Divorce is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence nowadays, but a recent study shows the extent of which children suffer because of their parents’ divorce.
Many people believe that sometimes divorce is the best option because their children see them fight constantly and they feel that parents not getting along is more damaging than if they ended their marriage. This, however, is not the case. While it is completely accurate and understandable that fighting among parents causes sadness and anxiety in children, a new study reveals that shockingly, fighting and stress during the “pre-divorce” period actually does not create damaging setbacks in terms of behavioral skills and level of academics when compared to after parents go through with a divorce, which is when children begin to become damaged and directly affected.
It was found that the period directly after a child’s parents get divorced causes such instability that is can decrease the child’s social skills and even math skills. Hyun Kim, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s department of sociology, evaluated information collected from another study titled the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study which involved nearly 3,600 children that were all enrolled into kindergarten within the 2008 year. The children that participated in this study were monitored until they finished fifth grade, at which time the researchers of the study compared the children based on whose parents were still married and whose had gotten a divorce.
In terms of the group of children that had gone through a parental divorce, Kim evaluated each child’s development over the course of three different phases. The pre-divorce period took place between kindergarten through the end of first grade, the divorce period took place between first grade and fifth grade and the post-divorce period occurred within the third grade school year and the fifth grade school year. Of the children in the study, most of the divorces occurred in either first, second, or third grades of school.
Based on the results, it appeared as though reading skills remained unaffected by divorce. But children that were in the middle of the divorce period had an obvious decrease in their scores on math tests which remained consistent through the post-divorce period. According to Kim, reading is a skill that is not cumulative in the sense that once you have the skills, they remain, whereas math involves knowing prior information to develop further skills. For example, if someone is not able to add simple numbers such as 1 and 2, then there is no way they can understand the concept of multiplication.
Also suffering during divorce is a child’s interpersonal skills which directly affect the child’s ability to make friends and therefore keep friends. Children of divorce were also seen to lose the ability to properly express their feelings in a positive manner. Kim noted that children of divorce have an obvious issue involving internalizing their issues and feelings leading to loneliness, anxiety, sadness and low self-esteem.
So, why do these negative changes occur in children of divorce? There are a number of factors that may be involved to impact social skills along with math skills during a period of divorce. Children may have obvious stressors and concerns about conflicts involving child custody trials, a general loss of stability due to going back and forth between two different homes, or for some children, moving to a new area or environment and being forced to enroll in a completely new school. Two other common factors are depression of one or both parents and financial struggles during a divorce.
Even though no study has been done to confirm that the negative effects of divorce last or get worse through the years, there is also no proof that suggests that children of divorce are ever truly able to catch up to other children their age.
According to Kim, this study shines light upon the fact that professionals need to step in as soon as it is observed that a child is going through a divorce and struggling because based on the data retrieved from this study, once children feel the full effects of divorce and begin to experience shortcomings, it is hard or even impossible sometimes to help the child rebound and stay at the same level as other children whose parents are not divorced.
Reynolds, D. Parents Divorce Affects Children’s Self Esteem, Social Skills, and Math Scores. 2011.