The Impact of Divorce on Children

The Impact of Divorce on Children

I often recommend this video to my clients in mediation to help them create a parenting plan that works in the best interest of their children.  What I like about this video is that Professor Tamara D. Afifi speaks on behalf of children of divorce.  This TEDx talk is a bit long at 20 minutes, but definitely worth the time if you are separated and co-parenting. The big take away from this video is that exposure to conflict between parents creates stress in kids; it’s not the divorce per se that causes stress, it’s the conflict that the kids witness.  Dr. Afifi talks about what children do in the face of that stress, how it affects their bodies, and how it impacts on their relationships, but she also talks about what parents can do to help their kids.


The Affect of Conflict on Kids:


Parents’ conflict is the number one factor that determines how well children function after divorce.  The way that they fight affects their children’s bodies, in the following ways:

  • Children’s heart rates and stress hormones (cortisol) increase
  • Their bodies are not able to calm down easily or quickly after witnessing a stressful interaction

When kids feel caught between parents, they have divided loyalties between their parents, which creates dissonance within them.  Some children respond to this by forming an alliance with one parent and minimizing or ending their relationship with another.  Other children may avoid the situation and their parents by withdrawing.  Other kids will take a more aggressive approach, which mimics their parents’ behaviour.  Older children will, in the best of circumstances, confront their parents and request that they be kept out of the conflict.


Dr. Afifi’s Recommedations:


  • create a cooperative co-parenting plan with your spouse to define the co-parenting relationship;
  • create ground rules for communication;
  • diffuse emotion in communication by keeping dialogue to emails;
  • disengage when your spouse engages in negative behaviour ; and
  • listen to your children’s voices with an empathic ear.


How Mediation Can Help:


In mediation, we create a parenting plan to define what the new co-parenting relationship will look like.  Setting intentions and defining what is in the best interest of the children is the first step in that approach.  Then we set guidelines for communication and decision making so that each parent’s expectations and boundaries are considered.  We also set parenting time so that parents have consistency and predictability on a day to day basis.  Defining the co-parenting relationship and setting goals and expectations around that relationship is the first step to creating a healthy co-parenting arrangement for your kids.


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