An article today on Time’s website discussed the findings of a study comparing the behavioral trends of children of divorce from wealthy and lower income families. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, divided a sample of approximately 4,000 children into three groups by income. Interestingly, the study also analyzed at what age children are most prone to behavioral issues following divorce.
The report ultimately concluded that children of divorce from higher-income families exhibit greater behavioral issues than those of lower-income families, with the most likely group affected being that of the 3-5 year old age range. Separately, custody-based research often finds that, barring other potential issues, children are better equipped to handle an equal, shared parenting arrangement as they get older. The possible reasons for such signs seem to be more speculative than anything else – for instance, “dads, who are usually the breadwinners, often move out of the home so there’s a big dip in household income. Or it could be that the kids have to move to a new neighborhood/school/friend group and the instability takes a toll. Or maybe less-wealthy families don’t take it so hard.” Notably, however, there was no definitive answer for such results, noting that income differences alone could not be the cause. For lower-income families, one researcher noted that the quality of the home environment mattered most to “social and emotional well-being.”
Also interesting was the study’s conclusion that parental separation had no impact on kids ages 6 to 12. As a threshold matter, 6 to 12 is a very large age range and, notably, the study does not seem to parse out exceptions, instead making a blanket statement that there was no impact. Improvements in behavior were found in those wealthier children – older than age 6 – who assimilated into stepfamilies. While the article does not delve further, perhaps this is because of the structure provided by a stepfamily unit. This, perhaps, is also the basis for why children of married couples were found to be more impacted, or exhibit greater behavioral issues, than those of cohabiting parents.
Whether you as a parent need to take additional steps to address such behavioral issues depends on the given set of circumstances and, most importantly, your particular child. Providing your child with love and support, and always telling them as much, is fundamental to being a parent. Perhaps the issues, however, are merely a temporary adjustment to the end of the family unit that your child once knew. Perhaps your child is just getting older and exhibiting signs that, ultimately, have nothing to do with the divorce at all. Maybe there are issues at school with friends or teachers, or some degree of anxiety caused by another factor not previously considered.
Working with your former spouse to determine the best course of action for your child is ideal, putting aside differences between you for your child’s long-term benefit. While not all parents agree to a therapeutic route, especially for younger children, it may be the most appropriate path. There are many different types of therapy that can address a child’s behavioral issues, depending on the specific facts at issue. For instance, if your child is acting out because he does not want to see your former spouse, or perhaps his relationship with your former spouse is truly damaged and in need of structured, therapeutic repair, a reunification therapist may be appropriate. Perhaps the behavioral issues result from how you and your former spouse interact with each other. With the emotional toll of the divorce now behind you, can you work together for the best interests of your children? Maybe family therapy is needed, or maybe even just therapy for the divorced parents to learn how to work better together. While sitting in a room with your former spouse may seem less than ideal, the positive impacts that may befall upon your kids could be invaluable and long-lasting.
The results of this study are very interesting, especially when considered on the heels of my most recent post discussing divorce and income inequality. Should your child exhibit behavioral issues after the divorce (or, perhaps, even during the divorce), it is critical that you take appropriate steps, preferably with your former spouse, to ensure that the child’s best interests are served both in the short and long-term.