How Can Parental Separation Impact Language Development?

parental separation

Children can develop intense anxiety or insecurities when they are in traumatic or stressful situations. such as: 

  • Living in a high conflict environment (e.g., parents frequently fighting, yelling, etc.)
  • Loss of daily contact with a parent (e.g., one parent moves out)
  • Having to quickly adjust to a new life-style (e.g., child quickly moves out of home) 

When these instances happen, kids may become withdrawn to shut out the unpleasant situations or to hide the feelings they experience. Some children may feel shame or feel as though they are at fault. These feelings can become bottled up inside, leading to further withdrawal or anxiety. The feelings may be overwhelming and the child may be unsure what to do or how to express them. 

A child may decline to interact with the parent who has moved out. They may not talk to other family members, withdraw from their friends etc. Children adopt coping mechanisms such as withdrawal for protection from rejection and feelings of inadequacy. 

Developing language problems can follow when children withdraw, hide, keep their feelings in, or decline to interact with others. 

Developing Speech and Language Problems Also Depends on Other Factors

In addition to the parental situation, a child’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, and the number of siblings they have can also impact language development. 

Additionally, while research suggests that divorce or separation can affect a child’s language skills, the extent depends on various other factors.For instance, talking to your children openly about the changing family situation and welcoming questions takes away some fear and anxiety. But, even an explained absence of a parent can be very stressful for a small child, possibly causing  them to shut down. 

Parents Will Want to Handle the Separation Carefully

Although it is hard to work through your disagreements in the early days of the separation, you want to protect your kids and create an atmosphere of love and support. Easing the children gently into the new family lifestyle helps. As an example you may need to tell them that now daddy will be driving them to school or taking them to doctors’ appointments. Or they may need to know that they will be  spending every other week with each parent. It is helpful if everyday activities like reading to the kids at bedtime maintain normalcy and security. Research indicates that children benefit from consistency in their daily lives. 

Both Parents Should Contribute to Supporting Children’s Development

During or after separation, both parents need to be supportive to the child and be on the look out for any delays which may suggest the need for an evaluation:

Children should be developing the following skills between ages two and three:

  • stringing two to three words into sentences 
  • learning to say their first name
  • identifying themselves with the word “I”
  • dressing up
  • jumping in one place
  • learning to write by drawing vertical lines and circles
  • coloring

If you notice delays, please schedule an evaluation to have your child’s needs assessed. If you are in the United States you can request an evaluation at your child’s school, early intervention office, or at a private clinician’s office such as a developmental pediatrician, speech-language pathologist, child psychologist, neurologist, etc.   

Focus on Balancing Living in Two Homes

Therapy can be more challenging when kids are spending time between two households. Parents can help by making an effort to coordinate sessions and keep each other updated about the child’s progress. Parents can use a shared platform where they can communicate with the therapist to get instructions on how to practice sounds and continue with any other exercises. Considering that speech therapy works best with repetition, both parents should stay informed about the sessions. 

The effects of parental separation do not need to get in the way of your child’s cognitive development or language abilities. Parents should offer love and support and focus on raising children responsibly, even if they’re growing up in two different households. 

This article was written in collaboration with Better Speech. Better Speech has helped thousands of children and families. They are committed to providing affordable, convenient, and effective online speech therapy for kids and adults. Their clients are matched with the best therapist for their needs and get affordable therapy at the comfort of their home, when it’s convenient for them (even on weekends or evenings). 

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