Separation and divorce are painful and distressing experiences for everyone in the family and can have a significant impact on both parents and children. Children and adolescents can have various emotional responses to their parents separating including anger, confusion, anxiety, sadness, relief, surprise or a combination of any of these. Children and adolescents may also worry that they are responsible for the break-down of their parents’ relationship and they may be concerned about further upsetting or burdening their parent(s). Children may also feel insecure and may fantasise about their parents getting back together. Some children who have trouble adjusting to their parent’s separation/divorce may become withdrawn, avoid talking about the separation or the absent parent, become overly dependent (particularly younger children) or more aggressive, or ‘regress’ in their behaviour.
It is important to be aware that separation often results in a number of changes for your child or adolescent including changes to lifestyle, living arrangements and the celebration of special occasions. Most parents feel uncertain about how to support their child or adolescent through a separation or divorce and this is made even more difficult by having to respond to and manage your own feelings of sadness and anger at the same time. It is important that you look after yourself so that you can be emotionally available to support your child(ren).
In your role as a parent you can support your child through the process of separation by remaining sensitive to your child’s needs and as a result you can make this difficult process less painful and disruptive for your child. Adjustment to divorce can take a long time for young people, up to 2 years or longer, but with your assistance your child can learn to manage this situation effectively and develop skills which will help them to respond to other stressful and upsetting situations in the future.
Having additional support from a neutral third party such as a therapist can assist parents and children through the process of adjusting to separation and divorce.
How can therapy help adjustment to separation?
Therapy can assist parents to:
- Work out how to discuss the separation/divorce with your child
- Understand how children of different ages might respond differently and how to support their needs based on their stage of development.
- Think through questions children are likely to ask and how to respond to them in a helpful way
- Consider how your own emotional responses to the separation might impact on your parenting and therefore on the child
- Learning to talk with your child about any inappropriate behaviours shown by the other parent, and validate their feelings about these behaviours
- Develop a support system and prioritise self-care
- Come to an agreement about parenting matters and reduce the impact of conflict on your child
- Communicate with your child effectively so that they do not feel the need to avoid speaking to you about their feelings
Therapy can assist children and teenagers to:
- Cope with worries and change that are inevitably associated with separation
- Understand that the separation of the family is not their fault
- Express their feelings without concern for hurting either parent’s feeling
- Understand and manage their feelings using helpful, adaptive coping strategies
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for children having difficulties adjusting to separation or divorce, or to book an appointment with one of our child clinical psychologists who provides treatment for these difficulties, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.