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Family Activity: In My Family
Family Quiz: Divorce in the Family
Lesson Plan: Family Portraits
Divorce in the Family
Divorce, regardless of the situation, is difficult for all individuals involved. However, it particularly affects children because of the many life changes that occur within a short time period. A major change, such as divorce, produces anxiety in children, which increases stress levels. As a threat to their security system, divorce leaves children feeling emotionally, mentally, and even physically vulnerable (Children Living in Stressful Environments) (PDF | 78KB).
Today, approximately 40 percent of U.S. children have divorced parents. Of this percentage, 20 to 25 percent display signs of not dealing well with the change in their family structure and are at risk for negative outcomes that can extend into adolescence, such as substance abuse, dropping out of school, risky sexual behavior, and depression (Children Living in Stressful Environments) (PDF | 78KB). Factors in the living environment, such as the parents’ attitudes toward the situation and the degree of conflict, influence the occurrence of serious, long-term problems (The Effects of Divorce on Children).
Children can have complicated reactions to divorce. In addition to feelings of loss and grief, young children will typically display anger either outward toward a parent(s) or inward, showing withdrawal. Nonetheless, the reaction of children toward a divorce depends primarily on their age and their parents’ ability to properly handle the situation.
3- and 4-year-olds
5- and 6-year-olds
Parents who are undergoing divorce experience their own sense of loss, grief, and insecurity. However, it is important for them to continue functioning as parents in order to provide children with reassurance and security. Here are some tips to help parents minimize the anxiety and other negative impacts that divorce can have on children:
The attitudes and mannerisms of parents undergoing or following a divorce affect the self-confidence and self-esteem of children. Furthermore, it will affect children’s ability to deal with stress and change in their lives.
Quiz for Parents: Divorce in the Family
“Facts for Families: Children & Divorce” (PDF | 156KB), from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, describes the signs of distress in children of divorcing parents and provides tips on how to talk to children.
“Prevention Works! Children Living in Stressful Environments” (PDF | 78KB), from SAMHSA research findings, summarizes the effects divorce can have on children.
“The Effects of Divorce on Children,” from Parenting 24/7, discusses research findings on children of divorce: Who it affects and why.
“Divorce Matters: A Child’s View,” from the National Network for Child Care, explains how children of different ages see and react to their parents’ divorce and offers tips on how to reduce the impact.
“Children and Divorce: Helping Kids After a Breakup,” from the Mayo Clinic, suggests ways parents can help their children adjust to a divorce.
“Coping With Separation and Divorce,” from Mental Health America, offers tips for talking to children about divorce.
Updated on 3/21/2012