Children and Divorce: Promoting Resiliency

Divorce is not uncommon in our society — nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce. As a result, large numbers of children experience divorce first hand. A recent review provides the following figures:

  • divorce affects over 1.5 million youth each year
  • 34% of children will see their parents divorce by the time they turn 16 years old

How do kids who live with divorce make out? Divorce can have a number of negative effects on behavioral and emotional adjustment that can extend into adolescence and adulthood. It’s important to point out that NOT EVERY child who experiences divorce has adjustment problems — but the likelihood of this happening is significantly higher when compared to children who have not experienced divorce.

Researchers have been zeroing in on the key reasons for this, along with ways to derail this process. Current studies (including one published this year by Dr. Clorinda Velez and colleagues) focus on ways to promote a positive parent-child relationship in the face of divorce. Divorced moms deal with multiple sources of distress (including feelings of loss, lingering animosity, real-life consequences of being a single parent) that can drain their emotional resources. As a result, it can become harder to maintain “positive” parenting, which includes (among other things) the following features:

  • using a warm, friendly voice
  • being patient
  • encouraging open conversation

What is promising is that intervention programs that help mothers focus on maintaining positive parenting can have very positive effects on their children. The Velez et al. study demonstrated that the children who experienced divorce when they were between 9-12 years of age have increased coping skills (both 6 months and 6 years later) that are tied to improvements in positive parenting gained by an intervention. The coping behaviors include things like having proactive problem solving skills and decision making styles, and finding ways to maintain positivity and optimism in the face of stressors. Coping skills are critical because experiencing a profound stressor like divorce can lead children to develop maladaptive ways for handling adversity.

Dealing with a divorce is complex, but especially so when you are a parent. My fellow blogger, Julia Landry, is providing us with an eloquent account of the challenges she is currently facing. As you will find in reading her posts, coping well with adversities in life not only helps us as adults, but also gives our children a platform of resiliency that bodes well for their development.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono via

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  1. by Julia

    On June 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Thanks, Richard! I would love to see more in the future about coparenting issues and tips to promote attachment between children of divorce and the noncustodial parent. Great post!

  2. by Wayne Stocks

    On June 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I am currently conducting of survey of people whose parents divorced before they reached the age of 18. The purpose of this short, confidential on-line survey is to help us better serve current children whose parents have divorced. Please help by filling out the survey at

  3. by Jennifer Margulis

    On June 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    The best book I’ve ever read about children and divorce echoes this advice. It’s called HEALING THE HURT, RESTORING THE HOPE and it helps children cope with both death and divorce. I highly recommend it.

  4. [...] a kid’s perspective, it’s an ongoing condition. My kids are never going to not be sad that their parents aren’t together. And me acknowledging [...]