16 January 2019

Resilience in children after divorce

Veerkracht van kinderen na scheiding

Now that holiday month December is over, divorce lawyers are going to be extra busy this month. January is also nicknamed ‘divorce month’. Compared to other months, many couples divorce in this first month of the year.

Research projects into the well-being of children in this situation have contradicting results. The question of whether children are barely troubled by a divorce or pay a serious psycho-social price is answered by Assistant Professor Reine van der Wal in the paper she recently published in Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Individual differences

“It's important to not just look at averages. Doing that lets you ignore individual differences between children,” Reine van der Wal explains. “The average child from a group of divorced parents can be just as resilient and enjoy life just as much as an average child from a group of married parents.”

But of course, divorces do affect children. “Especially when you look at the individuals WITHIN the group of children of divorced parents, the differences become visible. That is because in this group, you will see children who feel guilty or responsible for their parents' conflicts. Others instead have trouble sleeping or ponder too much. We are currently researching which individual differences enable children to recover.”

Children's move

According to Van der Wal, it is important to know that children whose parents are divorcing are not passive. “It's not always the case that something happens to them that they then can't influence.” Many children do in many cases blame the parent for the conflict, but it's important in the long run that the child takes action themselves. Forgiveness can be a way out in this. “We think it’s probable that children who are capable of forgiving the parents and putting the conflict behind them score higher on personal well-being.”

“On top of that,” Van der Wal adds, “conflicts in a child's life are not necessarily harmful. You don't have to hide everything from a child as a parent. It's about showing that you can solve a conflict together. Children can then follow this example and also forgive their parents for what they blamed them for earlier.” This is why the children with these skills score high in the field of well-being and resilience in life.

Villa Pinedo

The platform Villa Pinedo (website in Dutch) gives researchers the chance to observe these individual paths of children and youngsters. Parents, young children and older children can go there with their questions or to help others on their way. The goal of this is to let children of divorced parents be as happy as all other children. Van der Wal expects to have the first results of this research in the upcoming summer.

Research Theme Youth

If you want to tackle social problems, it would be best to start with children. The Utrecht-based research theme Dynamics of Youth invests in a resilient youth. Academics from all fields collaborate in order to learn to better understand child development. How can we help children and youngsters to grow and flourish in our rapidly changing society?​