A parents’ divorce or separation can be very difficult for a child. The child may be confused, scared, angry, or sad, and be unable to express how he or she feels or have difficulty talking about what is going on. This can manifest in many different ways, including problems at school or with friends, feelings of anxiety or sadness, difficulty concentrating or focusing, or physical illness such as headaches.
Children may feel as though they are alone, and that no one else has ever gone through something like this. They may feel torn between their parents, and worry about the future. Children could hold fantasies that their parents may reconcile, but many times, this desire does not come true.
What can you, as a parent, do to help your child?
In experiences like these, parents may feel over-whelmed and unsure of how they can best help their child through the transition of divorce or separation. A step that is beneficial is meeting with a child and family therapist. Working together, the therapist and the parents can develop a therapeutic plan that aims to help the child in a developmentally-appropriate and kid-friendly way. A therapeutic plan could incorporate different types of therapy, including play therapy techniques, peer-group sessions, or some traditional talk-therapy, depending on the child’s age and comfort level.
The therapist can also work with the entire family, and collaboratively, develop ways to make the adjustment to co-parenting smoother. As the transition through divorce can bring many changes, strategies and techniques can be discussed that help the family re-define the rules and responsibilities to better meet the most recent needs of each person.
A compliment to child and family therapy is joining a peer-support group for children. Groups like these explore age-appropriate activities designed to increase positive coping skills in a fun and encouraging environment. It’s a great way for child to learn that they are not alone in what they are going through, while also gaining knowledge of child-friendly methods and techniques that they can integrate into different aspects of their lives. A sense of camaraderie and accomplishment is encouraged, and children work through their issues in their own way, while making friends and having fun.
How can therapy help you and your child?
In my work with child and family clients, I feel it is important to create a safe and engaging therapeutic environment where each family member is able to express themselves and work together to develop solutions to problematic issues. Using play therapy techniques, children can create artwork or engage in various activities that give them a way to explore what’s going on in their family and the emotions that go along with it, but in a way that is comfortable and friendly to them. During family therapy sessions, family members can talk together about problems in a secure setting, with myself as an advocate to help navigate this transition.
In the peer-support group Shining Stars, myself, along with Mike Tanis, LPC, LMFT, will lead a group full of fun and child-friendly activities designed to encourage children in the development of coping skills and collaboration of age-appropriate techniques to deal with issues relating to divorce or separation.
Additional Resources for Parents and Children
- For children ages 4-8, a book called “Two Homes” by Clare Masurel is an excellent resource to talk to younger children about divorce and separation. In this picture book, the main character of the story discusses how he has two of everything, houses, rooms, etc., but both of his parents love him very much.
- For children ages 9-12, parents may be interested in the book “What in the World Do You Do When Your Parents Divorce? A Survival Guide for Kids” by Kent Winchester, J.D. and Roberta Beyer, J.D.
- A book for adolescents, “The Divorce Helpbook for Teens” by Cynthia MacGregor is a wonderful resource for teens and families going through a divorce transition.
- For parents, a book called “The Good Divorce” by Constance Ahrons can be beneficial. Common issues such as co-parenting are discussed and the author’s own life experiences are inter-woven throughout.
Carina Wise, MFTA is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with children and families, many of whom are traveling through a divorce transition. To learn more, contact Carina at Southlake Counseling (704) 896-7776