This is how conflicts between divorced parents affect children


The conflict between divorced or separated parents increases the risk that children develop physical and mental health problems, due to the fear of feeling abandoned, according to new research published in the journal ‘Child Development’.

The new study, from the Research and Education Institute for the Advancement of Children’s Health (REACH) at Arizona State University (ASU), has found that children are afraid of being abandoned when their divorced parents or separated get involved in a conflict. Worrying about dropping out predicted future mental health problems in children, the researchers note.

“Conflict is a major stressor for children, and the link between exposure to interparent conflict and mental health problems in children is well established in all types of families: married, cohabiting, separated and divorced,” he recalls Karey O’Hara, a research assistant professor of psychology at ASU and first author of the paper.

“The conflict between divorced or separated parents predicted that children were afraid of being abandoned by one or both parents,” he notes. “This feeling was associated with mental health problems in the future, especially for those who had strong relationships with their parents. parents”.

Based on studies that included children from families with cohabiting married parents, the researchers knew that children view parental conflict as a threat and often wonder whether their parents will divorce.

To understand how children with divorced or separated parents interpreted parenting conflict, the researchers surveyed families participating in the New Beginnings Program, asking 559 minors (ages 9 to 18) about their exposure to conflict.

The questions included topics such as whether their parents fought in front of them, spoke ill of the other parent, or asked the children to carry messages. Children exposed to parental conflict were more likely to report that they worried about being abandoned by one or both parents.

“When parents who are married or living with a partner become involved in a conflict, the child may worry that their parents may separate,” O’Hara explains. dissolution of their family. The idea that they might be abandoned may be unlikely, but it is not illogical from their perspective. “

Fear of abandonment was persistent: parental exposure to conflict predicted fear of abandonment three months later. And, concern about dropping out predicted mental health problems, the children themselves and their teachers reported 10 months later.

Because quality parent-child relationships are known to protect children against stress, the researchers expected that children who had strong relationships with their parents would experience less fear of abandonment and mental health problems, but the team did not find a general cushioning effect of parenthood.

“A strong parent-child relationship came at a cost when parental conflict was high,” O’Hara adds. “Having a high-quality parenting relationship protects, but quality parenting alone may not. is sufficient in the context of high levels of conflict between divorced parents. “

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