If you're going through a divorce or about to begin the process and have children, one of your top concerns will likely be the impact it will have on the kids. You may be worried about what signs to watch for and what behaviors signal that your child is experiencing problems that may require professional help.
The following is a discussion regarding therapy for children and when it might be appropriate.
The first thing to understand is that your child, just like you, experiences a wide range of emotions. They will have to grapple with sadness, anxiety, confusion, fear, guilt and anger. Even if the marriage was troubled and there was lots of fighting, many children still mourn the loss of their parents' marriage.
The following are some reactions that you can expect from your child depending on their age and level of development. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it contains a sample of behaviors that can serve as guidelines and alert you when there may be trouble.
- Children in preschool do not understand the concept of divorce yet and may mistakenly believe they are responsible for the situation. They may become clingy, not wanting to be apart from either parent, fearing you will not return. Children this age need reassurance that you will come back. You can look for age-appropriate books that deal with divorce and help them express their feelings and worries.
- Elementary school children will most likely feel torn between parents, fearing they have to take sides or that they can somehow engineer a reunion. Children are old enough to experience a range of emotions including loss, anger, guilt and sadness. Parents should allow the kids to express their feelings, but be careful not to offer false hopes. Routines and schedules are important to create a sense of stability.
- In middle school, children often look to their friends for support. They worry how the split will affect their life and may become protective over one parent. It's at this age that acting out behaviors can occur which is why it's so important that children express their feelings openly. Channel your child's energy into outlets such as sports or the arts.
- Older children of high school age will likely be concerned about money and be worried about how the divorce will make them look to outsiders. While children of this age can act much beyond their years, it's important that parents remain parents, giving permission to the children to love both parents and working hard not to put the kids in the middle of the dispute.
In the end, you know your child. Use your own intuition to recognize if there is a problem and try not to overreact. Should you decide to send your child for therapy, use the resources in your community for help, including: social service agencies, your child's guidance counselor, and pediatricians.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of a divorce, child custody, parenting plan dispute, or other child-related issue, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar either through either email or telephone 978-844-4095 to guide you through the difficult process.