It is difficult to imagine a situation more terrible for a child than his or her parents' divorce. No matter how strongly can the parents control their behavior, words, emotions, and the whole situation in general, a child suffers in any case. The more troubles accompany the procedure of divorce, the more psychological troubles it may cause. "Divorce is an intensely stressful experience for all children, regardless of age or developmental level; many children are inadequately prepared for the impending divorce by their parents" (Eleoff, 2003). The initial child's reaction to his or her parents' decision to separate is usually as follows: a sense of vulnerability while the family is disintegrating, the feeling of grief at a loss of the integrated family, loss of the parent who is non-custodial, a strong feeling of powerlessness.
Many parents who decided to separate do not know how to inform their child about this decision. There are several important things to remember while announcing your plans to a child that will help to lessen the stress as much as possible (Helpguide.org): try not to lie, but to tell the truth about your decision; prove the child that you definitely love you child and will do it; make your child sure that in spite of some changes in his or her life, the main things will remain the same.
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A lot of parents who decided to separate tend to make a common mistake: to claim that it is none of the child's business. Those parents who behave in that way are not caring about their child, but ignorant of the problems of the child's psyche (Parker, 2010). Thus, a child may fear changes that will enter his or her life. Children understand that from now on their life will be completely different and nothing will be the same with no mom or no dad in their life. Besides they may fear to be abandoned by one parent, either mom or dad. The idea of being alone in this world may make a child suffer very much. If a family have a lot of relatives a child may also fear to lose relative from the mother's or the father's side. Children are usually attaches to their surroundings and will accept new changes very unwillingly. Sometimes shortly after divorce parents may try to turn their child against the former partner; as a result fathers may try to create negative attitude towards mothers and vice versa. Trying to solve their own mental problems parents often forget about their children. Good parents who decided to live separately but who want to do everything possible to prevent their child from sufferings should attentively observe the child's behavior. There are some alarm signals that should definitely attract the parent's attention (Parker, 2010): the child's attempts to bring parents back together; defiance and aggression; withdrawal and depression.
It is almost impossible to create a friendly atmosphere of mutual understanding during the divorce, but still, both parents should do their best in order to try. At least they may put their efforts in creating more secure and tolerable atmosphere for a child. In order to do that, first of all both parents should be involved. Their task is to make a child sure that in any case both mom and dad will be near if it is necessary; they still love their child; they will protect him from any harm and will always be his parents. Besides, during the divorce process both parents should demonstrate respect towards each other and show it to the child. Sometimes there are cases when it is impossible, but still adult people may pretend to feel in this way in order not to upset the child, whose sufferings are usually beyond borders. Sometimes it is also wise not to change the daily routine. A child will definitely feel more secure if there are not too many changes in his life. If the psychological disturbance of a child appears to be serious it may be wise to ask for the qualified help and to visit a psychologist, for instance. A specialist will help not only a child, but his parents as well.
A child cannot adept to parents' divorce in a day or two. At the best, the process of psychological adapting may take two or even more years (Foulkes-Jamison, 2001). A lot of children usually adjust to it, but some of them cannot avoid psychological disturbance and even serious mental illness. As a result children may have significant problems in their adulthood. A great factor that allows a child to adjust to the changes in his life is his parents' sensitivity over the problem. And of course other factors also matter a lot: a child's gender, age, and temperament. The reaction of a preschooler will differ to a large extent from the reaction of an adolescent. A child's view of divorce, his ideas and beliefs about it are not constant and usually change in the process of his growing up. Therefore parent who decided to divorce should also manifest sensitivity and understanding of the child's developmental differences that influence his reaction towards his parents' separation. Preschoolers may be often baffled by the divorce of parents. The reason to this is that their cognitive abilities are limited and it is hard for them to take this idea. That places them at the stake of very serious mental problems. At this age the majority of children are egocentric and therefore they tend to blame themselves for their parents' divorce. So they "may feel that it is their responsibility to bring their parents back together" (Foulkes-Jamison, 2001). Children of the age group 6-8 already take this problem in a slightly different way. Even if they still have fantasies about the possible reconciliation of parents, they already do not blame themselves for that. They usually experience grief because of the impossibility of the family to remain united. They may already choose the side of one parent and blame another one. They also express their disapproval or even hatred. That is also true about children from 9 to 12 years old. They can consciously feel anger towards their parents for making them suffer.
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Boys and girls also react in a different way on their parents' divorce. Girls are usually very upset, withdrawn, anxious and lost, while boys demonstrate aggressiveness, disobedience and tendency towards misbehavior. Girls that were brought up in the families where divorce happened, start their sexual life earlier that those girls who lived with both parents. Besides, boys who remained with their mothers who remarried often adjust more successfully. Girls usually have more difficulties in this case.
Besides, such factor as conflicts between parents can also cause a prolonged adjustment of a child. Boys usually suffer greatly than girls; they are also prone to have behavior problems. The amount of conflicts between parents also mean a lot, as the more conflict took place, the more difficult it will be for a child to regulate their mental health. Researchers have also shown that children whose parents had little quarrels feel after divorce approximately the same way as children from the intact families where the amount of quarrels is not very large.
The child's relations with parents after divorce are critical to the further adjustment. A child already feels disturbance being not able to communicate with both parents who divorced. But the continued relations with both of them help to provide effective and less painful adjustment that meeting either mom or dad from time to time. Another factor is very important in this respect. A child who permanently communicates with his or her custody parent feels better than that child who does not see his mom or dad at all or at rare occasions. Not only the quantity of relations is important but also a quality. A child must get positive emotions from communicating with a parent. It is right in no way to criticize another parent while he or she is absent. First, it is not good to bias a child against another parent; secondly, doing that a parent will show the bad sides of his or her personality and at the end it will turn against him or her. It is wiser to be warm with a child, understanding. It is important to demonstrate good parental skills.
The negative influence on a child's mental health can be manifested not only in anger, misbehavior and psychological problems. "Children can display a wide range of behavioral changes due to experiencing the traumatic effects of divorce, from difficulty in sleeping to highly harmful behavior like violence, drug abuse, and sometimes even suicide" (Putatunda, 2010). Some other problems may include regressive behavioral patterns such as displaying fears, using comfort items, bed-wetting, alongside with nervous habits, repetitive physical behaviors and problems in school. Sometimes children feel that they must protect their divorced parent. They want to take care of the divorced mom or dad, or even to marry him or her again.
No doubt divorce has a significant life-changing impact on the subsequent development and well-being of a child. The consequences influence all the spheres of a person's life: emotions, behavior, parent-child relationship, coping skills and psychological development. The necessity of the medical need cannot be doubted as it is also impossible to cope with the problem by oneself. Mental health professionals and other child's specialists can provide sufficient support for those children who suffered the divorce of their parents. They can help in any psychological aspects of a child's life. The process and the period of divorce are very difficult for every child no matter how old he or she is. A child requires the parents' complete attention and understanding, as he is only an innocent witness of the process that impacts his life, viewpoint and future life in a great degree. So every parent should understand that and do his or best to minimize those sufferings. It is necessary to make a child's life as humanly and easy as possible.