Every year, millions of children grieve over their parents' divorce, but new research says that the experience can compromise their math scores and friendships as well. Children and Divorce: How Much Truth is Too Much Truth?
Divorce isn't easy on anybody, but what's surprising is that children don't exhibit these problems until after their parents separate. During the otherwise stressful pre-divorce period, subjects tested normally for math and interpersonal skills. Moreoever, while conventional wisdom says that the resilience of young children helps them to bounce back from the ordeal, this study suggests that those who fall behind in math and friendships struggle to catch up with their peers from intact families. 10 Tips To Help Your Child Transition Through Divorce
To gather data, study author Hyun Sik Kim, a doctoral candidate in the sociology department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, turned to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of 3,600 children. Subjects ranged from students in kindergarten to fifth grade, so Kim charted the progress of children whose parents had divorced between the first, second, and third grade. He split their development into three stages: "pre-divorce" phase from kindergarten to first grade, the "divorce period" from first to third grade, and the "post-divorce" phase between third and fifth grade. How Will Divorce Impact Your Child's Life?
The decline in math scores and interpersonal skills occurred during the second phase and continued into the third one. Although children of divorce seemed to internalize their anxieties, which in turn affected their ability to maintain friendships and express themselves in a positive way, Kim noted that they did not become more prone to "externalizing" negative feelings by fighting or acting in anger. Additionally, their reading scores didn't suffer under the stress of divorce.
Kim has several ideas about why children of divorce experience difficulty with math and friendships, but he also acknowledges that the research is in its early stages and that the subjects were followed for only two years. After five, ten, or fifteen years, a child can reasonably catch up or even surpass his counterparts from intact families. The setbacks caused by divorce might be persistent, but only long-term research can tell if they are permanent.