Helping children “move through” divorce can be both difficult and emotionally exhausting at the very least. For young children as well as teens one of the most difficult obstacles is simply “complete loss of control.” Loss of control in regards to where they live, who they spend time with, who they feel safe with, and above all their future. In children and teens this can look like “defiance, opposition, anger, sadness, ambivalence, attention deficit, and resentment.” Loss of control in anyone’s life creates fear. One example of reinstating a sense of control in your child or teen’s life can be simply by creating choices (that you can live with). Keep it simple: What to have for dinner. What activity to do on a certain day. What to wear. Letting them choose to go to bed at 8pm or 8:15pm. Choices offer an opportunity to increase a sense of control and most importantly the child feels “heard.”
Children and teens will often “move through” the stages of grief and loss as documented by Kubler Ross. The five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and lastly, Acceptance. Children and teens are typically narcissistic. This means that they often believe that the marriage ending; is actually their fault. They believe that they caused it and therefore carry a great sense of responsibility and guilt. It is up to both parents to take on the responsibility for the end of the marriage (without blaming the spouse). This can help take some of the “weight off the child’s shoulders.”
Research has shown that children and teens want to “have a say” in the divorce. This does not mean testifying in open court. A child can “have a say” in numerous ways without the trauma of testifying. They can be interviewed by a therapist, forensic interviewer, minor’s counsel or child custody evaluator. Most significantly children and teens want to be heard. They want their parents to ask them what they want without being pressured by either parent to “choose one parent over the other.” They need their parents to be the adults and to allow them to be the children.
I would implore parents to go through mediation before ever trying to go to Court. Once a case is before a judge….you lose control. You will be told who will be living where, who will be paying support, what days you can see your children and so on. None of us like being told what to do. Mediation is viable, less costly and substantially less traumatic then going through a trial…..not just any trial, the trial of your life.
A great resource/book: “Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way” by M. Neuman.
Nicol Stolar-Peterson, LCSW