Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children

The children of divorced parents experience many psychological effects ranging from rage and anger to despair and dejection.  Up to three-quarters of all children do not want their parents to divorce, but the remaining kids, who often witness altercations, threats and violence, may want peace and do not oppose the divorce.

Regardless of whether or not the children support the divorce, the mental and emotional effects of divorce on children are more acute when there is a contentious custody battle. Children who endure custody fights often suffer an assortment of psychological problems such as: denial, anger, rage, panic- disorders, low self-esteem, guilt, and illegal behavior.  If divorce is impossible to avoid, the best way to help your children adjust is to the divorce is to avoid a lengthy, brutal, custody battle.

A Father’s Role in parenting

A powerful influence on how children navigate their parents’ divorce is the role their father plays in their lives during and after the split.  It is very important that boys and girls have both a male and female example in their lives.

The psychological effects of a divorce will be more negative on a child (male or female) when the father’s role is diminished.  Our culture has undervalued the impact a father has on his children.  For a boy, a good father models masculine behavior and accomplishment in ways that a mother cannot.  For example, much of a girl’s self worth and esteem comes from the loving and secure relationship she has with her father.  She learns how she should be treated by men in her life by the example of how her father treated her.

After a divorce, many mothers are granted custody and the influence of the father in his children’s lives is greatly reduced, to the detriment of the children’s development.  The age of the child going through a parent’s divorce can often affect how he or she internalizes the pain.

Does Age Affect a Child’s Response to Divorce?

It is common for younger children (under the age of 5) to become very introverted, angry and easily frustrated.  The young child senses conflict in the marriage and often blames himself.

Children in middle school and high school have different reactions to the psychological pain caused by their parents’ divorce.  Many fantasize about their parents reuniting and possibly getting remarried.  When the finality of the divorce sets in, they may try to cover their pain through drugs and/or alcohol.  They may also withdraw from extracurricular activities, friends and family.  This anti-social conduct is a common emotional effect of divorce on children.  Other common behaviors can include: fighting, bullying, lying, stealing, and running away.

Most parents want to minimize the psychological effects of divorce on their children.  Some ways to accomplish this are by meeting your child’s basic needs, never asking them to choose one parent over the other, and keeping both parents involved in their lives as much as possible.  Children need to be loved and nurtured by both their mother and father before and after a divorce.