New research could help manage the impact of divorce on children

It is no secret that divorce, whether in Florida or elsewhere, can have devastating effects on children’s mental health and future success. But recent studies have shown that not all divorces affect children equally. 

Experts now believe that the status of the family before the divorce and the way parents go about their separation can have a dramatic impact on children’s experiences, and it could shed light on how children build resilience. 

Anticipation and surprise

The National Academy of Sciences published a study corroborating recent evidence that children who anticipate their parents’ divorce exhibit significantly higher resilience than those who see the divorce as a surprise. This particular study examined the impact of divorce on children’s educational achievements. Similar studies, such as one at the University of Bergen in Norway, have also examined markers such as mental health, physical health and interpersonal relationships. 

The evidence seems to suggest that parents who are statistically more likely to divorce leave less of an impact on their children when they split. In a large percentage of these cases, children exhibit no noticeable impacts on health and achievement markers. By contrast, parents who appear to have more stability — or a high statistical probability of remaining married — leave a greater impact on children in the wake of a divorce. 

Meaning and significance

The meaning and significance of these studies are as yet unclear, but researchers believe that it may suggest that children in less stable homes build resilience through hardship. It may also suggest that anticipation and information help children process divorce. 

This may undermine the traditional belief that parents should shield children from the divorce proceedings entirely. Certainly, contentious or toxic divorces leave permanent scars on children, but for couples who can cooperate with one another through the separation process, involving children as interested stakeholders could help them process the changes in a healthier way. Keeping children informed and asking for feedback on relevant issues may stoke empathy, limit shock and minimize powerlessness. 

As researchers continue to examine these ideas, further studies will hopefully illuminate these findings more fully.