Divorce and Children - A little less than half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce - Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.  www.brighttots.com
Divorce and Children
A little less than half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and about half of all children growing up in the United
States have seen or will see their parents’ marriage end. Divorce is one of the most complicated incidents people encounter. A
divorce is something that many adults and almost all children do not want to happen, and it can take a very long time to accept.
Even people who want to divorce often find that they have mixed emotions about the situation.

Divorce is extremely stressful, but research shows that most people, including most children, cope successfully with tension.
Newspapers, magazines, and television shows often call attention to the permanent damage of divorce, especially on children.
Research studies consistently indicate that divorce has few lasting effects on children’s mental health or performance in school.
In fact, what’s most remarkable about children of divorce is their flexibility, and their successful coping abilities. Divorce causes
many challenges to children and after a period of adjusting to the circumstances, most children overcome the challenges.
Divorce is almost always heartbreaking but if it is handled properly, it does not lead to irreversible damage.

It takes time for parents and children to re-build family life after divorce, at least a year or two, maybe longer. It also takes hard
work. Parents may have to work harder at parenting, at a job, or at getting along with each other, and children also may have to
work harder in order to help their family.

Explaining Divorce to Children

The meaning of divorce is quite different for children depending on age, and explanations need to be fitted accordingly. Infants
and toddlers obviously don’t understand what divorce means, but they do understand if their daily routine changes. Security and
stability is what’s most important to them. Preschoolers and young school age children may understand the word “divorce”, but
they, too, are more interested in actual things. Some of the questions they want answered are:

•        Where will they live?
•        Are they going to be left alone?
•        Where will there stuff go?
•        When will they see Mom?
•        When will they see Dad?
•        Do their parents still love them?

School age children want to know more about the reasons for divorce and as time passes they may ask complicated questions
that need to be answered honestly. Eight to twelve year olds also need answers to their realistic questions about their daily
routines, and they can use a parent’s help with difficult questions such as what to tell their friends, about the divorce.
Adolescents want the most information, and they should get a sincere but partial explanation. It is appropriate for teenagers to
know why their parents split up, but it is inappropriate for them to know all the details of their parents’ divorce.

When thinking about what to tell children of different ages about divorce, it may be helpful to think about what is appropriate to
tell a child of the same age about “the birds and bees”. Children of any age deserve truthful information about divorce, but they
don’t need to know every detail. Frequent and increasingly complicated explanations are needed as children grow older; but, just
as with what they learn about sex, much of what children believe about divorce will differ depending on what they’ve been told.
Children’s ideas will be closer to parent’s explanation when parents offer information intended to help the children, not to relieve
feelings or to blame their spouses.

A few tips may help in making sure that explanations meet the needs of children, not parents.

•        Frequently reassure children that they are loved.
•        Always try to be neutral (or positive, if possible) about children’s relationship with the other parent.
•        Always think about the conversation in advance, and maybe even try it out on a friend first.
•        Most important of all, put yourself in your children’s place. What would you want to know, and how would you want to
be told?

Divorce and Family Relationships

Divorced families are still families, and parents are now confronted with rebuilding their family relationships with their children
and with each other. Deciding how each parent will spend time with the children is one of the major concerns that must be
settled legally. This is a complex question which may be tied to other things, such as who will move from the family residence,
the question of financial maintenance, or the desire of a parent to relocate to a different area.

There is no one type of legal or physical custody arrangement that has been found to be best for children. Many people feel that
the best arrangement is joint legal physical custody, in which parents share decisions and spend approximately equal time with
their children. Others argue that sole custody is best, insisting that children need one home and one parent to supervise. Still
other people want different arrangements, such as having children live mainly with parent of the same sex.

Research does not support any one of these options over the other. What works best depends on a family’s circumstances, not
on actual legal terms. When determining what will work best, some rules to consider:

•        Keep arguments to a minimum
•        Maximize quality time
•        Maintain stability
•        Keep it simple

Keeping Children Out of Arguments

Research makes it very clear that the more parents fight with each other before, during, and after a divorce the more
psychological problems their children experience. This is especially true when children witness or overhear the quarrels, or when
they are put in the middle of a dispute. Even very young children feel tension, broken affection, and mixed messages when their
parents are stressed. Understandably, differences are expected between divorced partners. Diverse strategies on raising children
can become difficult to manage, and old wounds and new resentments can create many reasons for anger and pain.

Getting angry often feels good to a parent but children benefit if their parents cooperate. This makes for one of the hardest
emotional balancing acts in divorce. The solution usually is not for former spouses to be “friends”. In fact, if often works better
if parents have a polite, businesslike approach to working together in raising their children. The point is that although some
fighting may be good for a parent, it is not good for children. Therefore, a simple and very important rule about fighting is: keep
children out of the middle.

As a rule, more contact with both parents is better for children, but only if the parents’ emotions are under control. If fighting is
unrestrained, children may do better to see one parent less and be exposed to less fighting as a result. Many divorced families
maximize contact between children and both parents by keeping a stable routine during the school week but then coming up with
creative ideas for using weekends, school vacations, and holidays.

Reliability in schedules and rules makes life less stressful for everyone. Once parents agree on a plan for spending time with
children, they do well to stick to it faithfully. Children want to know where they are going to be at what times and while a
change or delay may seem small to a parent, it can be a big deal to a child. Everyone needs some flexibility, of course; but
flexibility works best if it’s after a steady routine has been established.

A few rules on parenting alone can be useful to keep in mind. Children need love, but they also need discipline. Each household
needs a few clear and reasonable rules about such things as bedtimes, responsibilities, and appropriate behavior, and parents
should expect these rules to be enforced. Positive parenting is just as important. Praising children for doing things right works
better than criticizing children for doing things incorrect.

Effects of Divorce on Children

Some children develop psychological problems following their parents’ divorce, and many more have trouble making an
adjustment. Crying, worrying, and constant questions about the divorce are obvious signs but increased aggression, disturbed
sleep, spending more time alone, or low grades also can be warning signs. Parents often have a hard time being impartial in
evaluating how their children are coping, and obtaining an outside opinion can be a great help. Health care providers or teachers,
for example, see many children everyday and can give helpful feedback.

While all children are upset when their parents first separate, if the children have ongoing problems, they’re upset frequently and
continuing to have problems in family relationships; steps to intervention should be taken. In some cases, the parents may still be
fighting; one parent may be inconsistent in spending time with the children; or the schedule may be too complicated. On the
other hand, one of both parents perhaps disciplines the children ineffectively, the children may not be getting enough affection,
or parents may be putting too many emotional burdens on the children.

Parents and children often have to ask for help from family and friends in coping with divorce. In addition to seeking the help of
friends and relatives, many parents also find self-help books useful. Therapists who are familiar with divorce and comfortable in
offering advice also can provide opinions, support, and advice to individuals, to parents and children, or to former spouses. Self-
help groups for parents are available in most communities, and more schools are offering groups for children of divorce.
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Divorce and Children
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