Ending a marriage or relationship can impact many people in addition to the couple. But children may face additional difficulties. According to a recent study published in the Jan. 12 edition of Child Development, children who watch their parents argue during a divorce or separation are more prone to develop a fear of abandonment which may continue into the future.
Researchers interviewed 560 children between 9 and 18 years old. They also spoke to parents and teachers.
Interviewers asked children how often they felt like they were caught in the middle of parental disputes. Children were asked, for example, if they had to deliver a message from one parent to the other. Researchers also sought information on whether parents said negative things about each other in front of their children.
Younger participants under 12 were enrolled in a post-divorce program between 2012 and 2015. This assessment lasted for 11 months.
Exposure to conflict was a predictor that children would fear they would be abandoned by one or both of their parents. Children who reported a greater fear of abandonment were more likely to report mental health problems, such as suppressed feelings of distress or general feelings of anxiety or fear, 11 months later.
There were also some surprising findings. Children had fears of later abandonment even if they had a good relationship with one or both parents.
Normally, good parenting plays a strong and powerful role with protecting children after the parents’ divorce or separation. But good parenting is complicated in divorced and separated families. This latest research indicated that good parenting may not prevent a child’s feeling of abandonment.
The most effective method is straight-forward. Parents should not argue and fight in front of their children. It may be effective to put a note on the phone or post another reminder to avoid any fights or other behavior in front of children.
This behavior includes making negative statements about the other parent in front of their children or requesting children to convey messages between parents. Parents should never say things that make children feel they are in the middle or must pick sides.
Finally, parents must assure their children that, regardless of divorce or separation, they continue to care for them. This will help stop fears of abandonment.
An attorney can help parents seek options that meet their needs and protect their interests. They can also represent them in divorce and child custody proceedings.