Effects of Divorce on Children

Instructor: Nathan Kilgore

Nathan has taught college Psychology, Sociology, English, and Communications and has a master's degree in education.

This lesson provides an overview of divorce and its impact on children. Specifically, this article considers how divorce can impact a child's emotional well-being, sense of security, and ability to engage in healthy future relationships.

The Impact of Divorce

Divorce can have a drastic impact on children, requiring a lifetime of adjustment. Children can find themselves anxious, depressed, and insecure as a result of seeing their parents divorce. Going back and forth between two homes and being raised without the daily influence of both parents can easily cause children to struggle with feeling secure. Many of the undesirable effects of divorce can be avoided or managed, however few children (if anyone at all) escape the difficulties and challenges divorce brings. Some might even think they've escaped the effects of their parents divorcing only to discover later in life a difficulty in forming intimate relationships.

In the following sections, we'll explore some of the costs that can come with being a child of divorce.

Emotional Distress

Divorce can be costly both financially and emotionally. Financially, children of divorce are more likely to grow up in poverty. Emotionally, children of divorced parents are at higher risk of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. A child's psyche is highly susceptible to conflict and turmoil, as children are often trying to figure out who to trust and depend on. Children may think about their parents divorce and wonder, If Mom and Dad don't love each other any more, do they still love me? As anxiety often stems from feelings of uncertainty or fear, children might ask themselves, If I can't count on Mom and Dad to stay together forever, then what can I count on?

Feelings of Loss of Control

When seeing their parents separating, children may naturally want their parents to stay together. Yet many children face the reality that their parents' divorce is something they cannot control. And, feeling that bad things are happening and beyond their control can leave children feeling helplessly trapped. If children are not taught how to process their negative emotions in a healthy manner, they may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms (eating disorders or self-injurious behavior, for example). Lashing out at their parents, some children may rebel or become passive aggressive as a result of the anger they feel regarding their parents' divorce.

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