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The Psychological Effect of Separation on Children

Author: Chris Nickson - Updated: 27 August 2014 | commentsComment
Separation Children Depression Myths Boy

When parents are separating, one thing uppermost in the minds of both parties is how it will affect their children. Although around one-third of marriages end in divorce, there are plenty of instances where unhappy couples remain together for the sake of their children, just so they have both parents present as they grow.

But how does separation and divorce actually affect children? Is it inevitably as destructive as some people believe? There are plenty of ideas, such as boys taking it worse than girls, for instance. But there have also been plenty of studies into the effects of separation, which debunk a lot of myths, and also produce some interesting results.

One common factor is that children will generally experience a great deal of distress when the separation occurs, but over time they will adjust and that will fade. A number of factors can help that recovery.

The Main Psychological Problems

When separation occurs, it’s very typical for children to be unhappy and want their parents to remain together. That unhappiness can translate into low self-esteem, behavioural problems, and a sense of loss. However, if the parents take time to communicate with the children, explaining why the separation is happening, and show their love for them – and continued contact, so they don’t feel abandoned by the parent who moves out – these feelings usually disappear quickly.

That’s in the short term. There are also longer term effects that can result from separation or divorce. These, though, certainly don’t apply to all kids from separated families. There is a tendency to perform to a lower standard in school, which can eventually mean that as adults they won’t have good jobs. Children of separated families can also have greater ongoing problems with their behaviour. In general, they become sexually active at an earlier age, become pregnant younger, and experience greater levels of drinking, smoking, and drug use.

That said, it’s not always the separation itself that’s the main cause of all this. One major factor in all this is the life after separation, which can, at times, be low income. Where both parents remain very involved with the children, and very supportive of them – especially where there’s no tension between the parents – the outcomes are often very good indeed.

The Myths About Problems

One common preconception is that boys don’t adjust to separation as well as girls, but there’s been no evidence in studies to show any difference between the sexes in this. Similarly, it doesn’t seem to matter how old the child is when separation occurs, at least in terms of long-term outcome. Nor does the absence of one parent from the household necessarily mean an adverse effect on the development of the child, according to recent studies. All these are simply myths that have developed over time, with no basis in fact.

The Effects Of Relocation

As long as the absent parent remains in the same general area and there’s regular contact, it’s possible to maintain the semblance of a family. If the absent parent moves away, however, then that’s disrupted, and can mean unhappiness and depression for the child, with less frequent visits. It should be noted, though, that with teenagers, things like weekend visits often become less frequent anyway as they develop their own social circles that they wish to maintain.

Where it’s the child and resident parent relocating, the stress level is even higher, which is quite understandable. Not only is the child losing one parent, but he or she has to adjust to a new school and find new friends, leaving behind the old networks developed over years. The sudden lack of stability and continuity can bring academic and behavioural problems. Again, this isn’t always the case, but the Trauma Of Relocation can actually be greater than separation for some kids.

Separation isn’t easy, both for adults and children. But with care, consideration, and contact, the outcomes don’t have to be bad.

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Leave a Comment...
I am the mother of a 2 year old. His father and I separated about a year ago. In our separation we came to an agreement on how many days he spends with me and his dad which is four days each. We have a good relationship as co parents and we make all decisions for our son together. Yet everyone else around us has a problem with our arrangement. Is there a real issue there? Does this impact my son emotionally and mentally? How can I help him? He doesn't seem to mind the arrangement except there are time he does not want to go with his dad? What can I do?
dieana - 27-Aug-14 @ 12:56 AM
I have a 2 yr.old son whom I pretty much raised on my own since he was 3months old after a year I left his mother and filed for full custodywhich I was given with mom only having visits every other wknd. She then aafter 6months took me back tocourt for joint custody which the judge gave her and ordered child exchange of every 2days my son is now 29months and every time I drop him off at his moms he starts yelling and screaming he does not want to go.what can I do? Please help me with this I am a first time parent and single dad trying very hard to raise my son on my own .thanks
pops - 16-Jul-14 @ 8:14 AM
I am a Soldier, deployed for 12 months to Afghanistan. I left home when my son, to whom I was very close to, was two and a half, and will return at three and half (visiting for two weeks after 9 months away, for his third birthday). My other son was born while I was away. I will see him for two weeks when he is 6 months old, and then at a year old. We don't know each other yet. What sort of impact has this deployment caused? Last time I was away for 7 months, when my son was 1.5 years old. Prior to me leaving, he was obsessed with daddy, and when I returned, was very distant for a while. Everytime I left for training, two weeks at a time, he has reacted very strongly, emotionally - either ignoring with his back to me, or jumping up in my arms and refusing to come down.
Lieutenant Dad - 27-Aug-12 @ 9:57 AM
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