"Pediatricians are often thought of for their expertise in the physical health of a child, but they additionally can provide wisdom and neutrality to situations involving children of divorce."
In divorce proceedings, the well-being of the children is often viewed in the future tense. The well-being and growth of the child or children over the next several years is what is often being ruled on, as opposed to the present well-being of the child or children. Their future best interests supersede their present well-being.
Monitoring the well-being of the child or children when their parents are experiencing a divorce can be beneficial and often crucial to their overall health, according to a recent clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to the research, a child’s response to their parents getting a divorce will occur in several stages, just as there are different stages while experiencing a divorce. The stage that the child is in is determined by their understanding of what a divorce entails.
One of the more crucial strategies suggested in the report was enlisting the help of a pediatrician. Pediatricians are often thought of for their expertise in the physical health of a child, but they additionally can provide wisdom and neutrality to situations involving children of divorce. Their main concern is the well-being of the child in all discussions and decisions, and part of that entails supporting the parents going through the divorce.
When a child is caught in the middle of the divorce process and struggling in any one facet of their life, a pediatrician can be called to stage a conference with the child and parents, either together or separately. This will create a dialogue to better understand what the child feels, without taking any sides or keeping any information between the parents.
That dialogue extends to the child’s daily routine. Keeping the lines of communication open will keep the child aware of several sentiments. It is important for the child to understand that while they are not responsible for their parents’ divorce, they cannot make their parents love one another again. Helping them understand this will encourage an honest relationship between parent and child.
Social workers, psychiatrists and therapists can be called on to provide additional support, but researchers encourage waiting until the situation is severe enough to do so.
Tendencies to watch
The study breaks down many of the tendencies based on the age of the child and stages of their development. Infants cannot understand the separation, but can exhibit reactions to any abnormalities in their routine. They can appear irritable or fussy and can exhibit disturbances in their feeding and sleeping patterns.
Toddlers are among the groups at the greatest risk for separation anxiety. They also are at risk for developmental regression, eating disorders, and sleeping disorders.
Preschool-aged children will find themselves asking for the absent parent, due to their lack of understanding of the permanence of the separation. They often develop abandonment fears and can blame themselves for the separation.
School-aged children often exhibit signs of wishing for a reunion, in blaming themselves and asking for their parents to reunite. Behavioral and mood changes may occur, causing issues at home and at school. Adolescents may exhibit more understanding, but they still have acceptance issues that can result in turning to adult-like coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor performance in school, and delinquent behavior.
Modifying factors and legal concerns
The study also touches on modifying factors that can cause positive or negative changes within the life of a child of divorce. Factors such as the child’s gender, the feelings of the opposite parent, and level of parental involvement can all affect the parent-child relationship.
Income level and financial challenges of the individual parents also play a factor in the well-being of the child. Twenty-eight percent of children in divorced families have lived below the poverty threshold, as opposed to 15.9 percent of the total population, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report on marriage.
Pediatricians also can be asked to testify in child custody proceedings. Not only can the pediatricians be subpoenaed, but so can the medical records. The study warns against testifying with any sort of opinion, regarding topics they are not qualified to speak on and to consult with experts regarding any concern they have.
In allowing a pediatrician into the dialogue, parents experiencing a divorce are able to focus on their child’s present health and well-being. In creating a network of support for the child, parents who can no longer rely on each other as spouses, have a safety net in their quest of co-parenting.