When a marriage ends in a divorce, it’s the children who suffer most.
It is their parents’ decision and their views hardly count at all, yet it will profoundly change the way they live.
For the past four years, the Asian Academy of Family Therapy and the University of Hong Kong had been keeping track of the lives of several children whose parents were on the verge of divorce.
Data from the research shows that the children have been highly anxious over the stormy relationship of their parents, and their greatest fear is that their parents would live separate lives.
In the research, we tried to interpret the interactions between couples and how they affected their children.
In the sessions, parents were invited to work on some unsettled issues in the presence of their children, while the kids’ biological signs of anxiety, including sweating, heartbeat and body temperature, were monitored and recorded.
Here are some examples of the children’s reactions:
A five-year-old girl’s heart rate surged to 200 beats from below 100 within a minute after she heard her mother chastise her father for forgetting to tuck her into bed.
The girl told her mother that her dad did so and she didn’t want to see them quarrel. She stopped speaking when she saw her mother in tears.
A boy, aged five, demanded that his parents leave the room as soon as they started shouting at each other. The shocked parents stopped right away.
A nine-year-old boy, the youngest in the family, watched his parents argue with each other. He then urged his defensive father not to reason with his domineering mother as their talk would not resolve anything.
According to the findings, children aged 10 or below are more direct in communicating their feelings about their parents while older ones are more reserved.
Some children who find it hard to express their emotions about their parents’ deteriorating relationship give vent to their anxieties in non-verbal ways.
Three brothers, aged seven, nine and 11, have been suffering from severe eczema, a form of skin disease, since their parents parted ways.
A mother of a 12-year-old boy felt very frustrated because her son had refused to speak to her for two years since her divorce to his father.
But the boy’s quiet tears betrayed his immense grief.
Through these heartbreaking stories, we hope parents will realize the great impact of their relationship on their children.
Parents have a great responsibility in handling their marriage and minimizing the harm to their vulnerable children.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 3.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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