“How will my divorce affect my children?”
This is one of the most common questions we receive at Groundwork Counseling, in Orlando, Florida. Although many children cope with divorce uniquely, there is significant empirical evidence that provides insights in to how parents can interact to lessen the negative impact of divorce on their children. Data indicates that 40 percent of all first marriages, and more than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. Divorce affects approximately 1.5 million children each year, making divorce a common experience for children. Because divorce is an extremely stressful experience for all family members, the process of divorce may likely reduce the development of secure attachments, particularly if the divorce occurs at a point in the child’s life when his or her ability to form attachments is not yet fully developed. Studies indicate that divorce may be particularly difficult for preschool age children. The results of these analyses suggested that young children were most negatively affected by the divorce and that those between the ages of 2- and 5-years-old were found to be severely distressed and confused at the time of their parents’ divorce, often displaying aggressive tendencies, separation anxiety, eating difficulties and bed-wetting episodes. However, 5 and 10 years after the divorce, children who experienced divorce during these early childhood years were observed to be faring much better than their older siblings.
A study of 223 six-year-olds, conducted by researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rochester in New York, found that children whose parents engaged in hostile or indifferent interactions with each other were more likely to suffer from emotional difficulties. The researchers also found that instead of becoming accustomed to the parental conflict or remaining troubled at the same level, the children actually became more sensitive and reactive to their parents’ fights over time.
So what can parents do to support children during a divorce?
Possibly the most important, is for parents to keep their battles behind closed doors and away from the children. If small disagreements can be communicated in a healthy way and resolved – this can be beneficial to model in front of children; it is preferable for children to learn that conflict is inevitable in all relationships and that it doesn’t need to be negative and destructive. Conflict doesn’t need consist of giving each other the silent treatment, naming calling, criticizing, or by avoiding the conflict altogether by pretending to give in and passive-aggressively “getting even” later. Lack of effective conflict resolution not only harms children, it can sink a marriage, or make a divorce even harder for the entire family, especially children.
What Does The Research Say?
Research shows that children can best cope with divorce if parents can establish a business-like, cooperative relationship with one another so that they may effectively co-parent; when parents address their own underlying emotional issues, and when negativity and divisiveness are kept to a minimum for the sake of the children (as cited in Emery, Sbarra & Grover, 2005).
At Groundwork Counseling in Orlando, Florida we often work with families, individuals, and children who are coping and moving through the difficult transition of a divorce. Individuals can benefit greatly from counseling to help them move through, and forward from a divorce. Children of all ages can benefit from process oriented counseling to help them process past events, and find ways to creatively find solutions to their current struggles.
 Summers, P., Forehand, R., Armistead, L., & Tannenbaum, L. (1998). Parental divorce during arly adolescence in Caucasian families: The role of family process variables in predicting the long-term consequences for early adult psychosocial adjustment. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 66(2), 327-336. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.66.2.327
 McKay, D. (1997) The Trauma of Divorce: Reducing the Impact of Separation on Children. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.
 Clarke-Stewart, K., Vandell, D. L., McCartney, K., Owen, M. T., & Booth, C. (2000). Effects of parental separation and divorce on very young children. Journal Of Family Psychology, 14(2), 304-326. doi:10.1037/0893-318.104.22.1684
 Clarke-Stewart, et.al. (2000). Effects of parental separation and divorce on very young children. 304