Separation and divorce are very difficult times for families. In fact, other than death, researchers have ranked it one of the most stressful things that people go through.
Many times, during or after divorce, people can be hurt, angry, or distrustful of their ex-spouse. Often they have to deal with the loss of income, change in residence, and even loss of friends. They may feel a sense of guilt or shame regarding their marriage, and their inability to make it work. They may have to find a way to handle their ex-partner treating them disrespectfully. They may have to find a way to treat their ex-spouse respectfully too. These concerns can be further amplified when you have children.
Parents often feel worse when they see their children suffer through their divorce. They may think things like, “I can’t believe my ex is putting the kids through this!” They may feel like they have no control or decision-making power regarding the children. They may feel like they are losing their connection with their children. They may feel like they are the receptacle for their children’s anger about the situation. It’s all very hard.
Oftentimes, children have a hard time managing the effects of divorce as well
They can be sad, angry, or upset. Sometimes, they are quiet, withdrawn, and less energetic. Sometimes, they seem to be the same. Sometimes, there are academic declines, or kids don’t participate in their activities in the same way. All kids process divorce differently.
Most parents want the best for their children. When they see their children hurting from the effects of divorce, they may consider therapy or counseling as a way to help them cope. However, if you are going through a separation or divorce, there are some things to think about before initiating therapy for your children.
Do both parents agree to your child’s participation in therapy from the beginning?
If both parents have shared legal custody, both parents have the right to agree or disagree to the child’s participation in therapy. It is much easier to have everyone in agreement from the beginning.
If a parent disagrees about having a child in therapy, it is helpful to meet with the therapist right away and express the concerns
The therapist may be able to explain the process in a way that feels comfortable for both parents. But, if both parents aren’t comfortable, and one parent wants to stop the child’s therapy, let the therapist know right away. That way, your child will not be in the middle. Your child won’t have to manage the difficult feelings about ending a relationship with the therapist.
It is usually best that both parents waive the right to treatment records for the sake of your child’s privacy and safety
When parents go through a divorce, it is often very important for a child to have someone they can trust to talk to. By keeping your child’s records private, your therapist can give your child a safe place to process her reactions to the divorce. Your therapist may be able to give you general summaries upon request.
If a parent is concerned about what the other parent is saying about him or her, it is best to just talk to the therapist about it rather than request the records
This method shows that you also trust the therapist, and that you are willing to work with her to help your child. It also shows respect for your child.
It is important to treat your child with respect and courtesy
This means allowing her privacy about her sessions. Don’t barrage her with questions afterwards. Let her come to you with comments or content. Don’t insist that you attend her session with her unless she or the therapist invites you to attend. (It is always ok to ask the therapist if there is a time that you could ask questions if you feel that you need to. However, you may have to accept that it may not be that session or that immediate time). These sessions belong to your child.
It is important to treat your child’s therapist with respect and courtesy
If you are difficult, or intrusive, it can impact the type of care that your child receives. If you argue about payment arrangements, scheduling, or fairness, it can make it difficult for your child’s therapist to do her job well. Many times, these are issues that you will need to coordinate with your child’s other parent outside of session. When you model courtesy for your children, you are teaching them valuable life lessons.
It is ok to ask the therapist if there are things that you can do to help or support your child. It is also ok to express concerns about what is going on with your child, as long as it is done respectfully. You could calmly say something like, “I have a different perspective. Have you considered (insert idea here)? Would it be ok if we (input suggestion here)?”
Never yell at or criticize your ex-spouse in your child’s session, even if it is done with humor or sarcasm. Similarly, do not take out your negative feelings on your child’s therapist or office staff. These are important people in your child’s life. Most therapists have standards for decorum in their office setting, and may not continue their work with your child are verbally abusive to anyone there.
Abide by the office policies arranged by your child’s therapist
Many times, therapists ask the parent who brings the child to pay the charges incurred on that day. Ask what the scheduling and billing policies are for parents who are divorced. If you have custody of your child when she has an appointment with her therapist, make sure she gets there.
Treat your ex with courtesy if you attend one of your child’s sessions or appointments together
You will be attending things together for the rest of your lives for the sake of your child. If you are rude or argumentative, it makes it more difficult for your child to obtain the help and support that she needs. Also, remember that your child loves you both. No matter how upset you are with your ex, this is still your child’s parent. It can be scary and embarrassing for a child to see her parents argue outside of the home or in the office of a therapist or medical professional. It is ok to bring up concerns or different perspectives, as long as it is done CALMLY and RESPECTFULLY.
Encourage your child
Let her know that it is ok to talk about her feelings with a therapist, and that it often helps people feel better. Ask your child if there are ways that you can help or support her in this process.
Author: Cindy Anderson
Dr. Anderson is a Board Certified Clinical Child Psychologist. She also owns Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. Dr. Anderson has achieved a high degree of specialization in working with children and families. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and completed APA Accredited internship and postdoctoral training in Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. She prides herself as a life-long student and tries to learn something new every day.
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