Children of a Massachusetts divorce have poorer math and interpersonal social skills than their peers, and they battle anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness, according to research published in the American Sociological Review.
They have trouble forming and maintaining friendships, expressing their feelings in positive ways, showing sensitivity to others' feelings, comforting other children and getting along with people who are different, according to the study's author.
The problems don't resolve once the divorce is complete, but neither do they intensify. Children of divorce don't appear to catch up with their peers,.
Although the researchers anticipated finding evidence that children struggle in the "pre-divorce period," before parents initiate divorce proceedings, the study found otherwise. Rather than reacting to the perceived conflict that leads to moms and dads filing for divorce, children start struggling once the divorce is underway.
The study analyzed 3,585 kids from kindergarten through fifth grade and zeroed in on the 142 children whose parents split up between first and third grade.
The researchers observed the children four times; in the spring of kindergarten, first grade, third grade and fifth grade and found that children of divorce trailed other children by about 12% in terms of their progress on standardized math tests, when other factors were not considered.
The study found no corresponding lag in reading scores. That might be because math skills rely on cumulative knowledge more than reading skills do. If children of divorce do not understand one thing, it may be hard to catch up. Reading skills are not as sensitive to external influences.
That children whose family structure is falling apart are more prone to experiencing social distress is not surprising. Stressed-out parents can create stressed-out kids, and arguments over custody and worries about acclimating to two homes instead of one can cause children to turn inward. They may not want to meet other students and may have problems expressing their own feelings.
For this reason, it's important for parents to talk with their kids about how divorce will change things. If they understand, children may be able to concentrate better and form friendships.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.