How Lack of Stability Affects Children

Stability forms the backbone of a child’s life, providing the structure, strength and consistency that supports the child emotionally and psychologically. If a child’s life involves upset and unrest, due to any number of negative situations, the child is likely to suffer in different ways from a lack of stability.

Behavioral Problems

When a child’s family environment undergoes significant changes or unrest due to single parenting, divorce, remarriage or financial difficulties, the quality of parenting and the parents’ mental health often suffer, state the authors of “Family Structure, Family Stability and Early Child Wellbeing,” published by the Princeton University. The result of this lack of stability may be a child who exhibits behavioral problems such as delinquency, including trespassing, theft, vandalism and setting fires, or school issues, like bullying, fighting in class, disrespecting teachers and administrators and having temper tantrums, advise Paula Fomby and Cynthia Osborne in their article, “Family Instability, Multipartner Fertility and Behavior in Middle Childhood."

Cognitive Development

The stress and anxiety that accompanies instability can have a direct impact on cognitive development, warns the American Psychological Association. When a youngster experiences this anxiety about issues she cannot control and even understand, it prevents the child from focusing on learning because she probably concentrates less and remembers less.

Health Issues

When parents have difficulty providing a stable home for a child, the child may experience health issues as a result. For example, asthma is typically a controllable disease as long as the patient manages the symptoms carefully. A child with preoccupied or unavailable parents may not receive the care and support he needs, which could result in life-threatening asthmatic incidents, according to “Profiles of Risk: Child Health,” published by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. In general, unstable parents may not seek responsible and necessary health care for a child, often because of distractions or a logistical inability to get care.


Abuse and neglect generally involve trauma for a child, which creates a significantly unstable environment. Along with this trauma, stress, attachment disruptions, sleep issues, anxiety and school difficulties are common, according to physician John Stirling, Jr., author of “Understanding the Behavioral and Emotional Consequences of Child Abuse,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics 2. Even after restoring stability, a child often continues to experience the behavior difficulties for a significant time.

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