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By Lauren Biniares, Lawyer at Watts McCray, Sydney.
While the effects of divorce can vary, research suggests that there may be certain age groups where children are significantly more impacted by exposure to their parent’s separation.
According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, children who experience their parents’ divorce during middle childhood (ages 7-11) may have the most negative outcomes. They may have a harder time adjusting to the changes brought on by the divorce and are likely more susceptible to experiencing mental health issues including depression and anxiety, and may also have a harder time forming healthy relationships in the future.
Another study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that children who experience their parents’ divorce during adolescence (ages 12-18) may also have a significantly harder time coping with the emotional upheaval of a separation. As a result, they may be more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as substance abuse. Like children who are exposed to divorce in middle childhood, they may also have a harder time trusting others and forming healthy relationships in the future.
It’s important to note that these findings are not definitive and that children of all ages can be affected by their parent’s divorce in different ways. Extra support and resources may be needed to help them navigate this difficult transition.
It’s also important to note that the way parents handle a separation can have a substantial impact on how children are affected. To maintain some form of normality and stability, it is important to not be critical of your ex-partner, as difficult as this may be.
Parents who are able to communicate openly with their children, remain involved in their lives, and provide emotional support, can certainly help mitigate some of the negative effects of divorce. Importantly, children feel safer and more secure when they are involved in the comfort of routine. Whilst separation inevitably impacts family routine, knowing what to expect next can provide stability. Whilst the physical circumstances of the family unit have shifted, let your children know that they can continue to have healthy and loving relationships with their parents.
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