A recent analysis by academics at University College London has highlighted the emotional impact on children of their parents separating. The research involved 6,245 children and young people within the UK, and found that the younger the children were at the point of separation, the lesser the negative impact on their mental wellbeing.
The analysis found that children aged between 7-14 at the time of separation had a 16% rise in emotional problems such as anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as an 8% increase in conduct disorders. In contrast, children aged between 3-7 at the time of separation are no more likely to develop such problems either immediately or by the age of 14 compared with children still living with both parents. Co-author of the study Professor Emla Fitzsimons suggested that one reason for the increased impact in older children was that “they are more sensitive to relationship dynamics at this age”.
There is of course a range of reasons for couples separating and for children developing emotional issues. It would certainly be a gross oversimplification to suggest that couples minded to separate should do so whilst a child is young to lessen any impact, or equally should stay together if their children are now in their teens. The reality of separation is rarely so straightforward. However, what the study does bring into focus is the need to be mindful as to how a separation can affect the children involved, particularly in the case of older children.
Divorce and separation can unfortunately be a very difficult and stressful time for everyone. It is important for separating parents to be aware of the support available and focus on how their approach to the process can help both themselves and their children.