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How a Separation Can Affect a Child's Self-esteem

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 25 Nov 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Separation Parents Child Children

When parents choose to split up, they obviously worry about the impact their separation will have on their child. Children inevitably suffer when Mummy and Daddy choose to go their separate ways, and the break-up of a familiar home life – even if it was a far from perfect one – can wreak havoc on a the way a child feels about life in general.

Separation and divorce are traumatic for a child, and your job as a parent is to make things easier, and minimise the instability and disruption to your child’s life. Making the process less painful and helping a child cope with feelings of unease, separation and even betrayal should be your first priority.

Once things start to settle down, however, it’s often easy to overlook the long-term effects a separation can have on children. In fact, new research says that children often feel the effects of their parent’s divorce not when they are actually splitting up, but post-divorce. It’s then that feelings of inadequacy, sadness and low self-esteem can begin to show up in children.

Divorce and Feelings of Self-Worth

Children whose parents divorced showed marked set-backs not only in interpersonal skills and feelings of self-worth but also in their maths abilities, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin.

They conducted a study on 3,600 six-year-olds in 2008 – whose parents were divorced or from intact marriages - and tracked them through the next four years. They found that children from divorced parents had:

  • Lower math skills – but not reading skills – as maths knowledge is cumulative and could be interrupted by negative feelings caused by divorce
  • A marked inability to “express feelings in a positive way” which harmed them in both making and keeping friends
  • Tendency to internalise problems which were typically characterized by anxiety, low self-esteem and feelings of sadness

Another study from a 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, found that children of divorced parents were twice as likely to have a stroke as an adult than children of parents who were not divorced.

How You Can Help

Children model their own relationships on their parents’ relationship with each other, and when that is out of whack they suffer.

Separation and divorce are often inevitable, but there are ways that parents can respect and be kind toward each other, even if they are living apart or, indeed, are in new relationships. Helping your children deal with separating parents – and realise that their parents still love them even if they no longer love each other – is all-important.

You can do this by:

  • Talking openly to your child about the separation, stressing that they are not the cause of the break-up and that both Mummy and Daddy’s feelings toward them has not changed.
  • Not making your child take sides. Allow your child to do what is best for them, even if it hurts you. You are the grown-up, aren’t you?
  • Allowing your child to express his or her feelings without the fear that their opinions or sense of hurt will only compound the problem. When children feel compelled to bottle things up, eventually they will explode.
  • Resisting the urge to say negative things about your former partner in front of your child. In an ideal world, both parents should do all they can to be supportive about each other. Don’t rely on your child for emotional support either – find friends or a counsellor who can do that for you, and let your child remain a child.

A Secure World

Children who do not have stable, secure role models often look for relationships outside the home to provide them with what they are missing. Often, these relationships are not in their best interest, which is why a high percentage of children who join gangs or have inappropriate relationships at an early age are the children of divorced or separated parents.

Parents going through a separation are grappling with a difficult time in their lives, but it’s important to keep marital and parenting issues separate, and be there at all times for your child. How you react to the separation now can affect how your child will react to various events throughout his or her life.

Separation and/or divorce are never ideal situations when it comes to families. But you can minimise the disruption in your own children’s life by continuing to be their father, by seeing them regularly and having regular visits, and treating your ex-partner with respect in front of the kids, no matter what happened in the past. It’s important – not only for their development today, but for their own self-esteem and happiness in the future.

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Etru373- I understand your frustration. This is very common among a lot of family. I just recently had a patient of mine was in the same situation. and to acknowledge the first thing is times are changing that's without a doubt.and with change we must also adapt as well. So for instance my advice to you would betrying to show your kids that you get what they're saying or what they're about for instance, your daughter is into being physically fit and use this to your advantage and find an activity the two of you could do together such as yoga we talked to meet me will bring you two together. And this will be your little something special the two of you do together that no one else can do with her. To make a long story short it took a little time. But eventually everything started coming around and turned into a positive way she got her daughter back they formed an unbreakable bond and and nowthey have activities they do together just mom and daughter and then they have activities they do as A family with the son, mother and daughter. You don't believe in serendipity start now I've had two patients who were in same situation.needless to say everything worked out for the better they even ran into two people each client ran into a person from high school everything worked out as if it was a miracle. & I said no that is just a little believe in God and yourself and in your family. working together with serendipity the two clients are now married and the kids love the new addition to the family..
Dr. Serendipity - 28-Oct-16 @ 9:44 AM
Richard - Your Question:
I've been Separated for 8 years and am still having ongoing relationship problems with my children who are now 12 and almost 10. Girl and boy. We have an informal agreement made when I was in a very upset state after being told to leave. I see the children every other weekend picking them up on Saturday morning and returning them on Sunday by about 6.30. It can be a long drive as they live in North London and can take between 3-6 hours round trip each day. I would dearly love to spend more quality time with the kids. The travel problems we have often mean we don't have much time for days out and I can get stressed in the traffic jams and I know they don't look forward to coming. Once they are with me they seem to have fun and I do my best to try and do fun things, cook favourite dinners, breakfasts etc. But I have become almost scared to pick them up as more often than not one or both of them makes a big fuss about coming. With crying and lots of upset followed by lots of persuading. All of which really takes it's toll on me and probably them too. It's an emotional roller coaster. Recently I took them on Holiday as I do every year. We got on well for the most part as we usually do. They seem to be fond of me. It makes me miss them so much when the holiday ends. So I suggested that they might like to come for a longer weekend as it was still the holidays. Pick them up Friday, a day off work etc. There mum and I never talk, She wont. we do everything via text message. I always know what's coming. If ever I ask about something like this, she always comes back with. " i've asked the children and they both say they would rather not". whatever it is I've asked. She says she wants them to have a good relationship with me but she never seems to help promote one. What can I do without causing upset?

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this, but this is quite a common problem and I shouldn't take this personally. On a practical level your children may wish to relax at weekends after a hectic week at school and not have to change homes. Likewise, because you have them at alternative weekends they may be missing their school friends or established home life, which is only natural at their age, but I'm sure this does not diminish their love for you. I can only suggest sitting down and talking to them more openly about the issue and ask what they would prefer to do and try to work around it. As your children get older, they may become even more reluctant as their friendships etc become more teenage orientated (again not to be taken personally) so it is better to try and sort this out sooner rather than later. Would it be better that you had them over on one night every other weekend and chose a night to go and see them/take them out on the other weekend and them spend more time with you during school holidays? What about one child each alternative weekend and spend special time doing things that particular child wants to do? The most important thing to feel is relaxed, a stressful situation as is not fun for anyone. Trying to work around the issue and thinking outside the box in order to create a happy relationship is better for all concerned, rather than trying to persevere with one that is fraught, feels forced and/or is upsetting for all.
SeparatedDads - 6-Sep-16 @ 11:13 AM
I've been Separated for 8 years and am still having ongoing relationship problemswith my children who are now 12 and almost 10 . Girl and boy. We have an informal agreement made when I was in a very upset state after being told to leave. I see the children every other weekend picking them up on Saturday morning and returning them on Sunday by about 6.30. It can be a long drive as they live in North London and can take between 3-6 hours round trip each day. I would dearly love to spend more quality time with the kids. The travel problems we have often mean we don't have much time for days out and I can get stressed in the traffic jams and I know they don't look forward to coming. Once they are with me they seem to have fun and I do my best to try and do fun things, cook favourite dinners, breakfasts etc. But I have become almost scared to pick them up as more often than not one or both of them makes a big fuss about coming. With crying and lots of upset followed by lots of persuading. All of which really takes it's toll on me and probably them too. It's an emotional roller coaster. Recently I took them on Holiday as I do every year. We got on well for the most part as we usually do. They seem to be fond of me. It makes me miss them so much when the holiday ends. So I suggested that they might like to come for a longer weekend as it was still the holidays. Pick them up Friday, a day off work etc. There mum and I never talk, She wont. we do everything via text message. I always know what's coming. If ever I ask about something like this, she always comes back with. " i've asked the children and they both say they would rather not". whatever it is I've asked. She says she wants them to have a good relationship with me but she never seems to help promote one. What can I do without causing upset?
Richard - 5-Sep-16 @ 11:49 AM
@Etru373 - stuff like that can stem from a genetic predisposition. If so, that's their personality and you have to run with it. Sporty families quite often have sporty children, academic/arty/ambitious/musical families the same, there's always the question of whether it's nature/nurture. You can't really change people, even when they are your kids!
Rich7410 - 2-Sep-16 @ 9:37 AM
I'm a single mom recently divorced with two children. Girl 9 & boy 8. My ex-husband and I separated mainly because I was very unhappy and felt as though I was never appreciated in the marriage and was never going to be good enough for my husband. I finally decided that this was not how I wanted to live the rest of my life and after 4 months of counseling and no change ai was done!! My ex is very much self absorbed and very strict about his body and how he looks. Another reason I couldn't stay with him. He has always put himself first, even after we had our two children. Recently both my children have started showing and expressing self esteem and body image issues. My son says things like he's fat and he knows it. Daddy and Grandpa (my ex's father) even tell me I'm fat. My daughter has become obsessed with having a flat tummy and actually reads the fat and sugar contents on food boxes at the store and won't eat certain foods because of it being "unhealthy". I have expressed my concerns to my ex, only to have him shut me down and tear me apart instead of recognizing what both our families along with myself are seeing. I don't know what to do anymore because I truly fear both my children are being impacted by their fathers own body issues and are creating ones within themselves. My son doesn't even want to go to his house anymore and my daughter hasn't lived with me now for 3 months because he has brainwashed her into thinking I'm not a fit mother. I have never hurt nor ever would hurt my children and would never and have never said anything to my children then how amazing and beautiful they both are. Shoot I wasn't even aware of my body until Junior Year of High school, not at 8 & 9!!!!
Etru373 - 2-Sep-16 @ 5:30 AM
Darrel - Your Question:
I felt a bit of enlightenment upon reading your article entitled: How a Separation Can Affect A Child's Self Esteem. I am the biological and legitimate father of three children, ages 12, 10 and 8. The separation I had with my spouse generally points to the religious culture and differences we have. She is a Jehovah's Witness while I am a Catholic. On the onset of our relationship and eventual marriage, the issue of religion was never a source of misunderstandings, rather, sociological issues and choices I often engaged myself in terms of employment and social activities, mostly political and military or law enforcement in nature. I hope to read more on articles that could cover these subjects so I may be able to know the best options to take in rebuilding my family. There are numerous factors I believe are also affecting this objective such as but not limited to influences of religious institutions, in-laws opinions, enforced shunning, "emotional blackmail" to name a few. I look forward to reading your other articles and hope would help others especially whom these articles are shared.

Our Response:
Many thanks for your interesting comments, yes the likes of 'enforced shunning' or Parental Alienation, please see link here which is what can happen as a result of relations being strained. However, on the other side of the coin we have articles such as: How to Improve Relations With Your Child's Mother, here which if positively implemented, will also have an effect on maintaining a good relationship with your children. Plus also: Coping With Life as a Separated Dad, here which tells you how to maintain a healthy relationship with your kids. I hope these help.
SeparatedDads - 18-Feb-16 @ 12:12 PM
I felt a bit of enlightenment upon reading your article entitled: How a Separation Can Affect A Child's Self Esteem. I am the biological and legitimate father of three children,ages 12, 10 and 8. The separation I had with my spouse generally points to the religious culture and differences we have. She is a Jehovah's Witness while I am a Catholic. On the onset of our relationship and eventual marriage, the issue of religion was never a source of misunderstandings, rather, sociological issues and choices I often engaged myself in terms of employment and social activities, mostly political and military or law enforcement in nature. I hope to read more on articles that could cover these subjects so I may be able to know the best options to take in rebuilding my family. There are numerous factors I believe are also affecting this objective such as but not limited to influences of religious institutions, in-laws opinions, enforced shunning, "emotional blackmail" to name a few. I look forward to reading your other articles and hope would help others especially whom these articles are shared.
Darrel - 17-Feb-16 @ 7:15 PM
hi. I'm 23 years old. My parents are divorced since 10 years ago.Me and my younger brother living together with grandparents for a few years . And now everyone separated . Everyone has their own life . I left to other country to countinue my study. I haven't meet any of them seems 5 years . At first it was okay for me . But these days I feel down . "Forgotten "
sia - 29-Aug-15 @ 10:26 PM
I'm 27 and my mum and dad recently seperately due to my mum meeting somebody new, having an affair for 3 months before finally leaving my dad to live with him. Your website talks of how children are effected but not adults of my age. I feel that I have been extremely upset since this happened, crying a lot. I feel itis even having an impact on my own relationships. I feel like I'm the only one here for my dad also where he rings for an hour conversation most days, this also adds to my stress and upset. Is this common? Please help.
Sarah - 30-Dec-14 @ 10:03 PM
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