our everyday life

How Divorce Affects Children Ages 9 to 12

by Alizah Scherr

Divorce is very difficult for all parties involved, but can especially have an impact on children in their primary years. Children aged 9 to 12 are in a critical stage of development and often strife within the family may hinder their social and emotional well-being. However, there also exist various protective factors which help to lessen these negative outcomes. Parents going through a divorce should familiarize themselves with the way in which divorce can affect their children in this age range, so that they can recognize, prepare for and ultimately lessen these negative effects.

Stress

Divorce may come as a sudden surprise or it may be something that the family is prepared for. Either way, children are never truly ready for the moment that their parents split up. Change can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress in adults, let alone children. The sudden loss of a parental presence in the home or having to now live between two homes may take its toll on children. Not surprisingly, a study published in 2005 in the "Journal of Marriage and Family" found that immediately after parental separation, stress levels in children of this age range rose significantly when measured.

Behavior

Children of this age often act out their feelings rather than expressing them. In an article published in "Family Relations" in 2004, Joan Kelly and Robert Emery explain that research has found divorce to be linked to increased risk of behavioral issues. Problems such as conduct disorders or antisocial behaviors can begin to rise to the surface. Children who were usually compliant or polite may start to defy authority figures. This becomes extremely confusing and upsetting to parents who don't understand why their child has displayed such a marked change in personality. As the child continues to act out, the parent may become even stricter in a desperate attempt to stop the behavior. This will cause the child to increase the resistance even more, and the problem escalates.

Depression

Children often internalize their feelings of sadness or anger, which can harm their emotional well-being. One study published in 2005 in the "Journal of Marriage and Family" found divorce to be linked to an increase in anxiety and depression among school-aged children. Children may express depression by appearing sullen, become easily agitated or quick to anger, seem frustrated or appear to be more withdrawn than usual. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and can display a markedly different personality.

Protective Factors

Although the negative consequences of divorce for children ages 9 to 12 can feel overwhelming, there are still many things that parents can do in order to lessen the harmful effects. In a study published in the Journal of "Family Relations" in 2004, several risk and protective factors were cited as directly affecting the outcome of divorce on children. The first major factor involves parenting style. Children are at greater risk of developing behavioral problems after a divorce if there is a lack of communication, minimal warmth and inconsistent discipline coming from the parents. Make sure to speak with your children directly about what is going on, show them empathy and love and stay firm when disciplining. A secondary factor is that of contact with the nonresident parent. Unless extenuating circumstances exist such as abuse, children should be allowed and encouraged to see both parents on a regular basis or as much as possible. Additionally, it is important to note that males are at more risk for developing behavior issues after a divorce than females are.

How To Help

If you are going through a divorce and are seeking out help for your children in handling the situation, see a family therapist. A therapist is someone who specializes in and is qualified to work with your children and help them get through this difficult process, ultimately minimizing the harmful effects. You can find a therapist by calling your insurance company, speaking with your family doctor or conducting research on the Internet through a reputable source.

About the Author

Alizah Scherr has worked as a professional school counselor in a public school system for more than five years. She has a master's degree in education and is certified as a counselor.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images