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The Impact of Divorce on Children



When the topic of divorce comes up, it’s like the room goes quiet for a moment. For parents, it’s the beginning of a new chapter, and for kids, well, it’s a whole different storybook. That’s where Dr. Karey O’Hara steps in – with a flashlight and a map, ready to guide families through the not-so-scary forest of divorce.

Dr. O’Hara isn’t your typical researcher; she’s a bit like a detective and a lot like a storyteller. She started her quest to understand children’s experiences of divorce in the place where most stories are kept – the archives of a courthouse, buried in files and legal jargon. What she found was a silent narrative, a space where the children’s perspectives should be but weren’t. It got her thinking: what’s this whole court thing like for the kids who are more than just names in a case file?

Turns out, kids are incredibly versatile little beings – more like squishy, bouncing putty than fragile porcelain. Early research in the ’80s had everyone believing that children of divorce were boarding a one-way train to Trouble Town. But Dr. O’Hara, with her modern lens, shows us it’s not all doom and gloom. Yes, divorce shakes up the snow globe, but not every flake ends up out of place. Most kids find their footing, even if it takes a bit of dancing around.

Dr. O’Hara says it’s like looking at a kaleidoscope – the picture of divorce’s impact changes with every turn. Some kids might find the shuffle tough, with about 20 to 25 percent facing longer-term challenges. But then, around the corner, there are those who skip along just fine or even find a happier groove than before.

She also has found that some of the antidotes to the upsets of divorce is about giving kids the right tools, like moments of peace away from grown-up squabbles, and one-on-one time with parents and other supportive adults.

The Compass of Resilience

First up, let’s talk resilience. Dr. O’Hara’s findings reveal that most kids have an inner compass that points towards resilience. While about 20 to 25 percent of kids suffer initially, the vast majority eventually find their way. These are the kiddos who take the helm with confidence, adjusting as they go and thriving in the face of change.

The Anchor of Stability

Stability, Dr. O’Hara notes, is an anchor amidst the waves of divorce. Her studies show that when kids have consistent routines, clear expectations, and a sense of normalcy, they’re less likely to feel adrift. This stability doesn’t just mean sticking to bedtimes and homework schedules; it’s also about maintaining traditions, whether that’s Taco Tuesdays or family game night, giving children something solid to hold onto.

The Life Rafts of Support

Support systems are the life rafts in Dr. O’Hara’s research. Kids who know they have someone to lean on, be it a parent, a teacher, or a trusted pal, are the ones who navigate through the stormiest weather. Supportive relationships build a buffer around these young sailors, protecting them from the choppiest waves.

Coping Strategies

And what of the coping strategies, those maps that help kids chart their course? Dr. O’Hara’s work has uncovered some key routes on the map. Positive reframing helps kids see the horizon beyond the storm; distraction can be like finding a safe harbor in a tempest, and relaxation techniques are akin to the calm after the storm, helping kids steady their vessels and sail on.

The Lighthouse of Parental Guidance

The most prominent lighthouse in Dr. O’Hara’s findings? Parental guidance. When parents can guide their ships with a steady hand, avoiding the whirlpools of conflict and the siren calls of discord, they light the way for their little ones. Constructive conflict resolution – think of it as navigating tricky straits with skill – can teach kids valuable lessons about handling disagreements.

The Ongoing Journey

As Dr. O’Hara’s research continues under the name Project Brain Team at ASU. She is currently looking for participants over the age of 9.



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