The impact of divorce on children’s mental health

Conflict between parents during and after divorce can become a significant stressor for children. Research published in the January issue of the clinical journal Child Development correlated parental conflict with fear of abandonment among children, which can predict future mental health concerns.

Review key points from the study by the Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health Institute to learn more about the importance of collaborative coparenting.

Behind the research

The ASU REACH team surveyed nearly 600 children ages 9 to 18 about instances of their parents conflicting after separation or divorce. They found that children exposed to conflict were more likely to worry about parental abandonment, a predictive factor for future mental health issues.

Strategies for collaborative coparenting

According to the study authors, some of the behaviors that distressed children facing divorce included parents fighting with each other in front of them, asking them to bring messages to the other parent, and saying negative things about the other parent. In addition to avoiding these actions, parents can:

       Focus on your child and their needs when communicating with the other parent. Set your personal issues to the side.

       Avoid addressing your former spouse in times of high emotion. Instead, wait until you can stay calm and have a private conversation.

       Shift your perspective from the idea of winning to the idea of moving forward together. Taking these steps can set the stage for a cooperative parenting relationship.

While children may naturally struggle to adjust to the life changes that come with divorce, shielding them from conflict during this time can have significant benefit.