Divorce is a shattering experience for the whole family
The impacts on children and teens is different in many ways from their parents. These include; financial issues that result in a change in where they live or attend school, being in a state of shock or bubble because the child didn’t know this was going to happen, loss of contact with one of the parents, witnessing the emotional state the parents’ are each experiencing and feeling they need to support their parent emotionally, having a lot of fear and anxiety about what will their life be like, concern over what friends will think, anger at the parent they believe is “responsible” for the breakup, and a deep longing for the family they wish they had. Children experience loss on so many fundamental levels and depending on the child’s age may not have emotional language to articulate what they are experiencing. Play therapy can be an effective tool for reaching children on their level.
Many times, parents are not fully aware of the emotional and psychological toll the divorce is taking on their children. Naturally, parents are doing the best they can to adjust to their new normal. They are flooded with mixed emotions and overwhelmed with making a lot of important decisions. Children often protect their parents from what they are feeling or don’t ask questions for fear of burdening their parents further or are worried about making the parent angry or sad. A teen may begin to feel resentful for being responsible in caring for younger siblings or becoming “the man in the house.” Their need for independence and autonomy may be stifled out of a sense of duty in supporting their parents. But these added duties can increase a teen's distress. I caution and educate parents that just because your child “looks fine” and isn’t showing any outer signs of distress doesn’t necessarily mean the child/teen “IS fine” or coping in a healthy way. Everyone in the family may be putting on a strong face as a means of minimizing their sad, confused feelings. Therapy can help the child or teen identify what they are feeling and help them feel less worried and alone.
As with most relationships, communication is key. I will teach parents how to ask open-ended, curious questions to their child about how their children is coping with the separation or divorce. I will listen to the parents worries and the practical issues they are facing. Through parent consultation sessions, I can assist in problem solving so that adult burdens are kept between adults not shouldered by children or teens. The whole family needs a safe place to express their individual reactions to the changes taking place. These reactions can range from anger, disappointment, sadness, numbness, and relief. I sincerely believe that when a parent can remain calm and reassuring, whatever the issue at hand, children feel greater security and hope for the future.