Sometimes, divorce is a topic that is overlooked and may be deemed unimportant when it comes to the development of a child. However, this aspect of life (if and when it happens) has many life altering and stressing effects that a child may undergo when his/her parents are going through divorce. To start, Divorce is defined as the ‘legal’ cessation of a marriage by a court/ and or a competent body that is able to separate this ‘union’. Divorce can be tricky, as always, when there are children involved.
Children take the overall hit of divorce the hardest because they are still developing as human beings. By mid-childhood, the brain is only 75% the weight of an adults brain; the prefrontal cortex (regulates personality expression, emotion and planning) is not fully developed. Because of the nature of the prefrontal cortex, this part of the brain in a child is most sensitive to parental interaction.
An increasing release of the stress hormone cortisol can trigger a child, and cause many negative long term effects in the later development of the child and the child’s brain. In the article Archives of Family Medicine A history of early adverse experiences is an important risk factor for adult psychopathology. Changes in stress sensitivity and functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis may underlie the association between stress and risk for psychiatric disorders. (Mainous III, A. G. (2000)
It can also be noted in the article Projecting Children From the Consequences of divorce; a longitudinal study of the effects of parenting on children’s coping processes that Psychosocial stressors constitute a significant risk for children’s mental health issues. There are many studies that have been done to show the links between a child’s coping efforts and aspects of the family environment. ( Sandler, I. (2011).
Above are just some of the psychological tolls that divorce has on children. Not only is the stress of a parents separation one major event that affects the development and maturation of the child’s brain, but also, environmental factors that trigger the stress are another. According to the Articles of Longitudinal Studies in Great Britain Children and the of Divorce United on States it states that most children experience their parents’ divorce as a stressful life event and exhibit short-term developmental disruptions, emotional distress; and behavior disorders (Teitler, J. (2011).
This article goes on to further explain that outcomes of divorce for children and parents appear to be the multiple life changes encountered following divorce. These include changes in economic status, residence, occupation, child care arrangements, social relationships, support networks, family relationships, and physical and mental health. (Teitler, J. (2011)
Since the environment has such a strong effect, there are certain circumstances in a parent/child relationship in a divorce that also results in the alter of a child’s mood; this is when a parent remarries and finds a new partner. When a child is younger, divorcing and finding a new partner has negative effects on the child- these findings are effective as the child is young. These facts were found in study done for Relationships Between Fathers and Adult Children, presented in Journal of Family Issues.
In the article, respondents who are 18 to 49 years old who have a living father were chosen in order to collect data. The average respondent is 35.7 years and the average father is 64.6 years of age. Researchers excluded respondents who are still living at home. Results showed that compared with divorced paternal figures who live alone, a remarried father has less frequent contact with his child, thus the quality of the relationship is poorer, and the child will become more depressed (Kalmijn, M. (2013).
In addition to the remarriage being such an emotional and stressful time for a child, one other environmental factor that takes a toll on is the emotional aspect of divorce- the emotional divorce. Emotional divorce is defined as according to the article Emotional Divorce- a Child’s well being that the emotional divorce is that phase in a relationship where the positive feelings of love and affection are displaced by increasing feelings of anger, frustration, hurt, resentment, dislike, or hatred, and the perception that the positive feelings are gone forever (Hashemi, L., & Homayuni, H. (2017).
A study was done in this article where the effects of a parental emotional divorce were measured on levels of anxiety, depression, stress and aggression. Measures were in a sample of 81 Iranian children. Results showed that the children who had to deal with emotionally divorced parents conveyed significantly higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems than counterparts from legally divorced parents (Hashemi, L., & Homayuni, H. (2017). Regardless, the results of an emotional divorce has a negative toll on the cognitive development of a child living in this kind of situation.
Lastly, in the event of divorce (since this sort of situation can be extremely difficult) relationships between the parents and the child are usually observed in order to come up with the most effective coping mechanisms and treatments . A study that demonstrated this was Protecting children from the consequences of divorce: A longitudinal Study of the Effects of Parenting on Children’s Coping Processes published by Child Development. In this study, the mother-child relationship was observed, and whether relationship quality induced short term or long term coping mechanisms (for the child).
It was documented that the psychosocial stressors of the divorce constitute a high pervasive risk for mental health problems. The study showed that Children who have warm, positive relationships with their mothers may be more likely to use more active coping and less avoidant coping and have higher levels of coping efficacy than children with less positive relationships for several reasons. (Sandler, I. (2011).)
In conclusion, from research done, it is clear that the overall effects of divorce is traumatizing to a child and can psychologically impair a child and their brain as they are developing, thus causing more issues down the road. However, with healthy relationships, good communication, toxic situations eliminated and the right kind of therapy, a child can continue to live a normal life.