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Divorce in itself does not pose a risk for children

“It is not divorce in itself that can lead to problems in children. It is the divorce linked to interparental conflict, a lack of co-parenting, an unsuitable family climate, etc.,” according to Priscila Comino, a researcher at the University of the Basque Country’s (UPV/EHU) Faculty of Psychology.

Comino has gathered data on 416 children between the ages of 4 and 18 to study and compare the behaviour of the offspring of divorced parents (214) with that of the offspring of married parents (202).

The results show that there is no reason why the problems of a child of divorced parents should go beyond those that a child of married parents could have, as long as the parents have adapted positively to their new situation. In other words, rather than the divorce in itself, it is the divorce that has been poorly handled by the parents that could lead to additional behavioural problems in the child. This thesis is entitled Perfiles diferenciales en los problemas de conducta encontrados en hijos-as de progenitores divorciados y no divorciados (Differential profiles in the behavioural problems found in the offspring of divorced and not divorced parents).

Comino belongs to the Harremanak research group of the UPV/EHU, which is also running a parental education programme called Gurasoak. “It is a programme for working with families during the early stages of divorce. Work is done exclusively with the parents, but the aim is to promote greater resilience in them themselves and in their offspring,” she explains. In actual fact, this PhD thesis has come about to provide data that will contribute towards prevention programmes like this one.

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There are differences, but…

The sample made up of 416 children was put together with the collaboration of associations and institutions, and in the case of the Basque Autonomous Community, with that of the primary and secondary schools that were asked to take part back in 2009 (about 20% agreed to do so). It involves a series of questionnaires filled in by the parents, so the children are kept on the sidelines. “They were asked to provide details of a socio-demographic type. Then the divorced parents were given the questionnaire dealing with the adaptation to divorce or separation, and both the divorced and married parents were given the test relating to the children," explains Comino. This test is the CBCL (Child Behaviour Checklist): “A set of 13 items with 113 behaviours enables us to obtain an average of the behavioural problems of the offspring by using the parents as respondents.” Syndromes like introversion, depression, attention problems or delinquent behaviour are some of the yardsticks in this study.

According to the results obtained in the thesis, there are however differences in the average psychological well-being of the offspring of divorced and married parents, being more favourable in the case of the latter. But despite that, the children of divorced parents mostly emerge as well-adjusted emotionally. What is more, if one takes the casuistry further, the focus shifts: “In actual fact, the offspring of divorced parents a priori display more behavioural problems, but when we bring that adaptation of the parents themselves into the equation, the panorama changes.”

And divorce is in fact only a problem when it is associated with other risk factors, like: interparental conflict, inadequate co-parenting, changes in the child’s daily routines or psychological problems of the parents themselves. “If the parents have adapted positively to the divorce (this adaptation being understood as the encouraging of a positive context, an adequate co-parenting relationship and fewer problems of the parents themselves), the offspring are not going to have any more behavioural problems than those of the offspring of married parents. The confirmation of this relationship between the parents’ adaptation and the adjustment of the offspring is essential with a view to working with the parents and achieving benefits, in them themselves and in their offspring," concludes Comino.

Amaia Portugal | alfa
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