Divorce: The Impact on Children

In 2005, social psychologists studied the victims of divorce. The study was basically designed to research and document the effects of divorce on children. The study revealed a few common effects, which were mainly negative in nature.

Effects on Children

Blaming Self: This is a common reaction found in all divorced children regardless of age and circumstances. Children tend to blame themselves for the parental divorce. They think that their parents have got displeased with their behaviour. Consequently, the parents are leaving him or her and each other to go their separate ways.

Social psychologists state that this feeling of self-blame is maximum in small children. Small children do not have the cognitive and emotional capacity to understand the real reason for parental divorce. Social psychologists also argue that the personality has still not fully developed in small children. Their ego personality constituent makes them think only in terms of themselves. They feel that all circumstances, issues and decisions revolve around them.

It is an irrational concept. But self-blame persists in the long run during teenage years and adulthood. The child always blames himself or herself for the parental divorce. The child thinks that if only he or she had behaved differently — done well in school, had more friends and not thrown tantrums and been disobedient, the parents would still have been together. The feeling of self-blame never fades away. It cements itself in the psyche shaping the child’s adult personality. Thus, this feeling has many ripple effects of:

Social Aggression: Some children tend to act out. They think that this bad aggressive behaviour may force the parents to come back together again. Usually, such behaviour includes bullying, throwing tantrums, vandalism and mutilation. Social aggression starts in small children below the age of 10. It has to be treated with the help of professional behaviour therapists.

At the onset, social aggression is aimed at self. But when self-aggression in unsuccessful it becomes social. The behaviour is now directed outward hurting other people and property. Mutilation of others, bullying, thrashing and throwing inanimate objects is all part of this social aggression.

A serious punishable offence of this behaviour is vandalism. Vandalism is a potent weapon in the hands of divorce victims. It makes parents sit up and take notice. It also brings out the issue in the open. It brings it in the public eye. At this point, the child is still blaming self for the divorce. But new emotions of anger and betrayal have also surfaced. The child now wants to show the parents the ill they have caused him or her.

In older children, social aggression is laced with many feelings. These include:

  • Betrayal
  • Anger and destruction
  • Hopelessness and grief
  • Depression and misery

All these emotions force the child to take drastic action. The child wants the parents to sit up and take notice. He or she knows that small efforts of bullying and tantrum throwing are not going to get results. It is time to take serious action. This usually involves:

  • Dropping out of school
  • Running away from home
  • Keeping bad company
  • Becoming pregnant
  • Drinking and smoking heavily
  • Engaging in petty crimes of theft, fraud and even kidnapping
  • Destroying public property
  • Going to jail
  • The older child wants the parents to feel embarrassed and ashamed. He or she wants the parents to reconsider their decision. The child wants them to regret the divorce and consequent actions. He or she wants them to think that all these negative behaviours resulted due to their divorce. He or she wants them to consider living together again.

    Withdrawal & Non-communication: Small children tend to withdraw and become loners. Social psychologists state that it is suitable to involve professional therapists at this time. The small child should not allow grief and pain to take over. Usually small children tend to:

    • Become depressed and lose interest in activities which used to interest them earlier
    • Become uncommunicative and loners
    • Take to bedwetting and speaking in baby language
    • Develop hallucinatory syndromes
    • Develop anti-social behavioural symptoms

    It is important to make the child understand why his or her parents divorced. The child has to know that he or she is not to blame. Nothing that he or she does will make the parents get back together again. The child should stop indulging in self-destructive behaviours to make the parents feel guilty. Once the child realises this, he or she starts to view the divorce differently.