How to Reduce the Impact of Separation on Children

These days single-parent families are a common family form. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 41% of births in 2010 were to unmarried women and the divorce rate from 2000 through 2012 was half the marriage rate. This shift in family forms has potential consequences on the life not only of the parents but also of their children.

Potential Impact of Separation on Children

The child’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior could be influenced by their family’s arrangement or a family transition. The way this impact is expressed varies greatly depending on the children’s age, gender, personality, and also on contextual factors. Infants may change their sleeping or eating patterns, become more easily irritated, and cry more. Toddlers could demonstrate behaviors they had long abandoned and become more insecure. This fear of abandonment is also present in school age children, who may also feel angry or sad. At this point, the child’s academic performance may also be negatively affected – which is possible throughout adolescence. Additional common themes in research are a post-separation increase in the adolescent’s delinquent behavior and a negative impact on their psychosocial well-being, which can be manifested as depression, anger, decreased self-esteem, and even thoughts of suicide. Lastly, research shows that increased family conflict affects some adolescents’ views on interpersonal relationships and thus their ability to form intimate bonds.

Making the Best of a Challenging Situation

However, it is imperative to note that there is no indication that the parental separation alone provokes those phenomena. The literature suggests that adolescents who exhibit the aforementioned behaviors were classified as being at risk for numerous other reasons, hence the separation simply served as a triggering factor. In other words, a change in family structure is a big stressor that may have a detrimental effect on some adolescents’ coping skills. Yet, the impact of parental separation in their offspring’s life does not have to be a negative one; on the contrary, it can be an opportunity for them to demonstrate their resilience. Indeed, many children demonstrate a remarkable ability to cope and thrive in any family structure. It is thus crucial for parents and educators to implement the necessary strategies that will cultivate the child’s strengths and also create the conditions that will allow them to demonstrate those strengths.

In order to help children to deal with the effects on separation and/or divorced, parents need to establish a healthy relationship with an effective parental communication. Going through divorce may involve dealing with a conflict that promotes negative emotions to both parents. Therefore, parents’ communication should be child-focused, shifting the focus of each other to the child or children. It is important for parents to be aware of their emotional and financial responsibilities and focus on the child’s needs instead of focusing in the negative aspects of separation and divorce. One form to make this successful is making use of mediation as a resource that helps parents to reach agreements in regard to custody, visitation and parenting options.

Mediation for Co-Parents

Mediation as a neutral process helps parents to address the issues they may have during this tough period of their lives in a safe and comfortable environment. The mediator will help parents to focus on the best interest of their child and will empower them to find solutions that will work best for all the people involved. Mediation may also help to improve the communication between the co-parents which allows them to make better decisions for their child’s future.

Separation and/or divorce affects every person in the family and it may have negative consequences for the children. However, when parents handle the situation in a constructive way, they can raise children who feel more confident in themselves and are able to establish long and lasting relationships.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). National marriage and divorce rate trends.
  • Fairfax County Public Schools. (2016). Co-Parenting: Two parents, two homes. p5-10
  • Hartman, L.R., Magalhães, L., & Mandich, A. (2011). What does parental divorce or marital separation mean for adolescents? A scoping review of North American literature. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 52, 490-518.
  • Rodgers, K. B., & Rose, H. A. (2002). Risk and resiliency factors among adolescents who experience marital transitions.  Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 1024-1037.