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The Impact of Divorce on Preschool, School Age & Adolescent Children

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The term attachment has been defined as an emotional connectedness between people. The attachment theory was developed by psychologist John Bowlby in 1969. He argued that when children form early bonds with their parents or caregivers, they have a positive outlook and the impact continue throughout their life. In addition, the attachment also keeps the children close to their parents and improves their chances of survival (Hodges, 2006). The attachment theory is developed on the premise that when mothers are available and responsive to their children, they develop a sense of security and protection.

Attachment theory comprises of four main components. The safe haven means that when children are afraid or threatened, they have a shoulder to lean on and can run to the parents for comfort. The secure base means that the mother provides a secure ground for the infant to explore the world knowing that they have a dependable base. The proximity maintenance means that the child is always safe under the watch of the caregiver or the mother. Finally, the separation distress means that the child will easily become distressed if they are alienated from the caregiver or the mother.

In summary, attachment theory asserts that children exhibit high levels of security when they are attached to their parents and caregivers at an early age. Once there is a notion of separation and the attached person exits their life; they experience distress in times of need. However, when children lack the attachment from an early age, especially when their parents’ divorce when they are still young, they are more likely to live a rebellious life. For instance, children with attachment problems are more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress, conduct disorder and trauma. On the contrary, children who do not suffer attachment problems tend to experience high self esteem, long lasting relationships and live healthy lives in their later years (Stewart & Brentano, 2006).

The Impact of Divorce on Preschool Children

Just like infants and toddlers, preschool going children are still exceptionally young to comprehend the complicated concept of divorce. However, Marquardt (2005) explains that, although the preschoolers are still immature, they can use their sense of sight and understand that their parents are upset and living apart. They may not understand what separation means, but can be able to see and feel the discontentment within the family.

The process of divorce tremendously affects the preschoolers, and this is evidenced by their reaction and response. First, the preschoolers tend to feel a sense of sorrow and loss of one parent, especially because they do not understand what is happening. Preschoolers experience fantasies, which might be frightening or pleasant. Some preschoolers may harbor a feeling that the parent will come back while some will be so dejected due to the loss.

A divorce affects the preschoolers because some of them often blame themselves as the cause of the divorce. They feel that they are a component of trouble and might have contributed to the separation of their parents. Indeed, preschoolers feel that if they had behaved in a better way, their parents would not have separated. As a result, preschoolers tend to live with a feeling of fear of being abandoned by one of the parents who has left the home. This is exemplified by the attachment theory when the child moves from the safe haven to the separation distress since the child has lost one parent.

Psychologists commonly agree that preschoolers are at a stage of curiosity; where they engage in minor malpractices in the family such as breaking things while playing. As a result, they often get punished and end up wishing that one of the parents goes away from home. Therefore, when a divorce happens and parents separate, the child may think that the wish has been fulfilled, and the parent has left home.

The Impact of Divorce on School Age Children

Unlike the preschoolers, school age children tend to understand and have an idea what divorce is all about. Since they mingle with their friends at school and share experiences, this group of children can understand that their parents do not feel affection for each other and want to live their separate ways. Therefore, their reaction towards a divorce is totally different from the preschoolers. Kail & Cavanaugh (2013) elucidates that during the period of a divorce; school age children feel deceived and are deeply affected by the acute loss of one of the parents who leaves the home. However, they are always optimistic that their parents will eventually reunite at some point and become a family once again.

As expounded by the attachment theory, the component of separation distress highly affects the school age children because they feel a lot of rejected by the absent parent. Additionally, they become overly depresses and may exhibit unfamiliar changes such as

poor concentration, symptoms of withdrawal, hopelessness and a lack of interest in life (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2013). Just like the preschoolers, they also fear being abandoned and worry about a future without one of the parents. Besides, they remain secretive and always fear being picked from school by the parent who abandoned them.

As a result of the lack of attachment in early stages of life, the impact of divorce is evident in the studies of school aged children. While at school, these children tend to become overly aggressive and direct their anger towards their friends. Their performance in school also becomes extremely affected, and this is evidenced in the drop of their grades. Studies have also shown that, children who come from a family undergoing a divorce tend to misbehave, and show feelings of shame and self blame. This makes them resentful and extremely angry towards their parents and other close relatives or friends (Marquardt, 2005).

The Impact of Divorce on Adolescent Children

During periods of a divorce, the preteens and adolescents are considered as mature children who can easily understand that their parents are undergoing separation. However, the predominant characteristic of adolescents is that many of them refuse to accept the real truth that their parents want divorce. As a result, their reaction and response to divorce is exceptionally different from the school aged and preschoolers.

According to Kail & Cavanaugh (2013) adolescents become exceedingly angry because they feel disillusioned, rejected and betrayed by both parents. As explained in the attachment theory, adolescents are more likely to lose their self esteem and lose trust in relationships. Since they are in the prime age of forming friends and falling in love, the impact of a divorce become tremendous and may inject the fear of rejection and not being loved by the opposite sex.

Since adolescents are in the learning process of forming relationships and in the stage of falling in love, the impact of a divorce makes them judge their parents incredibly harshly. This is because they get so disturbed by their parent’s decision to separate and change of sexual behavior. Hodges (2006) postulates that, owing to the lack of attachment to the parent; adolescents may become rebellious and subside into deviant behaviors such as shoplifting, truancy, immorality and abuse of drugs. Besides, some adolescents may event threaten to commit suicide out of depression and a feeling of hopelessness.

How to Minimize Divorce Rates

According to Stewart & Brentano (2006) research has shown that married couples find it intricate to converse with each other. Furthermore, the lack of conversation in marriage has wrecked havoc, thus leading to a high rate of divorce in most American families. Therefore, divorce rates can be minimized by enhancing effective communication in marriage. The lack of conversation between married couples stems from the fact that, they hold exceedingly different thoughts and expectations. There is a prevalent discrepancy in terms of expectations and interests, hence leading to diverse thoughts of communication in marriage. The underlying factor associated with these differences is the socialization process, through which men and women undergo as they grow up. Men and women have extremely divergent views as regards conversation and communication.

In dealing with the escalating divorce rates, married couples should adopt the concept of “mechanical engineering” as a solution to the communication problems in marriage. Instead of advancing the blame game of a lack of assertiveness on women and a lack of intimacy from men, there is a need to understand the gender differences. Conversation problems among married couples can be solved by understanding the differences and expectations among men and women, hence improving communication.

Professional Counselor advice

As a professional counselor, I would encourage parents to share questions and concerns of divorce with their children. Parents should encourage their children to share their feelings without any reservations. Since the impact of divorce is tremendous, parents must regularly reassure their children of their love to avoid any feelings of rejection and distress. In addition, parents must constantly keep the attachment alive and assure them that they are not the reason or cause for the divorce.

During periods of a divorce, parents must play an equivocal role of keeping the problems and differences away from them. For instance, they should not talk to them about their financial problems, work stress or any unresolved feelings between them. Most importantly, the parents must ensure that the children’s teacher is told of the dilemma so they can monitor the child’s behavior. Besides, parents should not be harsh to their children, and must be ready to seek professional help for any troubled behavior on their children.

In situations where the adolescents are resentful, parents can encourage them to talk to other trusted adults such as family members, teacher or counselor. In addition, parents must be courageous to share with their children that despite the change of family set up; they must work hard in school and continue being respectful. Finally, parents must desist from using their children as a bait to fill the emptiness left by the aggrieved partner. They should also not talk ill of the other partner to the children because they will grow to hate or dislike them. Divorced partners should deal with the separation in a professional way to ensure that the impact is minimal towards the children (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2013).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the impact of divorce highly affects the growth and development of children at all stages of life. It becomes a challenge to witness parents separating since it induces a feeling of loss in the child. The child finds it difficult to adjust within two different households, and the absence of one parent leads to a lack of attachment, betrayal and self blame. A divorce changes the life of a child, and it should be avoided by all costs. Therefore, parents should consider alternative options before they settle on divorce.

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