Divorce, Children, & Therapy
By: Clarice Stout, MA
Divorce or a separation of a couple sometimes happens, and for many different reasons. There are many cases where children are involved when a divorce happens. Sometimes people think children are resilient and can bounce back from anything, including the messy things that come with divorce. I am not saying that children are not resilient, because yes, some children can be resilient to a lot of things, but I see children as sponges. Kids soak up the world around them, and divorce and separation of their parents can/may impact them in many different ways, as I have done previous research on the effects of divorce on children. My point of this blog is to shed some light on some helpful ways to aide children when divorce is happening to their family. Personally, once being a child of divorce, I remember growing up having questions for my parents, such as why did this happen, do my parents not like each other?, and I also remember certain feelings when I was younger about the divorce. Some of those feelings from time to time were sadness, and confusion. As I became older I was able to understand the questions and feelings I had, but I was also able to see that my parents utilized some good tools, whether they knew it or not, that helped me as a child and my sister understand and get through the separation of our family in a healthy way. Some tools/ways that can be used with children who are experiencing a divorce of their parents, and even adolescents, teens, and young adults for that matter is open and honesty, not pretending, modeling, being civil with ex, and therapy for the child and for the parents individually going through the divorce. Not all these tools were used for me when I was a child, but some were, and below I will describe some of the reasons why these tools help.
1) Openness and Honesty: Being honest with children in an age appropriate way, and I can’t say that enough “Age Appropriate Way” helps them with an understanding to what is going on. If children have certain feelings it is helpful when parents are open to hearing their children’s feelings and reassuring them that it is perfectly fine to feel different emotions. When I talk about honesty, I am not saying that children need to know details of the divorce, especially if they are really young, but it is okay for them to know about what a separation is and how this will alter their home life. There is much debate out there on as children get older should they know about the reason for their parents’ divorce, and ultimately that depends on the family, as every family’s story is different. That is why therapy can help not only the child during the divorce, but if parents get their own therapy during the time of divorce it can help guide them to decisions that they think is best for their family and children, even as a separated family.
2) Therapy: Sometimes children’s behaviors will change during or even after a divorce, and those behaviors can be many different kinds of behavior changes. Therapy offers children a safe place to express their concerns they are having. Depending on the child’s age therapy can be used as a place where children can be assessed regarding their behavior by a therapist and then the therapist can provide parents some insight, tools, and education on how to help their children during or after the divorce. If children are showing negative behaviors due to the divorce, then therapy can be a place where their emotions and behaviors can be modeled in a positive/healthy way with the help of a therapist. Therapy can help children process their emotions about how they feel about their parent’s separating, and therapy is a place where they can gain insight on how to self-regulate if they get upset from time to time. Therapy is not only healthy for children, but when the parents who are getting a divorce inquire about individual therapy for themselves then that is when therapy can help with getting guidance through the process of their separation and can create an outlet of taking care of their mental health during a stressful transition such as divorce.
3) Not Pretending: When parents pretend like everything is fine during a divorce and act like it is not happening for the children’s sake, that can sometimes backfire and creates confusion for children. As stated earlier, children are like sponges and they will consciously and subconsciously soak up and be in tune with how the adults are acting around them. If children notice that their parents are in distress then children can either start asking questions, mimic the behavior that the parent is displaying, and or the child’s behavior can start to change. This tool of not pretending allows parents to be open with their children in an age appropriate way, so that children can learn what is going on. This tool goes hand in hand with being open and honest.
4) Modeling: The tool of modeling is in a sense that even though a highly stressful change is going on in the family home, (the divorce) modeling healthy behaviors and emotions for children is important to be aware of. Of course, during a divorce, the parent will feel different emotions like anger, sadness, confusion, betrayal, etc., but depending on how those emotions are expressed in the home environment in front of children can/may impact them. This is not to say that parents should suppress their feelings, what this means is that parents should be consciously aware of how they are expressing their emotions and hopefully can be expressed in a healthy way that models for children that it is okay to feel different emotions, especially in a stressful situation.
5) Being Civil with Ex-Spouse: With some divorces there are a lot of experiences that happen between the two parents that were once together. Sometimes those experiences lead to very negative feelings about one another, but it should be known that constant fighting or talking bad about the ex-spouse in front of children is not healthy due to many factors. Some factors being the child may feel like they have to pick sides, the child feeling confused and thinking they have to feel negatively about the other parent. If the parents cannot get along with one another and there is fighting and bad talking about the other spouse in front of the children then this also sets negative modeling behavior because then a child may learn that it is acceptable behavior to constantly fight and talk bad about someone they do not like. I know, I know, it may be hard to try to get along with the ex-spouse, but if it is hard it is best to just limit contact between the two parents and focus on the children’s needs of visiting both parents, such as dropping off child.
Now there are many other reasons why these tools help when divorce is happening, but for the sake of this being a quick blog I only put some of the reasons why these tools can help. There are actually so many other tools out there too that work and help children going through a divorce with their family, or who have been through a divorce and adjusting to new family dynamics. If you are more interested in other tools to help children with divorce, I would suggest some researching on the internet! Overall, divorce/separations are not easy, especially for the kiddos, but just knowing there are different tools to help children makes a difference in their lives in order to help them progress with their new family dynamics.
Written By: Clarice Stout, MA