During a divorce, emotions often run high. This creates a situation in which tempers may flare and communication between divorcing spouses may break down in acrimonious recriminations.

Nevertheless, it behooves parents who are going through a divorce to try to minimize the conflict between themselves for the sake of their children. Despite a certain measure of inherent resiliency, children are vulnerable during their parents’ split, and continual conflict between parents is the single most important factor that can do harm to children of divorce.

A high-conflict divorce may not only do harm to the former couple’s children, it may also damage the parent-child relationship. The following are some of the challenges children of a high-conflict divorce are most likely to face.

  1. Transitory adjustment problems

During the early stages of the divorce, children may exhibit transitory symptoms. Excessive arguing between parents, learning about the divorce or moving to a new home as the parents separate may induce symptoms of oppositional behavior, anger, sadness or excessive worrying. School performances and social relationships may suffer.

  1. Internalized chronic stress

Children can develop internalized symptoms due to continuous exposure to external stressors related to parental conflict. These internalized symptoms may manifest as psychosomatic signs, such as stomachaches, headaches or insomnia, for which there is no identifiable physical cause. Children of high-conflict divorce may also develop depression or an anxiety disorder.

  1. Loyalty conflict

Children love both parents and want to maintain a good relationship with each. However, when conflict between parents is high, this creates cognitive dissonance in the mind of the child, who feels guilty for wanting to maintain a positive relationship with both parents. To resolve the internal paradox, the child will sometimes reject Parent B and align himself or herself with Parent A. The term for this is parental alienation, an unhealthy response to a loyalty conflict.

While it may be difficult, parents should attempt to maintain civil communication with and about one another, especially within the child’s hearing. Failure to do so can have negative consequences for children and parents alike.