While divorce is never easy for a family to cope with, recognizing the effects on your children is an important step to recovery. Boys and girls typically have very different reactions and coping methods after divorce. Daughters, in particular, may experience anxiety, stress and even emotional turmoil as a result of her parents' split. From academic challenges to emotional adjustments, divorce is likely to affect your daughter in a variety of ways.
“The reactions daughters have to the divorce of their parents can run the board, depending on factors as varied as the nature of and reasons for the divorce to the personality and age of the daughter herself,” says Dr. John Duffy, a Chicago-based psychotherapist and author of “The Available Parent.”
When your daughter is anxious, worried or stressed about the family changes that occur with divorce, it’s likely she may struggle with social interactions at home and school. She may resist interactions with friends, classmates or even family members while mulling over the changes within your family at this time. To help her cope, Duffy suggests parents stay connected and in touch with their daughters through open communication. “Both parents need to make themselves ‘available,’ emotionally and otherwise to their daughters,” he says.
An unexpected divorce can send your daughter’s world into a tailspin. She may feel betrayed by one or both parents and struggle with trust in her relationships, according to Duffy. “I have worked with girls who are reluctant to trust, and frankly, this tends to relate to boys and men in particular,” he says. When she feels that the family bond is broken, it may be difficult for your daughter to trust in relationships as a whole.
“Sometimes, children of divorce focus too much on that ‘failed’ relationship, and assume the same fate will befall them,” says Duffy. Be clear with your daughter about your divorce and your views on love and relationships. Encourage her to see the benefits of a healthy, loving partnership.
If your daughter is focused on the changes at home, it may affect her progress at school. Her grades may drop, her interest in class activities may wane and her willingness to participate in extracurricular activities may decrease. Reassuring your child of the stable elements of your family life will help take her focus from the family and apply it to her studies. Encourage open communication and explain how routines will change. Phrases such as “You will still see mom and dad every day, but we just won’t live together as a family” and “You will still attend the same school and live in the same house” may offer her the consistency she needs to free her mind from excess worry.
When the family is faced with divorce, emotions can run high. Your daughter, especially, may experience anxiety that will affect her social, academic and emotional well-being. Validating her feelings and encouraging her to communicate openly and honestly will help ease the anxious feelings she is experiencing. Give her permission to have powerful emotions about this disruption in her life, even if it is something you may not want to hear as a parent. Voicing your frustrations with the divorce will only add to her anxiety.
“Girls need to feel that there is positive regard between the parents. Therefore, mothers and fathers need to make sure they do not bad mouth one another to their daughters in any way,” says Duffy. “Daughters are particularly sensitive to this issue.”
Studies have indicated that daughters of divorced parents tend to show higher levels of promiscuity and become sexually active at a younger age, according to Christina Steinorth, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based psychotherapist and author of "Cue Cards for Life." The behavior is particularly related to daughters who are seeking male companions to help cope with the absence of a father figure. "To help reduce the chance of promiscuity, it really helps if the divorcing parents minimize the hostility they have toward each other when the children are present," says Steinorth. "Equally as important, is for fathers to continue to have regular and consistent contact with their daughters."