According to an article published in TIME magazine based upon a recent study, children of wealthy families tend to have greater behavior problems than children of poor families who also experience divorce. However, the study also found that wealthier children benefit more from being integrated into stepfamilies than poorer children do. The study was originally published in the journal titled Child Development.
The study also revealed that the negative impacts of divorce was most true for children between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. Developmental psychologists have known that the age of children during a divorce indicates the level of reaction they may have to a parental separation. The most vulnerable stage for children is ages 3-5 years old. Certainly, divorce can have significant impacts on the children of the family. However, those influences depend on the age(s) of the children, and they are far more significant if children are between the age of 3 and 5 years old.
The researchers could only guess at the reasons behind the results of the study. Some argued that the fathers in wealthy families, who are frequently the breadwinners, move out, leaving the family and children with less comforts and more needs than they had before. Others suggested that the separation of the family creates issues of self-esteem for the children because of the impairment to their social status.
However, another suggestion is the effects of the primary attachment between child and parent, particularly if that child is at the younger vulnerable stages. Wealthier families might not notice the effects of this the attachment between parent-child because of differing parenting styles, particularly the way that nannies might tend to children more so than parents.
There’s no question that maintaining parent-child attachment in the early years is of primary importance. The divorce could create an attachment break with the child being at a crucial stage in development and strongly needing the parent for further growth. The break in attachment might diminish the child’s ability to form a healthy attachment with both parents and with later partners in adulthood. Although this might be true in both wealthy and poor families, wealthy children might feel the effects of divorce in everyday life more so than poor children, and in turn this might have an impact on a child’s felt experience of his or her attachment with a parent. For instance, a wealthy child might feel a greater sense of disappointment and that may have a negative impact on the parent-child relationship.
If there is indeed a break in the parent-child attachment during parental separation, various effects of divorce on a child could be:
- Academic problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Stress and worry
- Sadness or anger towards one or both parents
- Suicidal Ideation and perhaps attempts
- Having trouble with authority at school or with the police
- Trouble getting along with siblings, peers, and parents
- Getting involved with sexual activity
Furthermore, divorcing parents can create challenging emotions in their children like embarrassment, fear of abandonment, grief, worry about their parents’ well being, anxiety about who they’re going to live with, fear that one of their parents will forget about him or her, and maybe even an unrealistic hope that his or her parents will get back together, setting a child up for disappointment.
During divorce, a child’s sense of self may become very fragile, especially if they are at a young age. They will yearn for approval, belonging, and acceptance by both parents. Some children may begin to give up some of their own needs in order save the marriage. “If we don’t make noise,” children may think to themselves while parents are fighting, “perhaps they will stop”.
What children they really need to know is that they will be loved and accepted by both parents regardless of what happens.
Despite the evidence, it’s unclear the reasons behind wealthy children having a harder time than poor children. Nonetheless, children need love, stability, and acceptance through a parental divorce, regardless of their socioeconomic status.