Current statistics show that divorce rates are between 40 to 60 percent for first-time marriages, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The percentage is even higher for remarriages. Sadly, the majority of divorces happen in families with children under the age of 18.
No matter how amicable a divorce may be (and don’t we wish they all were), children of divorce are hit hard by the emotional upheaval created in its wake. Unfortunately, most splits aren’t all that friendly which can leave battle scars lasting well into adulthood.
Of course, there are many things that parents can do to help mitigate some of the damage, such as developing an effective co-parenting plan and finding ways to manage their behavior around the children.
Perhaps one of the best things a parent can do for their children is enlist the aid of a therapist or divorce counselor who can lend a healthier perspective. Talking to someone who is impartial and has the family’s best interests at heart can help to bring a sense of balance back into children’s lives as they go through this difficult transition.
Children going through the divorce process are going to feel overwhelmed and confused in general. When you initially try to hook them up with a counselor they may be resistant in the beginning, especially if they are anxious about the therapeutic process.
However, it’s important to help children clarify divorce-related misconceptions, develop effective coping skills, and learn how to appropriately express their feelings. Counseling will show them how to remove themselves from parental conflict, as well as reduce feelings of guilt while increasing a more positive self-image.
In a therapy session, different techniques and activities are used that are designed to encourage children to feel more comfortable and open up about their feelings. Depending on their age, some of the activities may involve playing a board or card game, drawing a picture, writing poetry, sculpturing with clay, or telling a fictional story.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to seek counseling, please consider doing so if you notice any of these symptoms in your child:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Change in appetite
- Withdrawal or social isolation
- Decline in school and/or sports performance
- Easily annoyed or irritated
- Intense anger or rage
- Risky behaviors with self or others
- Obsessive or overly anxious about the divorce
- Insecurity or low self-esteem
- Overwhelming sadness and lots of tears
- Preoccupation with death
- Drinking or drug use
Family therapy is available for children and parents through a number of resources, including private divorce counselor, public mental health centers, college and university family therapy centers, and religious organizations. Family therapists can help children through the emotional upheaval caused by divorce and separation so they won’t feel as vulnerable and uncertain as they go through the changes taking place. For more information, contact Dr. Susan K. Daniel, who is a member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida.