion-fueled, it can leave the child needing extra help. Many seek pediatricians, therapists, and other individuals whose careers are dedicated to providing the services that the child needs. With the risk of long-term damage to the child, the need for extra help escalates as the parental divorce becomes more and more visible to them.
This can result in their adult selves looking back at their childhood more harshly or even develop mental health problems down the line. According to a study at the University of Sussex’s School of Psychology, out of the 24,000 participants, of those who experienced parental divorce in childhood, 56 percent were more likely to have depression in adulthood than those who did not experience divorce.
Many attribute the adulthood effects of a childhood parental divorce to the increase in vulnerability that it creates as a child. If you never face the difficulty of the situation head on and develop the toughness necessary to overcome it, you can become vulnerable when challenges arise later down the line. The resistance to later stress is not built up, because the stress is never fully experienced.
This can occur when parents, siblings, or other people in a child’s life attempt to shield them from the difficulties of the situation. As noble and well-intentioned as it is to care for a child’s well-being, it can leave them vulnerable to never fully develop the resilience to handle the stresses of life.
Blame and acceptance
It may cause a child of divorce to blame their parents for the problems that they face in adulthood. They may find it easier to shift the blame to childhood events, rather than claiming any responsibility for their adult situation. However, according to a study, featuring over 30,000 participants from 72 countries and published in the Public Library of Science, showed that blaming parents does not help people move away from the negative consequences of difficult experiences.
They found that those that stewed on experiences like blame or abuse had a greater risk of suffering from mental health conditions than those that did not. The study suggests that psychological processes, like blaming parents, can be more dangerous for mental health than the past experiences themselves.
It is important to remember that the development and well-being of your child should stay your top priority. Whether you are married or divorced, creating a nurturing and well-intentioned environment for your child to thrive in should be your top priority, and as difficult as a parental divorce may be on them, the resilience that they will build in experiencing the transition and coping with the emotions of the situation will help them become stronger adults in the long run.