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New study shows divorce can set children back academically, socially

A new study conducted by a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirms the well known fact that divorce can be hard on kids socially, academically, and emotionally.

Among the study’s findings were that children whose parents divorce have worse math and social skills, and struggle more with anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and poor self-esteem than peers whose parents are not divorced. In addition, they are more likely to have trouble making friends and maintaining friendships, positively expressing emotions, and getting along with others who are different from them.

The study looked at data from a study of children who entered kindergarten in 1998 up until those students were in fifth grade, and specifically focused on 142 children from homes where the parents had separated during the time the children was between first and third grade.

In terms of performance in mathematics, children from divorced homes were 12% less advanced than children from intact homes. The same result was not, however, found for reading scores.

The student conducting the study said one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the study is that it is important to intervene early on for a child whose parents are going through a divorce.

The study also seemed to indicate that the primary factor that determines how a child will be affected by a divorce is the level of conflict in the home. Some children whose parents were going through an amicable divorce did not show extraordinary signs of struggle, whereas some children whose parents were unhappily married performed at the same level as those from divorced homes.

There is no doubt divorce can be difficult on children. Ideally, all children would grow up in stable homes with loving parents who remain together. But even where divorce is inevitable, much can be done to make the transition easier on the children.

Source: TIME, “Children of Divorce Struggle More With Math and Social Skills,” Bonnie Rochman, 2 Jun 2011.