In his research, Kim analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study on 3,600 children who entered kindergarten in 2008.
The children were tracked through fifth grade. Over that time, Kim compared children whose parents had gotten divorced while the child was in the first, second or third grade with the children of intact marriages.
Among the divorce group, Kim examined child development over three phases: the "pre-divorce" period from kindergarten to the 1st grade; the "divorce period" from 1st through 3rd grade; and the "post-divorce" period from 3rd through 5th grade.
Kim found that while a divorce is in progress, first, second and third-graders experience a dip in math test scores -- a decline that holds steady once the divorce is final. Interpersonal skills also suffer during divorce, affecting a child's ability to make and keep friends, and the ability to express feelings and opinions in a positive way.
On a positive note, however, Kim found that reading scores remain unaffected, and that children do not seem to be at a higher risk for "externalizing" problem behavior such as arguing, fighting or getting angry.
He also noted some limitations of the study, including that the children were followed after divorce for only two years.
"One implication of the study is that we need to intervene as soon as possible when we observe a child experiencing a parental divorce," Kim said, "because my findings suggest that once children of divorce [have gone] through detrimental impacts, it is hard to make them catch up with children from intact families."
Richard E. Lucas, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Michigan State University, said that longer-term research would be needed to see whether or not the apparent setbacks in kids' math and social skills eventually dissipate.
"We definitely find that that major life events, suc
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