The number of divorce children is growing every year. Divorce can have a negative impact on every aspect of a child’s life unless the parents take the right approach. To help understand the impact of divorce and what parents can do to help their children adjust I have interviewed Umar Abdullah-Johnson who is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist.
Tell me a little bit about yourself?
“I am a Nationally Certified School Psychologist in private practice where I conduct psychological evaluations for special education determination by way of learning disability classification. I also conduct psychological counseling, parent training and professional development workshops for educators and school administrators. I specialize in working with at-risk African-American and Hispanic teenagers. I can be reached at [email protected]”
What is the best way for parents to tell their children that they are getting divorced?
“Together! Parents tend to inform children about divorce separately which can lead to conflicting interpretations on the part of the child regarding the real reasons for the divorce, and future plans/modifications to the family system. Although coming together to speak with children can be challenging for adults who may no longer desire each other’s company, it is very important for children to see that their mother and father can maintain a positive and productive parental relationship that is focused upon the best interest of their children. Divorce can be quite difficult for children and leaves them with high degrees of uncertainty about their futures; anything that can be done to reduce childhood skepticism should be encouraged. As children tend to view themselves as the center of the world, they will often result to blaming themselves for their parents choosing to call it quits. This can have serious psychological consequences, including lowered self-esteem, childhood anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. The most important thing that can be done is for parents to tell their children, together, that they will continue to be friends and continue to raise them together.”
What type of impact does divorce have on children? What can divorce parents do to help their children adjust to the change?
“Divorce will always have an effect on children, as most would prefer to live under the same roof with both parents until adulthood. We also know that children of divorce, and those from single-parented homes, tend to have an increased risk for drug usage, promiscuity, and delinquency and most other indexes maladjustment across the life span. They are also more likely to divorce themselves. However, the most important factor in buffering your children against the negative impact of divorce is 1) Communicate – talk to your children often about their feelings being very careful not to share negative opinions about the other parent; 2) Practice Nonviolence – Never argue or fight in the presence of children; children who witness negative parental interaction have the most disastrous outcomes after divorce. 3) Display Unity – Children must see their parents in a united front who continue to demonstrate their commitment to their best interest.
Children usually interpret fighting and arguing as a sign that a parent’s anger for their ex-spouse is more important than their child’s well-being. 4) Don’t Send Mixed Messages -Parent’s who continue to spend intimate time with each other, occasionally having romantic escapes do so at the expense of their children. Witnessing this type of back-and-forth interaction can be very confusing to a child who may then begin to garner wishes of seeing their parents reunited, which may never come true. Lastly, 5) Don’t confide in your children – Some parents tell their children more than is appropriate about the details of a divorce, shifting loyalty from the other parent to themselves. Children should never be forced to choose between parents; this is very harmful psychologically.”
How does the parenting change once the divorce is final?
“This is very specific to the family system itself, as each one is very different from the others. It may change very little, or very much, depending on the lifestyles of the parents and/or children. However, the best transitions are the simplest. Major lifestyle changes can upset a child’s daily schedule and their sense of security about their futures, which is the last thing you want to do during this time of uncertainty.”
What last advice would you like to leave for divorced parents?
“Think about the children more than you think about yourselves. In my professional experience, selfishness and unrestrained anger has wreaked havoc in the lives of children from divorced households. Witnessing parent’s fight, argue over money, and dispute in court over who should have the children can be lifelong memories that ultimately affect a child’s self-concept, future relationship stability and overall happiness. Seek professional help when necessary. Many children and parents can benefit from some form of therapy or counseling during this time.”