Divorce Can Affect the Long-Term Health of Children

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), May 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

Divorce Can Affect the Long-Term Health of Children


Byline: Todd Huffman For The Register-Guard

More than 1 million children each year experience their parents' divorce. For these children, this process can be emotionally traumatic from the beginning of parental disagreement and rancor, through the divorce, and often for many years thereafter.

While divorce and separation may be solutions to a discordant marriage, for many parents the tensions continue for months and years beyond. Therefore, for many children the entire divorce process is a long, searing experience. Age-appropriate explanation and counseling is important so children can realize that they are not the cause of, and cannot be the cure for, the divorce.

The divorce itself is usually not the first major change in the affected children's lives. Parental conflict before the separation is seldom hidden from children, and often leads to behavior problems, even in young children. Parents, suffering their own emotional turmoil, often fail to recognize, let alone appropriately deal with or seek help for, these behaviors.

The eventual divorce means the termination of the family unit, and thus is often characterized by painful losses. Approximately half of all children do not see their fathers after divorce, and relatively few have spent a night in their fathers' home in the past month.

Other losses for children or adolescents may include changes in the home, extended family, school, playmates, financial status, health insurance coverage and health care and parental work schedules. Children's sense of loss is ongoing, and may increase on holidays, birthdays and special school events.

The news of divorce in a family can be just as significant to the long-term health of children as being diagnosed, for instance, with asthma. They often show irritability, increased crying, fearfulness, separation anxiety, sleep and intestinal problems and possibly even aggression.

School-aged children often blame themselves for the breakup and parental unhappiness. They may act out more often, or become more clingy, moody, distant, quick-tempered, angry or aggressive. School performance may decrease, and school avoidance behaviors or physical symptoms may appear.

School-aged children may also feel rejected or deceived by the absent parent. They may develop fears of abandonment, and have more nightmares and fantasies.

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