This post features the insight and expertise of Dr. Avidan Milevsky, associate Professor of Psychology at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.With a lot of coverage and attention to the affects on children in single parent homes, Dr Milevsky provides fantastic insight on this topic in this featured post for Dallas Single Mom Examiner.
During a recent child psychology graduate class I was teaching at my university, I noticed a student who was visibly distressed by the research I was sharing about how children deal with parental divorce. I was reviewing in class some current scientific findings about the negative outcomes linked with parental divorce. Studies say that children of divorced families are more likely to have increased aggression, to have fewer close intimate relationships with friends and siblings, to have academic difficulties, to drop out of school, to abuse drugs, to have lower self-esteem, and to have poorer physical health. Basically, it’s not looking good.
As if this wasn’t depressing enough, I continued speak about how some of these negative effects continue to impact the children as they become adults. Adults whose parents were divorced when they were children are likely to achieve less education, to have lower occupational status, and are even shown to have lower income throughout adulthood. Adult children of divorce are also more likely to marry young, more likely to divorce, and more likely to report instability and conflict in their marriage compared to adult children of non-divorced families.
I, unfortunately, did not time this particular class very well and it was time to dismiss class before I was able to get to the good news about what parents can do to mitigate some of these problems. Trying to keep the class overtime to finish the topic risked me being on the receiving end of death threats. You do not keep a college class one minute overtime, period!
After this gloomy presentation, I approached the disheartened student, Amanda, to inquire about her anguish. She told me that she was recently divorced and has been troubled about how to best deal with this change as it concerned her three young children. What particularly bothered Amanda during class was when I was speaking about the negative sibling relationships often found in children of divorced families. Amanda has already noticed that the closeness that existed among her children before the divorce is now nonexistent and instead they find it hard to be near each other without getting into major fights. She wanted to know if I had some advice for her about how to work on this negativity among her children.
I started by telling her that I plan on dealing with this issue next class so she should make sure not to miss next class. But Amanda’s current anguish was too much for me to bear so I decided to give her a personalized preview of my next lecture.
There are several reasons why children experiencing a divorce may have hostility in their sibling relationships.
Chief among them is what is known in the research as the modeling hypothesis. Children may have seen hostility between their parents as the marriage was dissolving. The hostility may still exist in their home considering the natural stresses of a single parent home. The children then copy this hostility when they interact with their siblings. Based on this, I encouraged Amanda to try as much as possible to model constructive communication and warmth in all her relationships, particularly in her relationship with her children, so that her children have a positive model to learn from. This type of warm model can be created in many ways throughout the day.
Particularly during times of the day that are naturally hectic, such as the morning getting-out-to-school-and-work time or the evening dinner-and-getting-ready-for-bed time, it is important to try and keep things calm, loving, and fun. One woman I was working with made sure to have calm music playing in the background in the morning to keep the atmosphere light. She also made sure to keep her voice down in the morning and made sure to wake everyone up a bit earlier than needed to give her children time to slowly transition into the day without the rush. The nighttime can be made more pleasant by having a consistent routine including family game time or book time. By creating a peaceful home environment, children learn from it and soon begin acting in similar ways towards each other.
Amanda was able to identify specific ways in which her home environment can use some tranquility and we devised a plan of action together with specific changes she can institute into her daily routine.
Amanda was apparently satisfied with the information I shared with her during our little talk; she skipped my next class.
Dr. Avidan Milevsky is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and a psychotherapist at Wellspring Counseling in Towson, MD. He has published extensively on family issues and is a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Adolescence. His next book “They are killing each other: What parents can do to enhance the relationship between their children” is awaiting publication following his first book “Sibling relationships in childhood and adolescence: Predictors and outcomes” (2011 by Columbia University Press). Dr. Milevsky has written for the Huffington Post Blog and is a contributor to the Psychology Today blog on sibling issues. He has been a guest expert on radio shows and has been interviewed by national media about his work including stories in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, and Allure Magazine. His website is www.avidanmilevsky.com.