Divorce is life-changing – for you, your ex, and most of all, your children. Even an amicable divorce will create a “new normal” for the kids. Whether for better or for worse, it will be an adjustment.
As a parent, it is natural for you to be concerned about how well your children are adjusting to all the changes in their lives. Are they angry? Hurt? Will they get used to parents who live in two different homes? How will your divorce affect their future romantic choices?
Some parents wonder whether their divorce necessitates a therapist for the children. It’s an excellent question, and the answer depends on individual circumstances.
The children will react emotionally to having their lives upended. Your seven-year-old may show signs of regression – crying, doing poorly in school, etc. Your teenager might display anger at you and the world around him or her. Should you be concerned?
If your children feel free to show their grief, they are showing signs of being able to deal. Emotional swings are normal at this time. One moment, they may crave a hug while the next, they shout, “I hate you, and it’s all your fault!”
The fact that they feel free to express themselves honestly indicates that they feel safe around you instead of being overly worried about you. Children should not have to be the adults in a divorce situation. Instead, they see you as being able to take care of them and yourself at the same time. That is a good sign and an indication that therapy is not a dire need. Just make sure to remain open to a discussion at all times. Even if they don’t show it, they need you now more than ever.
Parents may disagree on the need for therapy for their children. One reason is that they may act differently around mom than they do around dad. There are a number of reasons for that, and again, it is best to allow them to express their feelings – within reasonable limits.
Some children will adjust to the divorce quite easily, especially if the parents are supportive. Others don’t show signs of being back on track quickly. Their wounds appear deep. If a parent has any doubt, he or she should consider consulting with a therapist. Better safe than sorry. A few brief sessions may help the child adjust, and the therapist may also shed some light on what your child is going through emotionally.
Does Your Child Need Therapy?
Here are some signs to watch for to determine if therapy for your child is a good idea.
- Does your child’s negative behavior continue or worsen instead of improving?
- Is your child no longer functioning as well as before?
- Does your child’s behavior interfere with your attempts to create a normal household? i.e., is he or she consistently throwing tantrums, refusing meals, not doing chores, etc.?
- Are you angry at your child?
- Have friends or family members commented on your child’s negative behavior?
- Has your child suggested seeing a therapist? This does happen occasionally. Do not ignore the request.
Behavioral Signs That Your Child Could Benefit From Therapy
- Your child has trouble sleeping or suffers from nightmares.
- He or she is not adjusting to living in two separate households and may act up during visitation times.
- Your child is constantly depressed and not showing any signs of improvement.
- Your child has unexplained physical aches, such as headaches or stomach problems.
- He or she no longer enjoys the company of his or her friends and is having difficulty getting along with other children in general. Your child may even become aggressive and act out risky behavior, such as playing with matches. The child may begin to lie or steal.
- His or her school performance is suffering.
- Your child can’t concentrate or focus well.
- He or she has a dramatic change in appearance. This is especially relevant to teenagers.
- He or she is becoming accident prone, fearful, phobic, and suffering from general anxiety.
- There is a loss of self-confidence.
- Your child has become indifferent to his or her usual hobbies or interests.
- He or she spends a lot of time behind locked doors.
- He or she is constantly arguing with you and talking back.
- Your child expresses the idea that he or she no longer wants to live. In this event, it is critical to consult with a therapist immediately.
Some negative behavior is to be expected. With your and your ex’s support, your children will likely recover. It is the lack of recovery that should be a concern. When the negative behavior continues without signs of diminishing, that is the time to consult with a therapist.
Emotional problems may not be easy for parents to notice. It’s not like a scraped knee, that is physically visible. The pain is internal and invisible. That is why parents undergoing a divorce should be extra vigilant about their children’s behavior. They should not let personal animosity and arguments prevent them from communicating with each other about the children’s conduct.
If you have any doubt about your child’s emotional reaction to the divorce, play it safe and schedule an appointment with a trained counselor. Ask divorced friends or your divorce attorney for a referral. Keep in mind that the younger the child, the more critical your participation in therapy becomes.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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