There's a fairly straightforward reality about divorce involving children: it's going to be emotionally difficult for the kids. Research has shown, however, that the mental health challenges that adolescent children face in the midst of divorce tend to soften after four to nine months.
Every family is different, though, and children may respond to their parents' split in different ways. Still, there is some comfort in knowing that parental divorce does not necessarily have to lead to long-term psychological problems for the kids.
Psychologists and social science experts still emphasize that children need plenty of support to help them develop healthily following their parents' divorce.
A Texas psychologist has characterized the general impact of divorce on kids as resulting in four mental health challenges:
- Despondency, resulting from the perceived loss of an intact family
- Anxiety, resulting from the uncertainty associated with a newly organized family system
- Anger, resulting from a perceived violation of the family structure
- Stress, caused by all of the change requiring kids to adjust
It's important for parents to understand that these are all healthy responses to divorce, and experts say that one key to helping kids manage these feelings is to keep the lines of communication open.
Even if a child is reluctant to talk about the emotional impact of the divorce, parents can take steps to remain accessible for when the child is ready to open up.
Every child is different, and every divorce is different. Some children -- particularly girls -- tend to withdraw and turn inward, and other kids -- often boys -- tend to express their negative feelings outwardly. By being aware of these tendencies, parents can better help their children manage their emotions.
Establishing a new routine can also help children cope with a parental split.
An important thing to keep in mind, though, is that unpacking the divorce for the kids will take time, and parents need to remain open and available as the children's understanding of the divorce evolves. They are likely to have more questions as time goes on.
For more on developing creative parenting plans that work for everyone involved, please see the Law Office of Mark M. Childress's parenting plan overview.