Conflict between divorced or separated parents increases the risk of children developing physical and mental health problems.
A new study from the Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute has found that children experience fear of being abandoned when their divorced or separated parents engage in conflict. Worrying about being abandoned predicted future mental health problems in children. The work will be published in Child Development on January 12.
“Conflict is a salient stressor for kids, and the link between exposure to interparental conflict and mental health problems in children is well established across all family types — married, cohabitating, separated and divorced,” said Karey O’Hara, a research assistant professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper. “Conflict between divorced or separated parents predicted children experiencing fear that they would be abandoned by one or both parents. This feeling was associated with future mental health problems, especially for those who had strong relationships with their fathers.”
Based on studies including children from families with married or cohabitating parents, the researchers knew that children view interparental conflict as a threat, often wondering if their parents will get divorced.
To understand how children with divorced or separated parents interpreted interparental conflict, the researchers surveyed families participating in the New Beginnings Program, asking 559 children (aged 9-18 years) about their exposure to conflict. The questions included topics like whether their parents fought in front of them, spoke poorly of the other parent or asked children