As a Child and Adolescent Therapist, one of the major challenges I help children cope with is parental separation and divorce. Children are almost always distressed at the idea of their parents separating and aren't able to see the advantage to divorce until many years later. It is important for parents and professionals to recognize the child's developmental stage as one reacts to the separation process. For example, younger children are likely to demonstrate aggression and other acting out behaviors, while adolescents show more withdrawal and depression. I call adolescents the "forgotten mourners." Adults often make the mistake of assuming that adolescents function and think as adults; they do not. A parental divorce during an already turbulent life of a teenager can be earth shattering. Regardless of age or developmental level, children and adolescents do survive the divorce process and can actually emerge with new and varied strengths. The following is a list of helpful suggestions to help a child cope more effectively with parents' separation.
Provide predictability. All of us need stability and consistency to function at our emotional best.
Once a definite decision is made regarding an impending separation or divorce, tell your child. The more they feel they know, the less anxious they will be. Be truthful as to why the separation or divorce is happening. Be careful to avoid excessive disclosure. Use your resources. Many of your local schools, churches, and community centers offer support to families coping with divorce. Seek professional help if needed.
If your child or adolescent is having difficulty coping with parental separation or divorce, seek help. Children of divorce can emerge from this painstaking process as emotionally stable beings if they are helped in learning to cope appropriately.
- Tracy Strepek, LCSW, Ext. 351