London: Children who witness their parents` divorce at a tender age are most likely to struggle with maths and making friends, a new study has found.
The five-year study by a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US also found that such children often fall behind classmates, whose parents stay married, suffering from anxiety, loneliness and feeling sad -- and may never catch up academically.
For their study, the researchers compared emotional and academic development of children of divorce with those whose parents stayed together by following 3,585 children from around the age of four.
"Children of divorce experience setbacks in maths test scores and show problems with interpersonal skills and internalising behaviour," led researcher Hyun Sik Kim said.
"They are more prone to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
This stabilised after the divorce, but the children remain behind their peers from intact families, he said.
"My original prediction was that children of divorce would experience negative impacts even before formal divorce processes began. But the study finds this is not the case."
Contrary to the belief, the children in the study through primary school did not show any negative effects before the parents decided to split.
But as soon as the divorce process started, they suffered a range of problems that persisted, the researchers reported in the American Sociological Review.
Possible causes for the setbacks, the researchers said, include stress the children experience as result of seeing their parents blaming each other for the divorce or arguing about custody.
An unstable living situation in which children are shuttled between parents can also disrupt social networks.
Other problems include economic hardship due to a sudden drop in family income or a parent suffering depression as a result of the divorce, they added.
The study adds to a wealth of data showing children suffer badly from parental break-up.
Past research had showed that children of broken families are five times more likely to suffer damaging mental troubles than those whose parents stay together.