Children and Divorce: Issues with Anxiety

As a family moves through a divorce transition, the reality is that many problems and concerns may arise.  Their parents’ divorce or separation can be very difficult for a child, as well as for the entire family.  Issues with children may manifest themselves in different ways, depending on the child and the situation.  One common difficulty that may present itself for children is anxiety.

Anxiety in Children: What Does it Look Like?

Anxiety in children may look different than it does in adults.  Children may have trouble expressing how they are feeling or even be confused about what’s going on inside them.  Anxiety may show up as physical symptoms or illness, such as headaches, stomach aches, or repetitive behaviors like hair-pulling.  Children who have issues with anxiety may lose interest in taking part in activities they once enjoyed, or feel unable to try something new or different.  They may find it difficult to talk about what’s going on with their parents or other family members.

Ways to Work Through Anxious Feelings

In experiences like these, parents may feel overwhelmed and unsure of how they can best help their child through the transition of divorce or separation, especially when issues with anxiety arise. Meeting with a child and family therapist can be very beneficial, and by working together, the therapist, the parents, and the child 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.  Activities can be geared to specifically deal with anxiety issues, in a way that is comfortable and supportive to the child.  By meeting with a child and family therapist, both the parents and the child will gain skills and insight on how to best deal with current issues, and will be able to use those skills when dealing with problems in the future.

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 a child to learn that he is not alone in what he is going through, while also gaining knowledge of child-friendly methods and techniques that he can integrate into different aspects of his life.  A sense of camaraderie and accomplishment is encouraged, and children work through their issues in their own way, while making friends and having fun.

A Parent and Child Activity: Deep Breathing

A quick activity that can be helpful to children when they’re feeling anxious (and adults too!) is a deep breathing exercise.  This is a perfect activity for parents and children to do together, as it is one that holds value for everyone.  First, take a deep breath, and hold it for a brief second.  Slowly release the air by blowing the breath out, like you are blowing up a balloon.  Focus on your breathing as you do this, and repeat a few times.  Begin to pay attention to the sound of your breathing and how the air feels when you are inhaling and exhaling.  By putting your focus on your breathing, the anxious thoughts and feelings begin to fall away and your body responds in a calming manner.  The great thing about an activity like this is that it’s easy, requires little practice, and can be done anywhere!  It’s a wonderful tool for children to utilize when they are feeling nervous or scared, and one that even adults will see benefits from engaging in.

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