The impact of divorce on children

Children’s body reactions tell researchers how parents can behave better with them.

Tamara D Afifi is Professor of Communication at the University of California Santa Barbara. In this TEDx talk, she summarises research on how parents’ conflict affects their children.

Parents’ behaviour can harm or help their children whether the family is together or separated. Parents who stay together and keep fighting have some of the worst effects on kids.

Family separation upsets most children in the short term but those effects can last for life. It’s getting worse because parents now separate for less serious reasons than in the past and that bothers the children because they don’t want to divorce the parents they love.

Children are closer now to their parents than they ever have been – often they’re in contact daily. The one thing that affects children most is how parents’ deal with their conflict. Kids stay on edge when the trouble is secret, when there are no other signs of it.

The harm is greatest for kids who are caught between their parents. Kids love both parents and it’s hard for anyone to cope with torn loyalties. The children may lose their relationship with one or both parents.

What works for kids is to ‘talk back’ to parents: “Leave me out of this”. Parents should refuse to engage in the conflict ‘game’. And always to listen to your child – to put yourself in your child’s shoes.