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Divorce, Stress and Resilience with Children

A recent article by Dr. Joseph Nowinski points out the importance of helping children deal with the emotional issues of divorce. Dr. Nowinski discusses research that indicates that resilient children can make it through a divorce without adverse emotional after-effects.

Resilient Children

He cites the statistic that 14 percent of those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan demonstrate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunate as that is, it leaves 86 percent who do not suffer from PTSD. The question is why?

Psychologists divide people into two groups, those who are psychologically resilient and those who are fragile. Those with a fragile profile show much higher levels of:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • problems with physical health
  • among children, fear of academic failure

The resilient group shares the beliefs that:

  • life has meaning
  • crises are a normal part of life and we should expect them to occur
  • crises create opportunities
  • we create our own luck
  • I can survive
  • there are people who care about me that I can turn to

The resilient group’s characteristics demonstrate what could be described as a mature attitude toward life. The difficulty for parents involved in a divorce is how to impart this level of maturity in children, especially when divorce often brings out the worst, and least mature, behavior in adults?

Dr. Nowinski suggests the important factor is that resilient parents raise resilient children. What this means is that children learn a great deal by modeling their behavior after that of their parents. If a parent breaks down at every setback, no matter how slight, their children will likely be prone to tantrums.

Crises are Normal

Understanding that life will present challenges, and yet we survive, are perhaps some of the most important life lessons for children during a divorce. A divorce will be an undeniable trauma for any child; learning mommy and daddy don’t love each other can certainly shake the emotional foundations of any child. If you can demonstrate that the break-up can be done with some level of maturity, your child can learn that a serious crisis can be overcome.

What is necessary is to reinforce that you still have unreserved love for the child, and as difficult as it may seem from their perspective, they can cope and survive. Again, the best way to teach this is through your example.