Building Bridges

Background (continued)

What is the strongest single predictor of psychological harm to children of divorce?
The occurrence and severity of problems in the early years are directly related to the presence and degree of continuing and unresolved conflict between the parents, a relationship studied carefully and presented compellingly in work done by Janet Johnston and Vivienne Roseby (14), by Joan Kelly (15), and by E. Mavis Hetherington (16). When problems appear later they seem to be cumulative: children are harmed by continuing conflict between their parents, and are most likely to be protected by healthy and stable child-parent relationships, preferably with both parents, after the marriage is over. Characteristically, short term and long-term problems occur in a context in which families lack models and support for grieving their losses and getting on with their lives.

In reviewing her extensive studies of nearly 1400 families and over 2500 children, Hetherington notes that "the only childhood stress greater than having two married parents who fight all the time is having two divorced parents who fight all the time."

3. What is the strongest single predictor of short-term and long-term psychological harm to a child during and after divorce?

a. ongoing, unresolved conflict between the parents, with the child caught in the middle
b. change of schools and separation from friends, resulting from moving to a different neighborhood
c. change in economic status
d. loss of familiar patterns of interaction with parents

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