Helping children cope through and with a divorce can seem like an insurmountable task. When
parents look at news articles or hear about research about children of divorced
parents, they are often drawn to many of the negative statistics that are
associated with this group of children. Many times the one thing that is
missing is an explanation of what will help children the most throughout this
difficult family transition. While the research has been clear on this topic
for some time, I still find many parents surprised by the simplicity of the
answer. Unfortunately, even though the answer is simple, the actual practice of
the solution can be difficult for some.
The greatest predictor of how well a child is going to cope
with and adjust to a divorce is how well parents cope with and adjust to the
divorce. Parents can be important protector agents in helping children adjust. Some
of the best practices for protecting your children from the negative effects of
divorce include, but are not limited to the following:
Keeping children out of the middle.
Being open with and honest about your emotions.
Minimizing the changes that take place.
Being emotionally available to your children.
I will list some great resources at the end of this post
that expand on the first three, however a recent research article published February
of this year in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage by Sutherland,
Altenhofen, and Biringen expands on the fourth item in the list. Particularly,
Sutherland, Altenhofen and Biringen (2012) found that emotional availability between
mother and child in recently divorced families was lower than between mother
and child in married families. This was found specifically in relation to the
sensitivity subscale from mothers toward children. What this means in laymen’s terms
is that they found that for whatever reason (not examined in this study)
mothers expressed less sensitivity (the ability to appropriately read and react
to a child’s emotional cues) toward children in divorced families than in
married families. It was explained that a lack of parental sensitivity has been associated with parental depression and child behavioral problems.
While this specific study was not experimental in nature
(not longitudinal) and cannot claim causation (that divorced mothers express less