Going through divorce and separation can be emotionally difficult for a child. During this time period it’s important for the parents to be sensitive of their child’s feelings and do everything they can to not make the process of the divorce and separation a traumatic experience. To help learn what you can do to help your child through divorce and separation, I have interviewed psychotherapist Ari Fox, LCSW.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where I primarily see children and adolescents. Patients come to see me for help with a wide range of problems and I have a special interest in school-related issues, including learning disabilities, bullying, ADHD, self-esteem, and others. I started a website entitled www.copewithschool.com, which gives children and their parents information about school-centered difficulties and child therapy. There is also a sign-up for my newsletter, School Supplies. The newsletter is free and focuses on issues that often affect students. I earned a BA in psychology from Brandeis University, a Masters in Social Work from Hunter College, and a post-graduate certificate in child and adolescent psychotherapy from the William Alanson White Institute. I enjoy working with children and adolescents and strive to help them feel happier and more confident about themselves.”
What are common thoughts and feelings a child experiences when going through parent divorce and separation?
“It is very common for children to blame themselves for their parent’s divorce and separation. A child might scold herself for making a small mistake and then feel guilty when her parents fight, no matter what the argument is about. “If only I can behave better, mommy and daddy will stay together.” This places an impossible load of pressure on the child and if not addressed could lead to depression and anxiety. Children tend to worry more often when their parents are not getting along. Some wonder what life will be like for them if their parents got a divorce. Others have immediate concerns like how they will study for a biology exam with their parents screaming at one another in the next room. Children can feel angry with their parents for disrupting their lives and for being placed in an awkward position between the two parents. There can be feelings of sadness, confusion and shame at the loss of family life, as they know it. Eventually for some children they will move into the acceptance stage of the situation. Some separations are more amicable than others. There can also be feelings of relief and hope that their lives will improve. Different children will have different responses to the conflicts in their families.”
What type of impact does parent divorce and separation have on their overall life?
“Each child will react differently to a parent divorce and separation. Some children regress and act out. Negative behaviors that had stopped may resurface. The divorce and separation can impact children’s social and academic lives. Others are able to cope well and can adjust more quickly. Some family conflicts are so intolerable that the child does better without the daily stress of the fighting once the actual separation occurs. The impact has a lot to do with the child’s ability to cope as well as the parents’ sensitivity to the experience of their child and her needs during and after the separation.”
What can parent(s) do to help their child better cope with parent divorce and separation?
“Parents need to be aware that their children are impacted as much as they are (if not more) by the divorce and separation. They should try their hardest to argue out of range of their children. During any stage of the separation process, parents should not bad-mouth one another to the children. A child or teen that constantly hears negative comments about a parent can internalize the harsh words and self-esteem could decline. I also advise that parents be as open with their children as possible. They should let their children know often that the divorce and separation is about their adult relationship and that they (children) have done nothing to cause this, explaining that it is a very natural reaction for children to blame themselves about separation and divorce. Parents should reassure their children that both parents no matter what happens love them. Both parents will do what it takes to help the child to feel safe and to adjust to the new living arrangement. Many families struggle with negotiating the separation on their own and turn to a professional for help.”
What type of help is available for a child who is going through parent divorce and separation?
“Sometimes families need additional support to help them through a divorce and separation. A therapist is removed enough from the family so as to be able to offer both support and a different perspective. A child therapist can help the child or adolescent to cope with the change in their lives. The therapist can help create a safe place, away from the stress of the separation, where the child can process his feelings by talking or playing. The child’s guilt surrounding the divorce and separation can be explored. Ultimately he will feel more secure and will be better equipped to cope with the divorce and separation at hand. Some therapists will act as a liaison with the child’s school, especially if the child’s functioning declines in school (such as difficulty concentrating or acting out) as a result of the separation Parents can speak with their own therapist and/or collaborate with the child’s therapist to work on making the adjustment more tolerable and productive for everyone in the family. Couples, who have not yet decided if they want to stay together, may seek couples therapy to help them determine what they want to do. In addition to individual and couple work, a therapist may choose to see a family together or in various combinations according to the unique needs of the family. Family court also plays a role in many separations, overseeing visitation, custody, and other issues.”
Thank you Ari for the interview. If you would like to contact Ari Fox or would like more information you can email him at [email protected] or check out his website on www.copewithschool.com.