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Children’s Attachment and Effects of DivorceThe divorce process is hard for everyone involved, but perhaps even more so for children. The already vulnerable state of children makes emotional trauma all the more potent and powerful enough to affect other aspects of a child’s life and growth.

In particular, the emotional trauma of separation from a parent through divorce can affect children’s attachment behavior and feelings of trust. These attachment styles can then invade avenues like school performance and future relational patterns, which is why it’s important for parents to do all they can to make sure children are receiving enough love and attention during familial upheavals like divorce.

Attachment Styles

There are three different kinds of attachment that children experience towards parental figures as a result of the level and kind of care received: secure attachment, which is ideal; ambivalent attachment, caused by a lack of predictability; and avoidant attachment, the worst of the three types.

A recent article cites an imperative 1978 psychological study about attachment styles to add to its claims that divorce and attachment disorders affect child learning. In the study, parents briefly left their 12-18 months old babies alone and then returned as researchers observed the children’s responses.

The children who manifested secure attachment were those who were moderately upset when the parent left, yet easily comforted and restored to happiness once the parent returned. Their quick adaptability is evidence of predictability–the children already had a sense of trustful dependence that the parent would return and can be relied upon. A secure child also therefore received better stimulation of their “prefrontal cortex, the seat of organization and social intelligence, a necessary ingredient for school and life success.”

The group of children who showed avoidant attachment, the most serious of styles, displayed a depressive attitude or a lack of responsiveness when their parents returned. The article explains that “children who are punished for relying on a parent will learn to avoid seeking help in the future.” So researchers could deduce that in the past the child must have experienced abuse when seeking out love. The consequence is a deep mistrust of loving relationships.

Ambivalent Attachment and Divorce

The attachment style that could be most applicable to divorce, and other abrupt life changes, is ambivalent attachment. The ambivalent children in the study were the ones who were distressed at a greater level than secure children when a parent left. There was a sense of clinging and neediness. Researches concluded that this was a result of both a lack of predictability from the parent in the past and not enough available affection.

In many cases of filing for divorce, at least for the children, it is far from predictable. The dissolution of their parents union is surprising and scary, and so is the shock of not living with one of the parents, making that parent’s affection less immediately available. The threat of developing ambivalent attachment disorder is alive and well. For these reasons, children going through their parents’ divorce need all the extra love, attention, and predictability they can possibly get.

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