In some cases when families with children break up, the stress that is imposed on the children affects their social, physiological, psychological and social status. Children of recently divorced families are reported to demonstrate less social competence, more behavioural problems, more psychological distress, and more learning deficits compared to those in intact families (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1967). As the divorce rates show a continually increasing trend, the stress on the children require thorough analysis such that coping strategies maybe properly employed control and manage the associated stress (DeBord, 1997).
Depending on factors like the child’s gender, age, personality, the strength of bonds within the family and time of divorce the level of stress on the child may differ. The bond that is broken between a parent and a child can leave the child under stress and confusion (Douglas, 2006). The quality of the relationship between family members after the divorce is commonly reduced which in turn increases the stress level the child maybe exposure to (DeBord, 1997). Divorce often leaves children learning to adapt to a new household environments and new methods of communication and lack of parental support when most needed leaving children anxious and stressed out (DeBord, 1997).
Recently social psychologists in the UK conducted a study and found that children of divorced parents carry physiological effects requiring medical treatment and are more probable to develop heart problems, asthma and muscular immobility. Studies also suggest that these children are more inclined to compulsive gambling as they grow up. Conversely, Arhons believes that children from divorced families have a tendency to be more cooperative, adjustable and are likely to have high self esteem and motivation levels (Lee, 2002). This however is not backed up as most research work conducted in this area disagree with the findings.
Karen DeBord, a Child Development Specialist catogorised the Childs understanding and reactions to the stress of divorce by grouping on the basis of age groups (infants, toddlers, pre schoolers and early elementary). Interestingly, she has found that though infants do not understand conflict, they may react to changes in parents energy levels and respond by loss of appetite and regular upset stomachs. Toddlers comprehend the absence of a parent but may not understand why and tend to experience more crying, sleeping problems, regression to infant behavior such as thumb sucking, show signs of anxiety when a parent is not present. The lack of fully understanding the situation of separation continues with preschoolers however they do recognize that there is less parental activity in their lives (DeBord, 1997).
DeBord believes that once children reach early elementary they begin to understand what divorce is and that the love status of the parents is not as before and therefore are put under a greater deal of stress. They tend to Feel deceived and sense of loss and rejected by the parent who has left their home. At this stage the instability that is experience leads to psyological distress as they Ignore school and friendships and Fear nobody will be there to pick him or her up from school. This leads to suffering such as headaches or stomach aches, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, frequent urination (DeBord, 1997).
Hayt, in 1999 stated that the psychological reaction or adjustment of the parents does not necessarily represent that of the child. It was found that even when parents’ psychological adjustments are positive and component as single parents’ children may suffer psychologically (Amat & Keith, 1991).
Psychological effects of divorce on children may range from anger to extreme depression depending on the difficulty of the relationship and the divorce. Custody disagreements, especially when prolonged cause the children to endure more psychological effects as a result of the stress. Parental disagreement and conflict appears to create more psychological stress in boys than in girls and represents a bipolar continuum with parental agreement (Amat & Keith, 1991). It is vital to understand that psychological effects can be prolonged and not always noticed at the early stages, encouraging a child to speak out and express their feeling is extremely important as this may simplify further outcomes of the stress (Amato, 1994)
Adjustments with a new environment, especially if there is a new member such as a Step parent involved may raise conflicts and introduce social difficulties for children which may affect them in long term. Through the lack of resources mentioned, children may be deprived of educational and social opportunities. With the adjustments of a divorce, children may isolate themselves and not engage in social activities and education; this usually impacts on their self-esteem and character development (Drapeau & al, 1999). As growing children, role models play a vital part in social development. Children of divorce in most cases only have one parent as a role model and this creates social problems later in their lives. Studies show that depending on gender and the social environment in a household, the level of problems encounters may differ. Social effects are more serious as a result of the stress when the child feels responsible for the separation of the parents (Sylvie & Samson, 1999).
Pre-schoolers, as a result of their increasing understanding of the domestic situation suffer more socially as they react to the stress of the situation by containing their anger and feeling responsible and expect to be punished and show uncertainty about the future. They may also become aggressive and angry towards the parent that they reside with, perhaps due to experiencing feelings of grief because of sudden absence of parent and have more frequent nightmares (DeBord, 1997).
Parents have potential to really affect the way that a child settles and adapts to new living arrangements. They are the role models for growing children and as such the way that they manage stress needs to be logical, minimising harm to the body. Parents need to make it clear that the divorce is not the child’s fault as this thought often leaves children feeling stressed and depressed and Resolve problems as soon as possible reduces the conflicts before, during and after the divorce and thus reduces the stressful events that a child has to encounter (Drapeau & al, 1999).
The state of the parents and their well being has a significant impact on a child’s stress levels. If Parents control their anger and maintain a friendly relationship with their ex-spouses after the divorce the adjustments and social effects can be reduced on the child. It is vital that children keep in contact with both their parents regardless of distance and the dynamics of the households as Children worry and tend to stress about the parent that they are not with. (Wolf, 1998)
Parents need to understand how to approach children of different ages as some studies show the type and level of attention required differs as younger children necessitate routine, however it is clear that for all ages strengthening the bond to build trust with the child, creating a sense of security is essential in times of stress. Learning to cope with stress is a tool that children of divorce, depending on their age can greatly benefit (Luecken, 1998).
It has been scientifically proven that exercise, spending time out in nature and a healthy diet improves a child’s general well being and help to maintain a regular chemical balance in the brain.11 Regular outdoor activities lessens the social traumas caused by the stress. Therefore parents should invest in such activities to help their children from the stress of their divorce (Xin Meng, 2008).