When Should a Children’s Therapist Be Contacted During Divorce?

During a divorce, most parents are concerned about the effects of the divorce on their children and what they can do to protect them during the dissolution. It’s generally not something they are prepared to do; most people enter marriage with the expectation that the relationship will last forever. Statistically, the odds are against that happening.

How Divorce Affects Children

Concerned parents may consider a children’s therapist to help the kids through the most difficult transitions during the divorce. The logistics and stress of a divorce take a toll on parents and children alike and having a non-partial ear can help ease children’s anxiety. When that person can also offer help and techniques to lessen the stress of the situation, it can make the process much easier.

Divorce is a traumatic event in the life of a child. Although children are resilient, divorce is an upheaval of their entire world. It’s healthy for children to attach deeply to both parents, their home, and their family unit. When faced with divorce, everything the child trusts and knows to be true turns upside down. No matter what the children exhibit on the outside, most children will cycle through many emotions, including:

  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Hurt
  • Depression
  • Vulnerability
  • Anger
  • Insecurity

Children are intuitive creatures and recognize when parents are struggling. Not knowing how to process their emotions and not having access to resources, the child may withdraw or act out.

What to Watch For

Signs that a child is struggling can sometimes be subtle. Children don’t necessarily have the capacity to express what they are feeling in a constructive way. Many times, the child doesn’t know what’s causing the bad feelings. Warning signs that a child needs help may look like:

  • Children who are angry or afraid may seek adult attention by behaving in a defiant manner. This could look like aggression, anger, or simply being uncooperative.
  • Being “too perfect.” Some children believe they are at fault for the parents’ divorce, so they will try to behave perfectly. When children become unnerved or too obsessed with an unattainable ideal, it may suggest they need a therapist.
  • Isolation or withdrawal. Depressed children might withdraw from friends and isolate themselves. In extreme cases, they could hurt themselves.
  • Academic decline. When a child is unhappy or upset, it’s harder to concentrate in school. Reports of misbehavior or a drop in grades are not uncommon.
  • Substance abuse. Older children may self-medicate with recreational drug use or alcohol.

Getting Your Children Help

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) are licensed mental health professionals. Many MFTs specialize in working with children. Finding a therapist whom children feel comfortable talking to can be of great help to them as they come to terms with their parents’ divorce. Children who are too young for talk therapy will benefit from special techniques that MFTs know, such as sand play.

No matter how much therapy children have, the most important thing parents can do for their children is to cooperate as co-parents. It’s reassuring for children to see their parents getting along. It helps them trust that things will be okay. Parents can help their children through the divorce process by following a few simple rules:

  • Don’t judge the child’s feelings. Feelings aren’t wrong. The child will go through a range of emotion. Parents need to create a safe space where the child can express how he or she is feeling without fear of angering or hurting the parent.
  • Maintain a stable environment. Make as few changes as possible. Let the divorce be the only change. Keep them in the same school and house so there is consistency in the other areas of life.
  • Don’t badmouth the other parent. Children love both parents and should have the freedom to do that without feeling guilty. Badmouthing the other parent sends the message that the child shouldn’t do that.

No divorce is easy or stress-free, and, even if your children seem to be at peace with your situation, a therapist can ensure the process is as peaceful as possible.