Feelings experienced by children during the process of separation and after divorce.
- Vulnerable and powerless because they have no influence over the parent’s decision.
- Anxiety increase because they do not know what will fully happen and it intensifies when there is no information given by parents.
- Worry as they wonder if the available parent will manage and also as many more questions fill their minds.
- Guilt – they imagine they are the reason their parents are separating/divorced.
- Uncertainty relating to who will care for them and what will happen to them.
- Rejection-they imagine that if the parent cared they would not have left.
- Insufficiency-the children feel they are not good enough and thats why their parents separated.
- Fear of losing the departing parent and mostly manifested in tantrums when the departing parent does not keep appointments.
- Anger is common because the child feels betrayed by the very people they have trusted to protect and care for them.
- Neglected-the children feel that no one is concerned about their needs.
Changes children deal with during separation/divorce
- Loss of one parent
- Loss of friends/school/environment in case of relocation
- Failed visitation from the non-custody parent
- Bitter battles between parents when parents do not heal emotionally.
- Uninvolved parents especially when the custody parent has to work longer than they did before.
Possible behaviors among children in post separation setup.
Withdrawal, temper tantrums, clinginess, lower tolerance for frustration, refusing to complete tasks, anger outbursts, noncompliance, aggressiveness, destructiveness’, rebellion, drug and substance abuse, risky sexual behavour, turning too good and making too many sacrifices to avoid the present parent from suffering, being in their best behavior telling themselves that if they behave so well,the parent will come back home. There is also increased physical injuries, being unruly, declined academic performance, lost appetite, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, crying, challenges relating with other, picking fights with peers, clinginess, drop in self-confidence and increased dependency.
What necessities professional child counseling in post separation setups.
Child counseling helps children to deal with the heavy emotions experienced in the process of separation. It helps them express themselves in a safe non judgment.
Children do not express their emotions like adults do, and because the children’s expressions are not easily understood, they are not allowed or given proper avenues to express emotions in healthy ways. This leaves them to internalize these same harmful emotions that eventually leave children traumatized.
Sometimes, the changes parents are looking out for are not the ones that the children manifest and so the parent makes assumption that the child is okay, only for the child to manifest maladjusted behavior in adolescence.
They may overburden themselves with helping the available parent cope with overload of responsibilities or the parent may overburden the child with adult responsibilities-expecting them to cover for what the other parent was doing.
The parent is dealing with heavy emotions and major changes which are emotionally draining. They may have no energy or capacity to connect emotionally with their children who at this point are in need of support and stability. Child counseling helps the children to express emotions, heal, find stability and skills to cope.
Sometimes, unknowingly parents depend on the children for emotional survival where parents confine in their children for their emotional support. The available parent may confide in sharing their conflicts with their children. This leaves the children overwhelm because a child has the capacity only to handle child issues and not adult matters.
In one family, the daughter would embrace the mother and the mother would cry themselves to sleep, only then would the daughter go to sleep. These children who are depended on for emotional support learn to take the role of either a parent to their parent or emotional spouse to the parent. This one grows up to be a codependent adult who learns to fix others while forgetting themselves.
When do parents seek post separation counseling?
When the children in their normal and abnormal behavior trigger a parent to anger and they use extreme methods of discipline. A huge number of parents with custody report that they embraced extreme methods of discipline such as spanking more, shouting, silent treatment would easily get overwhelm and drained by the child’s new behavior.
When a parent distances themselves emotionally from their children and feels overwhelm by them when or when a parent over engages the child with their own emotions such that the child becomes the one who has to keep checking if mommy or daddy are fine.
When a parent is so bitter with the other that co-parenting becomes impossible.
By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera