Divorce and Family Health: The Long Term Effects of Divorce on Children

Divorce is an incredibly difficult and traumatizing experience for everyone involved, especially for children. No one gets married and starts a family with the expectation of getting a divorce. But when divorce becomes a reality, it can be extremely difficult to know how to navigate this significant life change in a way that will minimize the negative impact that divorce can have on children. Unfortunately, if not handled with extreme care, divorce can have significant negative long-term effects on children that can carry on into adulthood. Read on to learn about divorce’s long-term effects on children and how you can help kids navigate this tumultuous time and minimize stress.

Divorce and the Family

Divorce is never easy. Separating a family unit carries significant challenges for everyone involved, but none are as vulnerable to these difficulties as children. The long-term effects of divorce on children have been the topic of special significance and attention of psychologists and sociologists for many years. Understanding how divorce affects children throughout their lives is critical in understanding how to better facilitate these delicate proceedings. Understanding these long-term effects also helps shed light on how to guide best and protect children. They need special assistance through the potential psychological and emotional traumas of separating their fundamental support system—their parents.

daughter looking through the window while her angry parents fighting
Divorce is an incredibly difficult and traumatizing experience for children. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

If reading about the long-term effects of divorce on children is especially difficult for you, don’t despair. Take comfort in knowing that by learning about these effects on children, you are also learning how to minimize and heal them.

Understanding The Long Term Effects of Divorce on Children

Mental and Emotional Health

The effects of divorce on the mental and emotional health of children can be substantial. Children who have divorced parents are more likely to suffer symptoms of chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional health disorders. Although every family and dynamic of divorce is different, most divorces result in uncertainty, stress, and disruption of family dynamics. These disruptions are common catalysts for long-term negative effects on a child’s mental and emotional health.

protection and support from loving mom cuddling little son offended
Divorce can impact a child’s emotional health. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Stress, anxiety, depression, and even guilt are often linked to the uncertainty surrounding many aspects of a child’s life during a divorce. This may include worrying about living arrangements, disruption of routines, hearing or being brought into fights between parents, and feeling the need to choose sides.

Left untreated, these feelings and mental health concerns can follow the child through adulthood. Adults whose parents are divorced are more likely to suffer from chronic mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. In addition, children whose parents divorce are twice as likely to attempt suicide.

Academic Effects

It is common for divorce to impact a child’s academic performance. Stress, schedule disruptions, and emotional exhaustion caused by divorce often make it difficult for children to concentrate on their studies, resulting in lower grades. It is also common for children in split living arrangements to have difficulty turning in assignments on time, leading to lower grades and stagnating academic progress. Continuing academic struggles can have significant negative long-term effects.

Social Struggles

Divorce can impact a child’s social development and how the child interacts with their peers. Children from divorced households may feel isolated and misunderstood amongst their peers, as they perceive their lives to look and function differently from their friends and classmates. These feelings of solitude may lead to an increased risk of being bullied or even becoming a bully themselves.

Young sad girl putting her head down with an adult talking to her
Divorce can impact a child’s social development. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

How to Help Children During and After a Divorce

Prioritize the Children

Through the tumult of emotions and upheaval, it can be easy to become consumed with legal battles and lose sight of what is most important—the children. It is crucial for children to feel that they are being seen and heard through the divorce process and beyond. Giving children the feeling that they have the emotional support and reassurance of their parents and family members is essential for their emotional and psychological health. Avoiding conflict in front of the children is also important to help them feel their environment is secure, safe, and stable. Decisions made throughout the divorce process (and after) should be made with the children’s interest as the top priority.

Maintain Structure and Consistency

Maintaining structure and consistency in the child’s life is crucial to negating any long-term effects of divorce on children. It is important to try to keep healthy and established routines and habits the children had before the divorce. For example, children may be used to a parent always reading a book to them at bedtime. Or they may be used to eating family dinners around the kitchen table. Everyone should try to maintain these routines as consistently as they can. Divorce inevitably feels like a major disruption in a child’s life. Consistent routines and habits are necessary lifelines of stability for children to make sense of their lives and surroundings.

Happy black mother and daughter reading book together
It is important to keep healthy routines with children. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Find a Trusted Therapist

Children need to be able to express themselves and explore their (often unrealized) feelings to be able to process and heal while experiencing the stress of a divorce. This can be difficult for both the children and the parents alike, especially when the parents are also struggling to process the experiences and feelings involved in their divorce. Therapists and psychologists are specially trained to help children—and parents—process and verbalize complex emotions in healthy and productive ways.

Make Time for Fun

During times of stress, it is easy to become tunnel-visioned and ultra-focused on solving the problem.. But, when children are involved, it is important to schedule time for light-hearted fun. Plan fun outings and activities that help you and your child unwind and strengthen bonds in a fun and relaxed setting.

Divorce, Separation: Love your Children no Matter What… | Herve G Wery | TEDxTruro

Encourage Positive Social Peers

Finding a healthy and encouraging group of friends for the child of divorced parents can be incredibly therapeutic and healing. Because these children are especially prone to feelings of social isolation and emotional sensitivity, integrating the child into a healthy group of peers can help counter-balance negative emotions. It can give the child a renewed sense of belonging and social value. Try looking into sports teams, music groups, or other interest-based social groups where the child can make friends with children who share their interests. Teams and groups are especially helpful, as the children work toward a common goal and help each other succeed.

Final Thoughts

Divorce is not always a bad decision. Divorce may help children escape harmful parents and toxic relationships that can last a lifetime. And while divorce can be devastating in many ways, it doesn’t need to have a devastating effect on children. The long-term effects of divorce on children do not need to last forever. With careful navigation, the help of therapists and professionals, and conscious and deliberate parenting, the effects of divorce can be mitigated. In fact, many children find themselves developing positive traits after divorce, such as accelerated maturity, independence, emotional intelligence, and resilience. So if you are a parent considering divorce, or you know someone who is, remember that you can make a difference in how a child copes with divorce.