Parents Divorce Affects Childrens Self Esteem, Social Skills and Math Scores

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When parents are not getting along, it can understandably cause some anxiety and sadness children. But surprisingly, a new study finds that the stress during the potentially disruptive pre-divorce period does not cause detrimental setbacks in social and some academic skills, but it is actually post-divorce when children feel the effects.

Period of Instability Can Lead to Decrease in Math and Social Skills

Hyun Sik Kim, a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study involving almost 3,600 children who entered kindergarten in 2008. The kids were tracked through fifth grade, and the researchers compared children whose parents had gotten divorced with children of intact marriages.

Among those in the divorce group, Kim examined child development over three phases. The pre-divorce period was from kindergarten to the first grade (the children in the study had parents that divorced when they were either in first, second or third grade). The divorce period was from first grade through fifth grade and the post-divorce period was identified as the time from third grade through fifth grade.

Read: Kids of Divorced Parents Have Double Stroke Risk as Adults

While reading scores were unaffected, children in the divorce period experienced a dip in math scores which holds steady once the divorce is final. "Reading is not that cumulative. But with math, you must understand previous things to develop,” said Kim. “For example, if I do not understand that one plus one is two, then I cannot understand multiplication."

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The researchers also found that interpersonal skills suffer during a divorce, affecting a child’s ability to make and keep friends. They also show a decline in the ability to expressing feelings and opinions in a positive way. "Children of divorce … show enhanced risk of internalizing problem behaviors characterized by anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness," Kim said.

There are many factors that can impact academic skills and social skills during the divorce period. Children may be stressed by child custody conflicts, a loss of stability when going between separate households or even moving to a different area or school, and parental depression or economic strain while the divorce process is going on.

Read: Co-Parenting Provides Stability to Children After Divorce

While the negative impacts do not continue to worsen several years after the divorce, "there is no sign that children of divorce catch up with their counterparts, either," he added.

"One implication of the study is that we need to intervene as soon as possible when we observe a child experiencing a parental divorce," Kim said, "because my findings suggest that once children of divorce [have gone] through detrimental impacts, it is hard to make them catch up with children from intact families."

The study is published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, a publication of the American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org).

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