Many children experience no negative effects as a result of their parents divorce. However, some children can suffer trauma and anxiety.
Children are accustomed to routine and structure. These concepts provide security and stability for them. As a consequence of divorce, their routine is disrupted e.g. change of house, change of school, contact with parents etc. It is this upheaval which creates the threat to the child's security and effectively causes the child to be frightened, confused and anxious. Younger children often withdraw or become uncooperative. These children require more assistance than the children who are visibly upset.
Older children sometimes feel a deep sense of loss and can develop behavioural problems. Their self esteem suffers. Occasionally, teenagers can suffer from depression. Their school work can be adversely affected.
All too frequently, parents are critical of the other parent in an attempt to alienate the child from the other parent. However unintentional this type of behaviour may be, the objective of the critical parent is to make the child 'choose sides'. Regrettably, the child becomes more confused and frightened. Section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act, 2002 (England and Wales) extends the definition of child abuse to include "the impairment suffered by seeing or hearing ill-treatment of another". However difficult it may be for warring spouses to extricate themselves from the subjective nature of divorce , it is essential that they are aware, that by nurturing the love and affection for the other parent they are in fact paving the way for the child to have a smoother transition in the divorce process.
The arrival of a new partner or when new children are brought into the home can present further difficulties for children. Older children tend to appreciate step parents more when they act in a friendly manner as opposed to being involved in discipline or control. Grandparents can also play an active supporting role for their grandchild and divorcing child.
We need to listen and communicate with children of all ages whose parents have split up. We need to select effective (whether formal or informal) means of support that benefits the child. We need to keep the child informed and involved in the decision making process.
Children often feel that they are to blame or that they have done something which has caused the break up of mom and dad. Children need to be told that they are not to blame and that they have done nothing wrong.
Children need their fears to be allayed. They need to be told that mom and dad still loves and will always love them. They need to be told that they will still see both their parents and that they may be sad now but this will change with time as they become accustomed to it. For further information see www.divorceaid.co.uk.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.