Effects of Divorce on a Child’s Development

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How many family friends or maybe your own parents marriage ended in divorce? Approximately 50% of all marriages end in divorce in America (Lansford, 2009, p.140). However, how does divorce impact a child's development? Divorce is associated with having negative consequences in affecting those around it. Most people focus their attention on the parents that are going through divorce but it is important to see how a child's development is affected as well. The child's academic performance, emotional development, and social relationships gets affected when their parents are going through issues prior to divorce and during the divorce process.

Marital problems can arise from an array of circumstances, however a key component to most marital conflicts is financial stress. The financial stress can be happening prior to divorce and post-divorce. When a child is exposed to their parents conflict and marital problems that in itself is enough for the child's development to be affected because they start to witness their parents having constant discussions. They may start to see their parents arguing as a normal situation or they may be emotionally discouraged. This emotional discouragement can manifest itself in a child having a hard time being able to communicate their feelings to others.

What Research Says: Effects On Academic Performance

Children will start to get involved in their parents divorce even if they try not to or if the parent is trying to shield them from any harm. Children that are going through divorce alongside their parents may not always seem to have physical effects to them. Many children will start to experience a decline in their academics. In a meta-analysis, it was found that divorce seemed to have more of an effect on academic achievement than with having personal problems (Lansford, 2009, p.141). As children see their parents arguing, or may have negative attitude towards each other, this contributes to the child being distracted in not wanting to do their school work. The parents are also distracted as well with having a divorce going on, that they may not be paying much attention to their child. Since the child is not receiving the adequate help from their parent, they will start to not care as much for their schooling and disregard their academics as being normal.

Effect on Self-Esteem

As the child is witnessing the divorce, they may feel the divorce may be their fault. Divorce does have an effect on the self-esteem of a child. Custody conflicts can affect the child in having the feeling to be obligated to choose one parent over the other (Feeney & Moravcik & Nolte, 2016, p.515). If they choose to stay with one parent, they may have thoughts of missing the other parent and this can cause internal problems.

The internal problems can include the child not feeling comfortable with expressing their feelings because they are afraid they may be told their wrong for feeling a certain way. The child may not know how to appropriately express their feelings so they can begin to lash out or keep to themselves. The child may not have anybody to talk to during this difficult time, so their self-esteem and how they feel about themselves can start to decline. As their self-esteem declines, they will start to feel that they may not be good enough for their parents or they may even begin to blame themselves for the divorce taking place.

Effects On Relationships

As these children of divorce start to grow and develop maturely, it is important to note how divorce impacts their social relationships. A child may not be willing to be as expressive and open with their peers because of the things that he or she may be going through at home. As these children grow older and start to enter their adulthood, it was found that they are two times more likely to end in divorce themselves (Lansford, 2009, p.142). This may be because they witnessed their own parents divorce and do not view marriage as a commitment for life. The relationship that the child has with the parents after the divorce gets carried on to their adulthood. Their view of their parents can change and that relationship may not be as strong as it once was during childhood. These children can also grow to be guarded in order to protect themselves from feeling any additional hurt from any other social relationships. If their biological parents do decide to remarry, than this too is considered another major life transition in which a child will have to get adjusted too (Lansford, 2009, p.146). These children may develop to be introverted and would rather avoid engaging in any type of serious relationships, whether that be romantically or friendships. This image indicates that children living with only one parent have more behavioral problems compared to those living with both parents.

Recommendations & Implications

Even though a child may be going through their parents divorce, this does not indicate that the child will grow up to be extremely troubled or have extreme internal and external behavioral problems. During this time, it is important to keep the child informed about what is going on with their parents and to constantly be checking in with the child about how they are feeling or what their thoughts may be. Being present for a child and offering help to them and their family is one of the first steps in keeping things stable for children (Feeney & Moravcik & Nolte, 2016, p.515). Once children feel stable they will start to get accustomed to their new norm, which would be the separation between their parents. Helping a child adapt and transition to any major life changes can result in having a positive outcome for the child.Local resources for any medical, psychological, or nutritional needs should be offered to families to help through the transition of divorce.

Family counseling is a great way for the parents to openly discuss what is currently happening and to provide reassurance for their children, alongside professional help. If the family does choose to go through family therapy, it is important to also check in with the children at home as well. Asking how the child feels or how things can be approached differently can be meaningful for the child because it shows that the parents are taking the time to acknowledge that they too are going through the divorce. However, if local resources are not being used during this time by the family, the child will find ways to cope during this transition in life. The child may distance themselves from their parents because they may view their parents as the source of their hurt. If the child does become distant, this also implies that there will be little to no communication with the parents. Internalizing problems can start to develop upon this distance which will make any expression of feelings difficult to communicate.


Feeney, S., Moravcik, E., Nolte, S., (2016) Who am I in the lives of children?. Pearson Education, Inc. Lansford, J. E., (2009). Parental divorce and children's adjustment. Center For Child and Family Policy. Durham, North Carolina.

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Effects Of Divorce On A Child's Development. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved July 12, 2024 , from

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