Do Divorced Parents Affect a Child's Behavior?

When parents divorce, children effectively lose their family. According to NYU's Child Study Center, 45 percent of American marriages end in divorce, which gives researchers plenty of data to successfully conclude that divorced parents do affect children’s behavior 1. Children who encounter divorce tend to react in predictable ways.

Emotional Changes

While the specific emotional reaction of divorce varies from child to child, research has shown that children perceive divorce to be a stressful situation, according to McKenzie Pediatrics 12. Children’s emotions during and after a divorce range from anger and anxiety to guilt and sadness 1. These emotional changes can result in behavior changes, often due to large increases in amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone. Some common behavioral changes include changes in sleep patterns, bad temper and refusal to eat.

Social Adjustment

According to the Well Being of Children Following Parental Separation and Divorce Research Consortium at Monash University, children with divorced parents are more likely to engage in antisocial activities 13. After a divorce, parents no longer act as a team in monitoring their children, which makes parental knowledge of children’s activities less likely. As a result of this lower quality of parenting, many children are more likely to engage in dangerous activities, such as drug use and early sexual activity.

Skill Loss

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Wendy Hart, divorce can spur the loss of learned skills in younger children. For example, children around the age of 3 may lose their toilet training skills, and children around the age of 4 may lose some of their emotion regulation skills. According to Dr. Hart, these skill losses are temporary and usually only common in younger children.

Academic Performance

According to McKenzie Pediatrics, a child’s grades might begin to fall after a divorce 2. While this change is more common in older children and in boys than girls, it is a statistical probability. Because divorce changes how a child sees the parent-child relationship, a child might begin breaking previous family boundaries to see how parents react. Divorce also changes how a child sees his future; in many cases, children push their studies to the background in favor of trying out new activities or as a way to halt the “growing up” process 1.