Divorce continues to become more prevalent, so it becomes critical to understand its impact on children and to establish ways to protect them from the potentially damaging effects. Fortunately, a sizeable body of research in multiple areas surrounding divorce and parenting exists. It resulted in considerable amounts of information, and it is now known how divorce exactly impacts children, both in the short and long term.
This research also determined the major risks and protective factors that predict how children cope. Specific factors within parental control have the single greatest impact on children, and we now know what specific behaviors provide a lasting positive effect. According to research, effective parenting that includes both warmth and discipline, develops positive parent-child relationships, and also manages conflict, are the three most important factors in protecting children.
This, of course, depends upon the parents’ own well-being and their ability to function effectively. According to JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, PhD a leading Clinical Psychologist, “by learning how to manage their own conflict, continuing to parent well, and at the same time nurturing warm and loving relationships with their children, parents have the ability to effect powerful, positive influence on their children, even while they experience difficult changes in their own lives. Many children profited from their parents’ enduring love and their determination to put their children first – ahead of their own personal heartache.”
Pedro-Carrol notes that underlying the ability to parent effectively and foster strong relationships is developing the ability to listen for children’s hidden emotions and assisting them in articulating their feelings. Children experience divorce deeply and personally, and the depth of emotion it brings might overwhelm them. The potential for negative short- and long-term consequences is considerably higher for children whose parents divorce than for those from non-divorced families, so listening becomes even more important.
Many factors can help reduce risks and promote a child’s resilience. However, divorce can interfere with effective parenting and deprive children of nurturing from parents who become preoccupied with their own personal suffering. Also, divorce is frequently followed by a decline in income for the custodial parent and his or her children.
Early studies suggested that children from families that experience a divorce and remarriage are more likely to drop out of school, get into trouble with the law, abuse drugs or alcohol, and exhibit emotional distress compared with children who grow up with both biological parents.
The most important way to minimize emotional harm to children involved in a separation and divorce is to ensure that children maintain a close, secure relationship with both parents, unless there is spousal or child abuse or neglect, or parental substance abuse. Evidence shows that children with cooperative parents cope better. Those children who adjust best maintain regular contact with a caring, and supportive adult like a parent, relative, or teacher.