T portal: Gordana Buljan Flander advises how to make parents’ divorce as painless as possible for children

Journalist Elma Katana has published on T portal an interview with our director Prof.  Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD on how parents’ divorce affects children:

“In Croatia almost every fourth marriage ends with divorce and this stressful situation has a major influence on children and young people. Director of the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb, prof. Gordana Buljan Flander has revealed to the Tportal how to pass it as painless as possible for the youngest members of the family

Marriage can often turn into a troublesome and conflicting community in which tense relations are ruled, so often it is arguing about whether it is better for children to remain in discordant marriage or divorce. Whatever the decision is made, parents need to be aware that many research has shown that unsettled family relationships will leave a mark on children as well.

Director of the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb, prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD, says divorce is a very stressful experience that affects all children and young people, regardless of age, gender, and other characteristics.

“The first research that sought to determine the effects of parent divorce on children revealed that children of divorced parents had poorer academic achievement, more socio-emotional difficulties, more behavioral problems, poor prospects of interpersonal and partner relationships in the future, and so on. There are also transgenerational effects of divorce, which means that by transferring some of the negative patterns in the family the divorce that occurs today can reflect on children who are not yet born and will come to a family of two or even three generations. Then a logical question is asked – whether to stay in a bad marriage because of the children?, explains Buljan Flander.

Clinical practice, contrary to original interpretations of scientific findings, adds Buljan Flander, shows that for children is better ‘healthy divorce’ than ‘bad marriage’ of parents and the researchers focused on a more detailed analysis.

It is unfair to let the child know that parent remains in unhappy marriage for him

‘The researchers wondered – what is it that harms children in the divorce of a parent: divorce by itself or some of its specific element? Today, we know  that for children and young people their parents’ divorce is hard, but can adapt to it, as well as any other significant change in life, such as moving to another city. Conflict between parents is what actually harms children and prevents their healthy adaptation. It is very unfair to give the child verbal or nonverbal knowledge to remain in unhappy marriage for him. The child then feels guilty and responsible for the suffering of his parents, which is too much weight on his back, “she says.

When parents tell the child about divorce, she explains, they can expect different reactions, such as anger, sadness, disapproval, blaming (themselves, one or both of their parents), the desire to reconcile their parents, the shame, fear of the future, and so on.

How children react to divorce

‘Temporary behavioral changes can also be expected, for example, some children withdraw into themselves, behave more aggressively than before, some children behave regressively: as if they were younger than they are, for example they could start sucking their thumb again, wet in bed and similar. With adequate parenting support, most children are able to adapt and return to normal levels of functioning in the shortest time. Adequate support includes introducing divorce as a common decision, protecting the child from the details of partner relationship, giving the structure and predictability of further life, and systematically emphasizing that child is not wrong, that parents love them and will always love them and be there for them, both involved in their life and growing up. In addition to highlighting these messages in words, it is even more important to show them with behavior. Also, parents should give the child time and space to express their feelings freely and to ask questions that come to their mind, “said Buljan Flander.

Children are in different ways experiencing parent divorce.

‘Shortly after the divorce, many children are anxious when they are’ between parents’, for example, they need some time to adapt when they first arrive to mom from dad and to dad from mom. Then they can be withdrawn, irritable, weepy. This does not necessarily mean that the household of the other parent going something negative to the child, but only that it adapts. It is important that parents in this period communicate rather than mutually blame for the child’s condition. It would be desirable that the mother comes for a child when at dad, and dad to come pick up the child when it is at mom, so the parents are greeted and exchanged several sentences. In this way the child is not ‘rejected’ rather than the ‘accept’ and parents’ communication reduces the anxiety of crossing from one to another, “says Buljan Flander.

Children must know that they are not guilty of divorce

If parents continue to have a long-lasting and intense conflict, there is a great chance for a child to develop serious mental health consequences, warns a psychologist.

‘Such children learn to’ dance ‘between their parents, especially satisfy mom, and especially satisfy dad, significantly changing depending on the emotions of their parents. Over time, they forget their true wishes and needs, which is very dangerous, especially when they come in adolescence and adapt their behavior to the influence of society. Although the consequences may not be apparent immediately, it does not have to mean that they will not come to them, and through puberty and youthfulness they are particularly noticeable. Children are often too late to give adult responsibilities, for example, the right to choose whether to go to a parent who does not live on a weekend or not because mom or dad does not talk or because one of the parents (or both) wants a child to join his side. In this way, the authority of not only one parent but also the total parental authority is disrupted and the child will feel right in the adolescence to just determine the rules of behavior and to go, for example, with a parent who will let him stay out longer. That child is not happy. In order for the child to be happy and that his rights and needs would be fulfilled, leadership through parenting and co-operation should be led”said Buljan Flander.


Do not ask the children to convey messages to another parent.

Do not ask the kids about the ex-partner’s private life.

Do not insult your ex-partner in front of your children.

Do not ask the children to decide who they will live with. That’s the decision of an adult.

The visit of another parent does not depend on his payment of alimony.


In order for the children pass divorce as painless as possible, it is important that they know that they are not guilty of divorce.

“Children who experience divorce with parents would say that although most of them want their mom and dad to be seen as partners, they are not guilty of their divorce and cannot do anything to reconcile them as a man and a woman. However, their need to have parents in good parenting relationships, not to argue in front of a child and not put a child at the center of a conflict, is natural and needs to be fulfilled. If they do not find a way to cope with parental conflict, I advise the children to turn to an adult who they trust and ask for the help and support they and they are entitled to, and it is the duty of all of us adults to provide to them, ” announced Buljan Flander.

Parents need to separate your child from conflict

The easiest way for parents to separate their childhood conflict is to separate partner and parenting roles. Although it is natural that people who have been divorced have many unresolved partner feelings, this is a separate aspect of life from parenthood. Their squabbles and disputes can be solved separately, through counseling, and court if necessary, but their relationship with the child and their relationship as parents should be separated from it. Whatever parents feel to each other, the child’s best interest is the permanent availability and involvement of both parents in upbringing, actively promoting the relationship between the child and the other parent on both sides. Sometimes parents need professional help, which is not a shame to ask, but an indicator of parental competence.

Original text (on Croatian language) available on: https://www.tportal.hr/lifestyle/clanak/gordana-buljan-flander-savjetuje-kako-da-razvod-roditelja-prode-sto-bezbolnije-za-djecu-foto-20180603

Print Friendly, PDF & Email