How to help children through the Divorce process
A Child’s Burdens When Parents Divorce
The decision to become divorced should be made by the parents with the needs of the children paramount when making such a decision. Once parents begin to move forward in the divorce process, it is important that they jointly determine how to best communicate with the children about the divorce. Depending upon the age of the children, there are a number of ways to proceed, it is best for parents starting on the journey to divorce, to speak with a mental health professional with a specialty in children about how to best tell the children. Preferably if the children are adolescents, the mental health professional should specialize in adolescent psychology and likewise if the children are younger, then the professional should have experience with younger children.
Typically, children’s first concern is how the divorce will affect them. They will want to know where they’re going to live, where they will go to school, how often they will see each parent, and whether the children will be kept together. The problems are compounded if the family is includes step children already in a blended family in which event these special problems need to be addressed separately.
Once the children’s concerns are addressed, a child needs an opportunity to grieve. Since the parents will be experiencing their own grief and are not equipped to help the children with theirs. Divorce has become so prevalent that many school systems have support groups for divorcing families. Parents can avail themselves of these resources once the parents meet with the schools to determine what is available. It is important also that the school be aware of the impending divorce so that the teachers can be alert to the needs of the children. Therefore it is important that not only should the guidance counselor be informed of what is going on, but the teachers as well.
If the school does not have adequate resources to meet the needs of the children, then a mental health professional for the children should be engaged by the parents. Often the cost of such medical treatment is covered by medical insurance.
The communications between the children and their mental health professional are confidential and generally not admissible in court except in certain circumstances. Further the parents need to give the children’s space so that they may confide in the trained professional to maximize the experience. It is important for the parents not to badger the children about what they are saying to their therapist. It is inappropriate for the parents to require or even request that the therapists share the children’s confidential communications with the parents. In fact, the therapist is not allowed share such confidential communications with the parents.
It takes time for children to become accustomed to the regrouping of one family into two families. It is imperative therefore that neither parent introduce significant others into the lives of the children prematurely. It is even more important that neither parent introduce the children to friends with whom they are having casual relationships.
Because the parents as well as the children are grieving, the parents need to be very careful not to confide with the children about their own issues related to the divorce. Such divorce related issues include a parent’s sadness as a result of the divorce, the details of a parent social life, the legal process related to the divorce, their financial issues and a parent’s feelings of isolation and despair resulting from the divorce. Such issues need to be addressed by appropriate professionals and should not be shared with children as children have enough trouble coping with their losses as a result of the divorce without having to cope with their parent’s own losses as a result of the divorce. When parents seek solace from the children, the children become parentified resulting in a reversal of roles with the children becoming parents and the parents becoming children.
Children only have one childhood and that childhood should not be taken away from a child because of a decision a parent is making especially if that decision is a divorce.