Making Sure the Kids Are Alright—Could your child benefit from therapy during your divorce?

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As parents, we want to be there for our children and give them everything they need. We like to guide and comfort them, shepherd them through rough times and growing pains.

Divorce is a painful and stressful time for all involved. Everyone experiences it and copes differently.

For adults— (spouses, parents)—the end of a marriage brings an onslaught of overwhelming logistics and strong emotions. You may feel sorrow, loss, grief, fury, frustration, anxiety, disbelief, and regret; you may feel adrift and disoriented.

Children, likewise, experience an enormous range of emotions and reactions when parents split. In addition to sadness, anger, confusion, and worry, they may feel guilt or shame or wonder if they did something wrong. The upheaval and significant life changes that come with parents separating can make a child feel uncertain, unsettled, insecure, and anxious. It’s not uncommon for a child to struggle during an adjustment period. Intense parental conflict, in particular, can seriously negatively impact a child’s well-being.

There are many things you, as a parent, can do to affirm and support your child and help smooth the transition:

  • Do your best to create and maintain a peaceful, upbeat co-parenting arrangement.
  • Communicate. Be open, honest, and age-appropriate in talking about what is happening.
  • Listen. Respect and validate your child’s emotions. Let them know you understand and that expressing their feelings is ok.
  • Reassure your Child. Tell them how much you love them and that nothing can change that.
  • Maintain familiar routines and structure as much as possible.
  • Establish rules, boundaries, and clear expectations; stick to them.
  • Stay optimistic about your child’s time with the other parent and encourage the relationship.
  • Never badmouth your ex to your child.
  • Don’t make your child a messenger or go-between.
  • Let teachers, coaches, etc. know what is happening so they can be alert to signs of trouble in school

These strategies can go a long way in supporting a healthy adjustment.

But the truth is, sometimes your child needs more help—or a different type of help—than you can. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support! A qualified therapist or counselor can provide a safe space for your child to process what they’re going through and help them learn healthy coping strategies.

Watch for these signs that your child would benefit from therapy in dealing with divorce:

Out-of-character behavior. If your ordinarily outgoing child is withdrawing from friends and family, or your model student is acting out in class, if your typically even-tempered kid is having angry outbursts, if they’re engaging in defiant, risky, or destructive behavior, if they’re exhibiting severe mood swings, usual fears, signs of significant regression such as bedwetting—these can be strong indicators they need professional care.

Emotions disrupt daily functioning. If your child is having trouble doing the basics–focusing at school, completing assignments, grades are dropping; if they’ve stopped taking care of personal hygiene; if they’re very forgetful and distracted—it’s likely time to seek help.

There are changes in eating or sleep habits. If your child is showing significant changes in appetite or difficulty sleeping, having frequent nightmares, or having trouble napping, they may require psychological support.

Lack of interest in things they usually enjoy. If your child no longer wants to be social, hang out with friends, or engage in favorite activities (sports, games, hobbies, pursuits), if they aren’t getting joy from things that generally make them happy, it may be time to seek counseling.

Unexplained medical issues. If your child frequently complains of headaches or tummy aches and there’s no medical explanation, these may be physiological signs of emotional distress.

Depending on your child’s age and unique needs, there are many options for professional support—from family therapy, group therapy (where they can interact with peers experiencing similar challenges), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT – which helps them modify negative thinking patterns), or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT – focused on regulating emotions and learning coping strategies), to play, art, and narrative therapies.

If you’re concerned that your child is struggling to cope with your divorce, speak with your pediatrician.

The skilled and compassionate family attorneys at SFLG understand how challenging the divorce process is for parents and children. We are dedicated to making your dissolution process as smooth and streamlined as possible so you can focus on your family and move on with your life.

By Debra Schoenberg


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Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C., recognizes that family law matters involve complex, sensitive issues that can have a lasting impact on you, your family, your finances and your future.

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