Divorce is not simply the separation of two people—it instead involves other loved ones and members of the family… especially the children. They may be 5 years old, 15 years old, or 25 years old; regardless of their age, it can be a very hard and confusing time. This goes for families who are shocked by the news of separation, as well as families who are surprised it didn’t happen sooner—either way, the divorce can have a number of harmful effects on the children for years to come. Here are five of those possible effects:

1) Significant stress.

One of the most immediate effects divorce can have on children is stress. There are all kinds of ambiguous changes happening: Someone is moving out but nobody can agree who. The kids are going somewhere but where, what’s best? Who will get the kids on Christmas, on Thanksgiving, on their birthdays? Kids, what do you think? The routine and the lifestyle that the kids knew is shattered. They often feel overwhelmed by the sudden changes and aren’t sure where or who to turn to. They also worry about hurting one of the parents and feel the stress of pleasing them both.

The best thing the parents can do to relieve or minimize this stress in their kids is to remove any ambiguity, speak openly with them, and listen to their thoughts and feelings. This way, the family can work together to determine the best circumstances for everybody moving forward.

2) Strain on relationships.

Divorce can lead to a strain on various relationships: those between the children and the parents, the children and each other, and the children and their friends and/or significant others. For example, a messy divorce may drive a wedge between an angry or hurt child and a parent they hold responsible; it may also lead to a damaged relationship between two siblings who have different opinions on the matter. There are many feelings that become involved in divorce and separated families, therefore relationships are bound to be tested.

Healthy communication is key. Nobody wants a domino effect to occur and all of their relationships to come tumbling down with the divorce. So practice healthy communication—don’t keep family members and friends in the dark about how you feel and how you’re being affected.

3) Commitment issues.

Divorce can cause the children involved to develop serious commitment issues. They look at their parents as role models, to lead by example. So when their marriage fails, the children adapt the mindset that relationships end in failure and that their relationships will likely fail too. And they hesitate to commit based on these learned views and fears.

The best thing for the kids to do here is remember that some relationships are meant to last a lifetime, while others are only meant to last a season. But just because their parent’s marriage ended in divorce, doesn’t mean theirs will too.

4) Difficulties at school or work.

Children of divorce often experience difficulties at school or work. All of the stress that comes from dealing with the separation makes it hard for them to focus on learning, doing homework, participating in group discussions… from getting any given task done. The change in routine can also trigger or add to these difficulties. In addition, parents of younger children might be hesitant to come off as too overbearing or fear being viewed as the “the mean parent,” which can allow the children too much freedom and not enough accountability when it comes to schoolwork. Another reason difficulties at school or work arise can be due to the lack of motivation—children of divorce sometimes lose that drive to succeed.

This is a tricky effect of divorce to combat. Regardless of how well the separation was handled, children will have trouble accepting it and focusing on school or work again. Parents need to accept this, but at the same time encourage their children to get back on track.

5) Psychological effects.

Children who experience a parental divorce can even develop significant psychological issues. The stress that they feel can lead to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as well as reckless behavior that can lead to self-injury. Anger problems and sleep disorders may also result.

This is why it is so important for parents to play close attention to their actions following their divorce, as well as the effects that these actions have on their kids. Parents should do their best to maintain a healthy environment, which may involve working with mediators or therapists. Find a Thriveworks counselor today.