A Program for Educating Parents about the Effects of Divorce and Conflict on Children: An Initial Evaluation

By Shifflett, Kelly; Cummings, E. Mark | Family Relations, January 1999 | Go to article overview

A Program for Educating Parents about the Effects of Divorce and Conflict on Children: An Initial Evaluation


Shifflett, Kelly, Cummings, E. Mark, Family Relations


The present study explored the impact and consumer satisfaction associated with participation in a parent education program that specifically focused on divorce and parental conflict. The kids in divorce and separation program (k.i.d.s.) is a four-hour parent-focused psychoeducational program. The impact and consumer satisfaction associated with participation in the program were examined by comparing a treatment group of parents who participated in the program with an alternative treatment control group of parents who participated in another educational program for parents concerning general parenting and discipline information/techniques. Results indicated that participation in the program has positive effects on parents' self-reported knowledge and behavior with regard to interparental conflict, including their self-reports of the conflict behavior of non-participating ex-- spouses. Moreover, participants also reported a high level of consumer satisfaction with the program. The implications of the results for the potential value of parent educational programs for divorced couples are discussed, and directions for future research are outlined.

Key Words: divorce, divorce education, family prevention, marital conflict, parent education, psychoeducational programs.

One in two marriages will end in divorce, and 40% of children born in this decade will experience their parents' divorce, according to recent NCHS statistics (National Center for Health Statistics, Petersen & Steinman, 1994). There is an abundant documentation of short- and long-term negative effects of divorce on children (Emery, 1988; Hodges, 1991), with the rate of clinically significant mental health problems as much as 300% higher in children from divorced families than in children from intact families (Hetherington, 1993; Johnston, 1994).

Interparental conflict is linked with children's adjustment problems, whether in intact or divorced families (Grych & Fincham, 1990). Unfortunately, interparental conflict, typically one of the primary reasons for divorce, often does not end with separation or even the final order of divorce (Camara & Resnick, 1988; Emery, 1982, 1988; Jouriles, Murphy, & O'Leary, 1989). Research is increasingly pointing to the role parental conflict plays in contributing to children's post-divorce adjustment (Amato & Keith, 1991; Camara & Resnick, 1989; Emery, 1982; Johnston, 1994; Kurdek & Berg, 1983; Long & Forehand, 1987; Long, Slater, Forehand, & Fauber, 1988). Interparental conflict may continue to impact the children negatively after divorce, and prevent parents from developing an effective co-parenting relationship. Hetherington, Cox, and Cox (1976) reported that 66% of parental interactions two months after divorce were characterized by conflict and anger. In a study conducted by Ahrons (1981), 50% of the divorced parents interviewed perceived their relationship to be conflictual, with 34% of women and 21 % of men perceiving their relationship as "often" or "always" conflictual. However, Long et al. (1988) found no differences between children from divorced and intact families when post-divorce parental conflict was reduced (Hodges, 1991). Thus, an emerging consensus is that the nature and extent of conflict preceding and continuing after separation/divorce is a primary factor related to children's coping with and adjustment to divorce (Amato & Keith, 1991; Camara & Resnick, 1988; Emery, 1982, 1988; Long et al., 1988).

Despite the often distressing nature of interparental conflict and the challenges of divorce for parents and children, one should be cautious not to over-emphasize the negative. Parents can find constructive ways for handling their inevitable disagreements and disputes following separation/divorce. At the least, constructive conflict management styles are far less distressing for children, and may have minimal, if any, lasting negative effects (Cummings & Davies, 1994; Cummings & Wilson, in press).

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