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

 

Going Through a Divorce? What Parents Can Do to Help Their Children NOW!

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