This is how an ugly divorce hurts your child's physical health

This is how an ugly divorce hurts your child's physical health

A nasty divorce can hurt your child in a way you never thought, and that lasts right into adulthood. Find out more now.

We know that divorce may have repercussions on a child's mental and emotional health, especially if the child is caught in a crossfire of hate by the separating parties.

But did you ever think that an ugly divorce could have an impact on a child's physical health too?

New research has confirmed exactly this, with the physical health implications stretching into the child's adult years.

Long-term health impacts

The study - results of which were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - involved 201 healthy adults.

They agreed to be quarantined, where they were exposed to the common cold virus, and monitored for five days after this.

What was found was that those whose parents had divorced when they were children, but not spoken to each other during their childhood were three times as likely to develop a cold, than adults from intact families (all other relevant variables were taken into account).

Also, those whose parents had separated but maintained an amicable relationship with each other during their childhood "showed no increase in risk compared with those from intact families."

According to the report, this study shows that this increased risk of illness is partly related to heightened inflammation from a viral infection.

"Early life stressful experiences do something to our physiology and inflammatory processes that increase the risk for poorer health and chronic illness," said Mr Michael Murphy, a psychology postdoctoral research associate at Carnegie Mellon University.

"This work is a step forward in our understanding of how family stress during childhood may influence a child's susceptibility to disease 20 to 40 years later," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Sheldon Cohen, a co-author of the study, explained, "Our results target the immune system as an important carrier of the long-term negative impact of early family conflict. They also suggested that all divorces are not equal, with continued communication between parents buffering the deleterious effects of separation on the health trajectories of the children."

Here are some ways that you can help your child through a divorce*

1. Talk it out with your kid

Even though your child may not show any outward emotions about the divorce, chances are she’s hurt and needs you now more than ever before. Try to be a listening ear to her, and encourage her to communicate her feelings.

If she doesn’t want to talk, you can get her to paint or draw what she’s feeling. Talking things out will definitely give your child a better picture of what is happening rather than hiding the issue from her or avoiding this topic at home. This way your child expresses any need and avoids bottling up her emotions.

2. Spend time with your kid

Use whatever available time to play, cuddle or just read to your child. It won’t harm your young child to let her sleep with you during this stage.

The gain in her security is worth the elbow jabs. It is a good idea to plan out the weekends with your child whether it involves taking them for classes or even shopping! Also try and make it for all their school events like concerts and other performances because these are the small ways to express your love for them.

3. Establish a strong support network

It is important that your child has a strong network around her. Enlist the help of friends, grandparents and teachers. It’s also important to have good same-gendered role models for your child.

This is an important step after the divorce due to your child’s emotional status. It is possible that she refuses to talk to you because she may be blaming you for the loss of the other parent. So it is necessary that she has an appropriate channel for her thoughts and emotions.

4. Consistency is key

Establish a consistent routine and maintain the same standards of discipline that were in place before the divorce. Do not just ‘spoil’ her by trying to compensate the emotional breakdown, instead, try to follow the same methods as you did before the divorce. This will also show your child how strong you are and teach her to be just like you.

Also, follow a parent-child time and use this opportunity to find out about their lives, what happens at school, who their friends are and so on. Similarly you can tell them how your day/week was and how you just want to get back home and spend time with them, this will make them feel very special.

5. Reassure her

One of the saddest things about divorce is that kids realise that it’s possible to stop loving someone. It’s only natural that your child thus fears that you may stop loving her too! It’s vital that you assure her that you love her and that she will always be taken care of and shouldn’t have to worry about anything.

It’s also important to reaffirm that the other parent loves her too and always will. Try and explain to the child that your spouse has only left because you both don’t get along and not because he/she doesn’t love the child.

Explaining and clearing out the child’s doubts will make her feel loved and form them into a strong individual.

6. Set up play dates with other kids from single parent families

Your child might feel that she is the only one who has divorced parents. Help her feel less ostracized by introducing her to other kids who are also from single parent families.

*This section is republished with permission from: Divorce and your kids: What can you do to make it easier? 

*This article is republished with permission from theAsianparent Singapore.

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