Divorce and Its Impact on Children


Divorce is a traumatic experience which can create negative emotional and behavioral problems in children. This paper studies the effects of divorce and strategies to cope with the trauma.


Divorce means the termination of marriage which is carried out using the court of law. It is a legal action in which terms of divorce are determined by taking into account the terms that have been agreed by spouses in private. My parents and grandparents are married which means that I have no experience with divorce. However I have many friends who have gone through the pain of divorce. Each has tried to respond in positive or negative ways to cope with the pain of divorce. Divorce rates have been very high in developed countries like the United States of America and United Kingdom. The last half of the twentieth century has witnessed a huge divorce rate in industrialized countries. Divorce can create many negative feelings in children who experience trauma, depression, stress and anxiety.

Impact of divorce

Divorce can have negative impact on many children. Research has found that twenty percent of divorce cases in the United States are due to family strains and extramarital affairs. Emotional and physical abuse is also the leading causes of divorce. Other less common causes of divorce include mid life crisis and work-holism. Addictions like drugs, alcohol and gambling can also be leading causes of divorce.

Financial problems can also be a major cause of divorce amongst couples (Gallagher, 1996). Many friends who have suffered from divorce have exhibited depression and sadness. Young girls that have experienced divorce are less likely to adapt as compared with older girls. Depression is a common symptom in young children. They also attempt to commit suicide during adolescence. Divorce also leads to the creation of two households which increases the costs. Parental conflict leads to difficulties in children trying to cope with divorce. Fierce confrontations between parents in front of child place the latter in an unfair position.

Parental conflict can lead to a difficult adjustment period for children involved. Shared custody of children between parents after divorce can also create several negative psychological feelings. The absence of the father creates a negative impact on the development of the children. Children also face chronic disorganization and inconsistent parenting after divorce. Parents might have different opinions regarding the upbringing of children.

Different ideas of consistency in shared custody can create psychological and emotional problems in children. Children can also experience feelings of loneliness because of the loss of the other parent. They also appear confused and disoriented because of parental separation. They have feelings of fear and being abandoned by their parents. The loss of parents is a sad and traumatic moment for children because they believe that their needs are not going to be attended as they had before. Children also tend to develop physical complaints like headaches and stomach aches because of the depression occurring after divorce.

Older children who experience divorce display moderate to severe signs of anger, stress and sadness. Some children also appear to act indifferently to divorce while others have feelings of denial. Still others attempt to choose sides and blame the divorce on one parent.

Response to divorce

I have seen many friends trying to cope with the trauma of divorce. Some of these strategies use positive feelings to ensure that they can survive divorce. Still some friends have reacted in negative ways which is detrimental to their emotional and mental health. One positive way to react to divorce is to experience emotions of the body. Denying pain or grief is a counterproductive feeling which retards the process of healing.

Support groups are another useful tool in dealing with the trauma of divorce. Talking about your problems helps in reducing the pain. Some children react in negative ways to the process of divorce. The child may feel powerless and freeze (Haltzman, 2005). This reaction occurs due to traumatic stress. Children apparently have different reactions to any painful event. This determines the level of trauma which will afflict the child. Depression and anxiety can be worse in some children. A few friends have tried to withdraw from society in order to reduce the pain of divorce. Such children are more risk at being upset and may require help.

One useful strategy in dealing with the pain of divorce is to allow the child to express his or her feelings. The feelings of sadness and anger must be expressed instead of being suppressed. They should be offered choices to increase their ability to control their lives. This prevents any disruptions which might occur due to divorce. Friends can also assist in reducing negative feelings. They can sympathize and understand the trauma which the child is undergoing after divorce (Lester, 1993).

Coping with divorce

The best strategy to cope with divorce is that parents must ensure stability for the family. Children should be allowed to express their opinions. They must also be given choices which will not disrupt their normal life. Parents must be ready to answer questions from children. They might have misunderstandings which can be removed by the parents. Children often display signs of fear, anger or anxiety after divorce. Support groups can assist people who are experiencing the trauma of divorce.

These groups hold counseling and group sessions in which people who have suffered similar trauma share their feelings. Support groups are an excellent forum for allowing children suffering from divorce related to trauma to heal their wounds. These groups provide an ideal environment where feelings are expressed openly instead of being suppressed (Sandefur, 1994). They can assist in reducing the feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.

Children are highly vulnerable to the trauma coming from divorce. Without the proper support tools and environment, they can experience moderate to severe forms of stress, depression and anxiety. The children must be told that divorce is not their fault. Some children believe that they are the reasons for the divorce of their parents. Parents must repeat the messages that children are not being blamed for the divorce many times before the children can understand. It is also essential that the lifestyle of the children is consistent in order to continue their development.

But external emotions are not the only emotions that come to play in behavior. The individual’s own perception of self and the way he or she visualized him or her self regarding personality, appearance, peer equivalence, and by the external social norms is a very important part of behavior, for it owns the personality of the person and how it affects the patterns of behavior within them. Such emotions can include pride, guilt, embarrassment or shame, and these emotions are in many ways strictly private and confidential. (Ferguson, 2007)

The expectations that we put towards ourselves or the society puts towards us are the prime reason for the development of motivation. Motivation has been most aptly described by Maslow through his hierarchy of needs table. He claims that motivation is essentially the fulfilling of the needs and is a developmental process akin to a pyramid, where each successive level is one step advanced than the previous. He claims that motivation is primarily composed of physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and loving needs and esteem needs. These are followed by need to know and understand needs and aesthetic needs. The final or the top of the pyramid includes self actualization and transcendence. (Hiutt, 2004)


Divorce can be a traumatic and stressful event for children. Children react in different ways to the stress of the divorce. Some children do not have negative feelings and are perfectly normal when dealing with divorce. Still other children can experience negative feelings which can be in the form of increased aggression and anger towards one or both parents. Other children might withdraw themselves from society. It is essential that support groups, family support and support from friends are used to assist the child in dealing with the pain of divorce. Support groups are an excellent forum in which people suffering the same trauma express their feelings.

Family and friend support is also crucial for children experiencing divorce. They can be a continuous source of support. It is essential that the child does not repress his or her feelings but expresses them. Talking about the feelings can increase the chance of healing the wounds of the child. Parents should also make it clear that the children are not responsible for divorce. They will have to express this point many times before the child begins to understand. The child must also be allowed to express his or her feelings openly. Some children are afraid to ask questions, however answering questions assists the child in coping with the pain of divorce.


Gallagher, Maggie. “The Abolition of Marriage.” Regnery Publishing, 1996.

Haltzman, Scott. Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2005.

Lester, David. “Time-Series Versus Regional Correlates of Rates of Personal Violence.” Death Studies 1993: 529-534.

McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur. Growing Up with a Single Parent; What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994: 82.

Huitt, W. (2004). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Web.

Tamara J.Ferguson, 2007. Emotions as Foundations for Social Behavior. Lecture notes. Web.

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