Forty percent of children today will have to experience their parents’ divorce before age 18 (U.S. Census Bureau). The most difficult time for the child is during the first year after the divorce. Most children do not have serious problems after their parents’ divorce; however, as adults, they are twice as likely to experience mental illness, substance abuse, and failed relationships. Problems with sleeping or eating, increased anger or sadness, fears, or regression to an earlier stage of development are all warning signs that your child may be having coping difficulties.
Strategies to minimize risk to children in divorcing families
- Avoid your child witnessing parental conflict
- Avoid leaning on your child (often the eldest boy or girl) for emotional support or treating him/her as a confidant
- Maintain rules, structure, and expectations and back up expectations with fair, consistent discipline
- Help ease the change in standard of living (most families experience a significant drop in income after a divorce) by having your child stay in touch with friends and participate in similar but less expensive activities
- Be aware of your child’s strengths and weaknesses
- How your child copes with difficulties before a divorce is a good indicator of how he/she will cope with difficulties after a divorce
- Help your child understand that he/she did not cause the divorce, prevent him/her from fantasizing about parents getting back together, and prevent him/her from having fears of being abandoned
- Be aware that adolescent conflicts in divorced families last longer than conflict in nondivorced families
- For example, girls in divorced families who mature early physically may be at increased risk for early sexual activity
- Bring your child to Tashawna K. Duncan, Ph.D., P.A. for an evaluation and counseling if you believe that your child’s distress related to the divorce is affecting the way he/she functions on a daily basis
In addition, the majority of parents remarry and conflict can arise in stepfamilies. Often parents and stepparents have unrealistic expectations and stress may result from differences in parenting style, expectations for the children, and working out disciplinary roles. Creating family routines, customs, and traditions can help ease the stress and build relationships in stepfamilies. Lastly, stepparents should not criticize or try to replace the noncustodial parent.