Divorce is a watershed life event for everyone involved, including the kids, and minimizing the negative impact of divorce on children is a top priority for parents.
There is a lot of good literature and guidance out there for parents going through divorce, but here are some basic matters to understand about helping kids transition healthily to a new family situation.
Each child responds differently to divorce.
Just as every marriage is different, so is each child's response when the marriage is dissolved. Kids are not only dealing with the uncertainty of their parents' divorce; children face everyday challenges of growing up.
One psychologist has separated the impact of divorce on kids into four mental health challenges:
- Despondency, due to the child's feeling that the family is no longer intact
- Anxiety, due to the child's having to confront uncertainty and change
- Anger, due to what the child sees as a violation of the family structure
- Stress, due to the general uncertainty and upheaval resulting from divorce
While every child is different, research has shown that gender may factor into how a child responds to divorce. For example, young boys have a tendency to turn outward to express their anger, while young girls have a tendency to turn inward and become more despondent.
These are normal, healthy responses.
As difficult as it is to see how the divorce is affecting the kids, it is important for parents to know that depression, anxiety, anger, and stress are normal, healthy responses to the upheaval that is divorce.
Still, parents should know that, depending on the circumstances, informal support or therapy may be necessary to help a child avoid long-term mental health issues stemming from a divorce. The good news: research has shown that adolescents' negative feelings, such as anxiety and depression, tend to dissipate four to nine months after the marital split.
Vigilance on the part of parents is nonetheless important.
When possible, parents need to work together to establish a new, post-divorce foundation for their children. One important step in this process is to create a well considered, enforceable parenting plan. This can be done outside of court through a process such as mediation. In other cases, child custody matters may need to be litigated in court.
For more on parenting plans in California, please see Joel S. Seidel & Associates' family law overview.