How Lack of Stability Affects Children

Stability is an important part of childhood, and allows kids an opportunity to develop to their full potential. Many children suffer from a lack of stability, which can have a variety of effects on their development and behavior. This instability can originate from a number of sources. For example, the child’s parents may have split up, or the home environment may be ruptured by domestic violence and neglect, or the child’s family may be homeless.

Social Factors

Children from unstable backgrounds often encounter a range of social difficulties. “Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps,” a research study by S. McLanahan, looked at kids from both single parent and intact households and concluded that typically, children from the latter group do better in different social indicators, such as employment 2. Children from unstable backgrounds were found to have a higher school dropout rate, and more chance of ending up employed than children from intact households.


Unstable backgrounds can affect school age children in their educational progress. When children experience transitions in family structure, particularly on a regular basis, their lives become disrupted, which affects their attendance and ability to study. Students might often change schools, for example, as they move to new places due to their parents’ divorce, or be unable to buy the study materials required. Researchers from the sociology department at Johns Hopkins University noted that a history of transitions within family structure is associated with behavioral issues, such as truancy from school.


When a young person’s home is unstable due to abuse, neglect or constant conflict between parents, the child has an increased likelihood of running away. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth reports that extreme conflict within families and parental abuse are two major driving factors behind kids leaving home 5. Runaway kids are particularly vulnerable on the streets, both from the elements and other people.

Life Plans

When children have a stable upbringing they are better able to focus on their lives and aim toward the career they desire. Kids from unstable backgrounds are less able to do this. They may be required to work, for example, in order to support their family, which affects their ability to go to college or train for careers. In other children, instability has a lasting effect on their mental wellbeing, slowing their emotional development. This becomes more of a problem as the child gets older, affecting the ability to form meaningful relationships with others.