New Baby in the Family

The arrival of a new baby can be threatening to an older sibling. After being the sole apple of parents’ eyes, a new “creature” suddenly taking all the attention can trigger jealousy, anger and sadness. Younger children may fear that parents will no longer love them once the new baby settles in. They may also develop resentment over having to give up certain things, like sole use of a a bedroom or a particular game or activity.

What can parents do to help their young children adjust to the arrival of a new baby? Consider the following tips:

Prepare Your Children
The best way to buffer a child’s anxiety is to not blindside them with the changes that are coming. In the last trimester of pregnancy, inform your children what to expect. Show them pictures and videos of infant development – your library and the internet are great resources! Emphasize that babies are helpless, and therefore will need a lot of mommy and daddy’s care (just as they did at that stage): they need to be fed, held, changed, burped, dressed, bathed and all the rest. Let them know that it won’t always be that way because babies turn into toddlers and kids who can feed themselves, dress themselves and use the toilet.

Give Your Children Responsibilities
Kids may feel less left out, if they know they have a role to play in the new family structure. New responsibilities can make children feel needed – indispensable and appreciated –  unlike the baby who just cries and cries! Kids can assist in many ways; during feeding, bathing and dressing the baby. Just remember to thank and compliment them for a job well done! Also, if these “helpers” are little guys themselves, make sure to allow them to continue to be little in their own right. A two year old, for instance, is not a big girl! She is “Mommy’s best little helper.” When a toddler or pre-schooler is allowed to enjoy the benefits of littleness even though a baby has entered the family, the young child suffers much less. She is not “de-throned” or promoted beyond her stage of life. She continues to be loved and coddled as the little person she truly is, even though there is now an even littler person in the house as well.

Highlight the Positive
It’s fine to talk about the benefits of siblings that will eventually come. Remember – it takes a really long time (especially from a child’s perspective) before a sibling can become a fun playmate. However, it is certainly something to look forward to. “Just think – one day you and little Joe will be able to play ball together! Won’t that be fun?”

Explain Why Rules can be Bent for the Baby
One of the common causes of resentment against a new baby is perceived preferential treatment. A 7 month old baby who accidentally breaks his or her older sibling’s toy is not likely to be reprimanded; after all, what does the baby know? Instead, the older sibling may even get the brunt of the blame, for handing the toy to the baby to begin with! It’s important then for parents to explain to their older children that babies are not accountable for what they do, and it’s up to bigger people to make sure that they do not get in harm’s way.

Spend  Quality Time with Your Older Children While You Hold the Baby
Jealousy can be minimized if parents ensure that they don’t neglect their older children. It’s understandable that parents are overwhelmed and exhausted after bringing a new baby into the family. However, the other child or children still need so much parental attention. Put the baby on your lap and invite the others around for storytime. Or, put the baby in the stroller and take the others to the park. Or, wear the baby in a carrier and take the others to the mall. Babies just need to be held, and older children just need to be interacted with – so it can all happen at the same time. There is no need to leave the baby at home while you take the others out. In fact, this can increase insecurity in the other children as they see for themselves that you are willing to abandon your infant. Little kids are more than happy to have the baby come along and be involved in all their activities. They love the feeling of being one big happy family.

New Mothers Need Extra Rest
Sometimes this temporary absence leaves toddlers and pre-schoolers feeling abandoned. One way around this is to invite little ones to lie down for nap time in Mom’s room (if they’re the cooperative types) or to make sure they are with a favorite babysitter or engaged in a special activity while Mom naps. This may be the time to invest in a new toy, craft kit, computer game or video.

Remember to “Gush” Over the Toddlers as Well as the Baby
One way to do this is to talk to the baby “through” the toddler. “Look Tara! Do you see that cute face baby Jon just made? Isn’t he funny?” This is preferrable to ignoring Tara while talking directly to the baby. In the latter scenario, Tara is likely to feel ignored or less important or less adored; her “solution” might be to try to get your attention inappropriately.

Cut Them Some Slack When They Act Out
When there is a new baby in the household, kids may act-out to demand your attention. They may regress behaviorally, and act as if they are infants themselves. They may misbehave at home or school. Understand that all these mini-rebellions are just means of expressing their upset feelings (confusion, fear, sadness and anger); be extra patient and ignore the bad stuff as much as you can for a couple of months. Once the baby has become “old news,” you can return to normal standards of discipline.

Dealing with Change

The saying “there is nothing more constant than change”  truly fits the experience of family life.

Indeed, no family remains the same through the years. Children grow up and become teenagers, and then adults. Parents move through young adulthood to become middle aged and eventually to become members of the seniors population. The number of children in the family grows and contracts, as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages occur. Priorities of each family member will change, as well as the relationships between people. Even events outside the family, such as an economic recessions or job loss, can significantly impact everyone in the household. The immediate community will also influence attitudes and outlooks. And significant life events, such as illnesses and trauma, can change the course of family living.

The following are just four of the many dramatic transitions families go through, alongside some tips on how to navigate them:

The Birth of a New Baby
The birth of a child is one the first major transitions in a couple’s life. It requires such a major shift in priorities that it’s not unusual for new parents to experience intense stress. But the key to starting a family is adequate discernment and preparation. If a couple invests a little time in planning their envisioned family, then they need not be blindsided by the many changes that come with their first pregnancy. Reading books, taking classes or joining online forums focusing on the challenges of baby’s first year can really help new parents know what to expect and how to deal with it. Why wait until crisis hits? Knowledge is power!

Expanding the Family
Is the birth of a second, third or fourth child a major family transition? You bet! Expanding a family requires a lot from parents. Parents don’t just need more hands to deal with more tots; they also need a more stable source of income to keep up with their expanding family’s many needs. Flexibility is also required in attending to each child’s individual needs — after all, each member of the family has a unique personality and is going through a unique developmental stage. There is no one size fits all in parenting multiple children, and unless parents are up for the challenge, they will experience extra stress. Now may be the time to take a more serious look at parenting courses and resources. Parents need more options in order to be able to meet the differing needs of each child. If it’s financially feasible, this may be the time to hire a little more help – someone who can assist with children or household tasks. Parents may have to do more tasks than they did before; for instance, a father who was not very involved in childcare when there was only one child in the family, may have to take on many extra parenting tasks now that there are more kids to look after. Or, a mother who was able to manage her full time job while raising two children may now find that she can’t continue when her third child is born; she may opt for part-time work or even full-time mothering. Of course, changes such as this may also necessitate other lifestyle changes such as cutting down expenses.

Kids Turning into Adults
One of the more sensitive family transitions is the change of children from young kids into full grown adults. Many changes happen, of course, during the transition from child to teenager. Parents have had to offer greater levels of autonomy and independence with each advancing birthday. The ultimate independence comes, however, when a child is ready to leave home. This is often a very difficult transition for parents. While the child is eager to move out into the world, the parent feels mixed emotion: pleasure at seeing the positive outcome of an undertaking that occupied two decades (raising the child) and sadness and grief over losing the companionship that a child brings. It can be hard to let go. Parents have to learn how to treat their young adult as an adult instead of the little girl or boy the person used to be. To parents, a twenty-two year old child might as well be a two year old child – it’s still the same person they carried, dressed, bathed, fed and guided for all those years. While parents may feel this in their hearts, they have to work hard to show new respect for the individual who stands before them. There’s no more asserting one’s authority. The parent-child relationship will now be based on mutual positive regard and respect or else it will be distorted in pain. Parents have to take a back seat and let their child do the driving of his or her own life. When consulted, they can offer advice but they need to learn from offering the unsolicited guidance that was their right not so long ago. Parents may find it helpful to read up on how to negotiate relationships with adult children – there are books and online resources that can provide insight and practical tools. If there are relationship problems at this stage of the game, family counselors can help you negotiate and resolve them.

The Death of a Loved One
Transitions are not just a cause for excitement; they can be tragic as well. The loss of a family member is one of the most painful family transitions there is. Death is a word nobody wants to hear because it means permanent physical separation from a loved one. When a family member becomes terminally ill, or experiences a fatal accident, the pain is almost unbearable. The challenge becomes: how to grieve and yet still move on as a family? Sometimes grief counseling or pastoral counseling can help. Techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and EMDR can help speed and complete the healing of unresolved grief or death-related trauma. Professional therapy is appropriate when grief lingers longer than a year or when it interferes with functioning, or when it is accompanied by feelings of depression or anxiety.

Going with the Flow
How can families deal with transitions effectively? There’s only one way: being able to adapt to change. With so many changes happening both within and outside a family, it’s important that individual members are dynamic and responsive to new situations. Family transitions are crucial turning points; if family members are resistant to change, the transitions become a source of stress instead of a source of growth. What is important is to be able to let go — but also let come. Nothing stays the same forever, and it’s important that we are open to the blessings of the next stage in of our family life.

Special Education

The traditional classroom setting is not always a good fit for a child with special needs. If your child has learning disabilities (i.e. reading and writing difficulties), he or she may have trouble keeping up with peers in a regular classroom setting. Similarly, if your child has a behavioral disorder, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), then your child may need certain interventions that a regular classroom teacher is not trained in. And if your child is gifted in a particular way, then he or she may find the general curriculum insufficiently stimulating.

To help your child get the most in his or her learning situation, you may want to consider placing him or her in a special education classroom.

What is a Special Education Classroom?
As the term implies, a special education classroom refers to a learning environment that differs from the standard education offered in traditional public and private schools.

A special education classroom offers alternative teaching and classroom management styles, from instructors trained in special education. Materials are also adapted to the special needs of the learners; for instance children who are visually impaired may be given textbooks in brail or large font. The curriculum may also be atypical; a special education class for children with mental retardation and autism can teach self-management and social skills instead of math or science.

What’s Great about Special Education Classrooms?
In a special education classroom, students are encouraged to learn at their own pace, and thus the class need not follow the school curriculum prescribed by the government. Learning is very individualized; usually instructors tailor fit their lesson plan to the profile of the class, making each special education class unique.

Typically, teacher-learner ratio is very small, at times even 1:1. Parents, caregivers and learning specialists may also accompany students while taking their classes, unlike in the traditional classroom environment where classroom parental supervision is discouraged after the first day of class.

Should Your Child be Enrolled in a Special Education Class?
If you have a child with special needs, a special education classroom may be appropriate. However, it’s important to keep in mind both the advantages and disadvantages of special placement.

One of the main disadvantages of special education classrooms is that they tend to take kids away from what is perceived as a “normal” learning experience. Children miss opportunities to socialize and learn with the other “normal” (not identified as “special!”) kids their age. They may also feel like they are being ostracized for their disability or special needs, that their exclusion from mainstream classroom is a sign that they are inferior in some way.

Some educators argue that special education classrooms do not adequately prepare a child for the real world, as most social and working environments will require mainstreaming. Special education classrooms are largely dependent too on the skill of the instructor or administrator; with the term “special needs” having such a huge scope, that it’s quite possible for a special education class to fail to respond adequately to each child.

Below are some things you may consider as a parent:

Can My Child’s Learning Needs be Responded to Adequately in a Traditional Classroom?
Note that special needs differ in nature and degree, and your child may not require a special education classroom after all. A child with mild ADHD, for example, can successfully mainstream if his or her condition is adequately managed by therapy and medication. A child with hearing problems may be assisted by technology or a caregiver who provides sign language interpretation. If reasonable accommodations can be made, it might be best to limit the changes to a child’s life because of a disability or condition.

Will My Child Do Better in a Special Education Classroom?
On the flipside, all parents want their children to be the best that they can be. We all have to concede that general education is precisely that — general. Even if your child can perform adequately in a traditional classroom, if the individualized teaching methods and specialized equipment can assist them to achieve and break expectations, then by all means enroll your child in a special education classroom.

Can You Augment Special Education Classrooms with Other Supportive Activities?
What you sacrifice when you enroll your child in a special education class, you can recover by increasing their participation in other programs designed to increase their socialization and self-sufficiency. Programs geared towards developing talents, summer camps and the like can all augment what is lost in special education. In fact, there is nothing to say that special education classrooms can’t be taken alongside traditional classroom learning — perhaps your child can get the best of both worlds.

Can You Afford Special Education Classrooms?
Luckily, with the government’s growing recognition of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities, special education is offered for free in many states. There are also many non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups who offer special education for a low cost. But most private special education classrooms still require hefty tuition, understandably because one-on-one care is costly. Personal finances are a realistic consideration.

Unsettled After Death, Divorce or Other Trauma

Although most of us wish that children could be sheltered from the pain in life, the reality is that many youngsters endure real trauma during their developmental years. One of the more common forms of modern trauma is the breakup of the family. Divorce is certainly hard for the adults who go through it but it can actually be traumatic for children – because of the loss of contact with a beloved parent, because of conflict that accompanies it, or because of life changes such as moving away from friends and family, acquiring a “step family” and so on. Death of a parent is another, usually traumatizing, experience that many children endure. But many children endure all kinds of other traumas that are less spoken about such as the serious illness and/or death of a sibling, family violence or chronic, intense conflict, addictions or mental illness within the family and much, much more. Children react to these kinds of intense stresses differently from adults. In fact, parents may not even realize that the child is suffering, since one of the common ways that kids handle overwhelming stress is to “act normal!”

If there has been intense stress in your child’s life, consider the following tips:

No Reaction is a Reaction
Suppose your friend was a passenger in a car that experienced a serious collision. The driver and two other passengers were instantly killed. The car was demolished, blood was everywhere, four firetrucks, 3 ambulances and 5 police vehicles were on the scene within minutes. Your friend miraculously escaped unharmed. Over the next days, weeks and months, this friend went about his or her business as if nothing at all had happened. He or she ate well, continued to joke around and enjoy life, never spoke about the accident and just went on very much “as normal.” Wouldn’t you find that a bit strange?

This is exactly the way many children respond to traumatic events in their lives. Instead of registering the pain and acting it out, they appear on the outside to be completely fine. What has probably happened, however, is that the overwhelming pain has been dissociated – cut off from the child’s conscious awareness. It is stored somewhere where the child can’t feel it just yet. It may surface years or even decades later, as more life stress builds up and eventually triggers it. Sometimes, it remains mentally dissociated for a lifetime, but expresses itself through the body in various forms of physical disease. The reason that children dissociate in this way is that they don’t have the emotional or intellectual resources to assimilate the experience. In other words, they just can’t handle it at the time it is happening.

If it appears that your child is not affected by a traumatic event, in reality he is quite likely affected! However, you can help. First of all, make sure that YOU are talking about the events. Some parents think, “why rock the boat? If my kid isn’t bothered by the tragedy, I’m sure not going to mention it!” Or, parents think to themselves, “the child is too young to understand or care about what is happening. There is no need to discuss it with him or her.” This is exactly the opposite of a helpful response. The child is likely to assume that the incident or events CANNOT be spoken about because they are way too terrible. On the other hand, when parents talk about what is happening and name their own feelings about it, they help children to take in the experience as a legitimate part of life and they help the child learn that his or her feelings about it are normal, expected, healthy and welcome. For instance, suppose a family suffers a crib death of their new baby. The mother can approach their children aged 4 and 6 and say something like, “It is so sad for all of us that our baby died. Daddy and I are so sad right now. You might be feeling that way too. We’re also confused. It’s hard to understand how this happened so suddenly; the baby was healthy just yesterday! You must also be feeling confused. We will all be thinking about this for quite awhile. Eventually, the pain will go away and we’ll all be happy again.” Parents can include any spiritual beliefs that they hold and want to provide their kids with at times of tremendous stress and upheaval.

Physical Reactions
While children may not be able to express their shock and pain in words, they may be able to feel it in their bodies. Headaches, tummy aches, colds and flu’s can all increase as an aftermath of intense stress. Play therapy can help children who are “somatizing” (sending emotions through their physical bodies) and talking therapies can help older kids and teens in the same way. Once emotions are acknowledged, physical complaints often subside.

Sleep Issues May be a Reaction
A child may have trouble sleeping through the night or sleeping alone in his or her bed. Or, the child may have trouble falling asleep or may suffer from nightmares. This may be part of a larger syndrome of Acute Stress Disorder (that happens as a trauma is occurring or within the month following) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (that happens more than a month after traumatic events have ended) or Chronic Stress Disorder (the effects of ongoing stress such as living with family violence or addiction or other deeply disturbing issues).

Psychotherapy will help the child clear out the feelings of stress. This will allow him or her to have restful, normal sleep.

Anxiety and Mood Issues may be a Reaction
A child or teen may experience panic attacks, separation anxiety (always wanting to be in the presence of loved ones), increased irritability or chronic sadness. Again, when parents are able to talk about what is happening in the family, children experience fewer emotional symptoms. Sometimes, however, the child or teen may benefit most from personal counseling in order to process the events and lift the burden of stress from the mind oand body.

Misbehavior or “Acting Out” may be a Reaction
Sometimes children become rebellious, disrespectful, impulsive or otherwise poorly behaved at home and/or school in response to stress that is happening at home. Particularly if the poor behavior is a change from previous functioning, parents should consider the possibility of this being a reaction to stress. Counseling for the parents may help reduce the stress in the home and the child’s behavior may simply improve by itself as a consequence. However, some of the stress that may trigger poor behavior are not remediable by parent counseling (for instance, the death of a family member). Nonetheless, parents may benefit from counseling that can address specific behavior and emotional interventions that THEY can provide for their child at home. If these are insufficient, the child him or herself, may need some sort of counseling or behavior therapy.

Your Child’s Experience of Divorce

With the prevalence of divorce and separation, as well as re-marriage, it’s possible that a child will experience more than one set of parent figures. There’s their biological parents, their mom’s new spouse, their dad’s new spouse, and if their biological parents have re-married more than once, there’s also their parent’s ex-spouses. It is also possible that the child has been in the care of other parent-figures and care-givers as well (especially during times of marital instability and transition) such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and others. Sometimes the child is looked after by a variety of people all at once. What should be done to help minimize confusion for the child?

Consider the following:

Decide Who is Going to Take the Primary Parenting Role
A parent or a couple must take a bigger parenting role compared to others. Think of a family as an organization: how do you think it will fare if it’s an absolute democracy? Who will coordinate everyone’s efforts? How will tasks get delegated? Similarly, in a family, there needs to be a “headquarters” where decisions are made. The decision-making process between divorced parents is a matter that is decided in court. Once the legalities are settled, the process for making major decisions regarding the children should be straightforward. However, when a child lives in two or more households, there are daily smaller decisions that will be made by individual caretakers. For instance, in one household bedtime might be anytime while in the other household bedtime might be 9 p.m. sharp. When the child stays at Grandma’s for the weekend, bedtime may be 10 p.m. give or take twenty minutes. How does a child negotiate all these various rules and routines?

Communicate that Different Households May have Different Rules
When dealing with many parents — and many households — it’s helpful if an attitude of “let’s agree to differ” is in place. What is most harmful for the child is conflict between caregivers – not different routines. Therefore, each household will live according to its own values and priorities without attempting to impose their standards in the other homes. Moreover, the child should be told that each parent has his and her way of doing things and the child needs to comply with the rules of each household, just as a child in high school must comply with the various rules of each of 10 teachers that he might have.

Encourage Time with Everyone
Having many caring parents can be a blessing to a child. Helping the child access support and love from each caregiver is a gift. Therefore, unless there is some strong reason for the child to NOT have generous access to all parents, the ideal is to foster freeflowing communication. For instance, a child at house A should ideally be allowed to phone a parent in house B if he or she wants to. The child should never be made to feel that there is something wrong with a caregiver. If the law has established that visitation and communication is safe with an individual parent, then such visitation and communication should be encouraged and supported. Making a child feel that a caregiver is dangerous can cause mental disturbance to the child who must be in that person’s care. Putting the child’s emotional needs above all other considerations can guide a parent’s behavior in the right direction.

Financial Matters
Children’s mental health is at greatest risk after divorce when their parents are in conflict. Hopefully legal processes establish reasonable and safe procedures for the financial support of a child. However, some people behave badly after divorce and do not fulfill their legal responsibilities. In such cases, parents may fight their battles in court. Parents may also have to make alternate arrangements for financial support. Whatever has to happen is, in all cases, an adult matter. Children cannot solve these difficulties and therefore they shouldn’t be dragged into them. The adults will have to work these things out between themselves. The more children can be sheltered from the bad behavior of their parents, the better. A child is a product of both his mother and father. When he learns that one parent is irresponsible or disgusting, his own self-concept is harmed, The general rule is, “the less said, the better.” Going on and on about how there isn’t any money because a parent is too selfish to give it has the potential to seriously harm the emotional well-being of a child. Even though everything is true, and even though a parent is being badly hurt, there can be no justification for hurting the child. Again, putting the child’s emotional needs above all other considerations can guide a parent’s behavior in the right direction.

Finding the Right Professional Support During Divorce or Separation

Ending a marriage is a painful process. There are many losses to accept: the loss of a relationship, the loss of a promise and the loss of the dream and vision of an enduring, intact family. If the divorce or separation is less than amicable, then the tension of overt and hidden conflict adds even more stress and pain.

Because divorce and separation are difficult times — for any family — it’s recommended that families seek professional help along the way. Even when there are no unmanageable challenges, professional support can help reduce the pain and trauma involved in breaking up a family. Keep in mind that difficult divorces can leave their mark for years or even decades. Counseling can facilitate personal adjustment, as well as the re-defining and re-building of relationships within the family after divorce.

What are the types of professional support available for families going through divorce and separation?

Marriage/Family Counselors and Therapists
The help of a licensed marriage/family counselor or therapist can be invaluable. These highly trained mental health professionals can provide psychological help to individual family members, and to the family as a whole, as parents and children adjust to their new situations, grieve losses and begin life anew within a changed family structure. Often, counselors and therapists are holders of post-graduate degrees in Psychology, Counseling or Social Work, with specialization in marriage and family dynamics.

Counselors can assist before, during and after a divorce or separation. Knowing that a mental health professional can be of help even before marital dissolution is contemplated is important — many marriages can still be saved when couples seek early intervention. Indeed, even when the idea of separation or divorce has been raised, reconciliation is still possible if willingness and open-mindedness to rebuild a relationship is present in both members of the couple. Counseling during divorce can help reduce the chances of increasing hostilities and smooth the way for every member of the family. After divorce, counseling helps family members deal with their new lives with a minimum of stress, confusion, disorientation and pain.

Support Groups
Joining support groups can also be a big help to families undergoing divorce or separation. Support groups are formal or informal organizations of individuals undergoing the same experience. A support group for divorced parents for example, can provide assistance on issues like self-care, co-parenting and even going back to the dating world. A support group for children survivors of separation also exists, to help kids cope. There are also support groups for survivors of abusive relationships.

Support groups effectively send the message to families undergoing divorce or separation that they are not alone, and that the issues that they are undergoing are expected and normal for people within their unique situation. For many, talking to fellow support group members is less threatening than talking to a mental health professional one-on-one. This is because of the feeling that one is not talking to a stranger, but to someone who they can truly relate to.

One can usually find support groups within community centers, social service centers, churches, schools, and offices of special interest organizations. Online support groups are also available.

Legal Mediators
There are situations when divorce or separation will require the assistance of a lawyer or a legal consultant. Child custody, property division and alimony arrangement can be sensitive issues for a divorced or separated couple to navigate, and may even be the cause of many a heated discussion and debate. At present, there are professional divorce and separation legal mediators that can help families come up with amicable agreements within having to go to court. If these issues can be sorted out without a messy legal battle, then families undergoing divorce or separation can move on to their new lives more smoothly. Parenting Co-ordinators are empowered by law to help parents work out the details of daily life after divorce. They can help with schedules of visitation as well as the nitty-gritty details such as how the children’s belongings get from one location to the next, who takes the child to after-school lessons, which lessons the child should be taking, and so on. Parenting Co-ordinators are especially important in high conflict divorce where ex-spouses cannot or will not talk to each other. Obviously, sharing parenting responsibilities requires a great deal of communication and negotiation – if the parents can’t do this on their own, Parenting Co-ordinators will do it for them.

Other Professionals that May Help
Social workers, school guidance counselors, as well as rabbis/pastors/priests or can also help families cope with the stresses of divorce and separation.

Child is Angry After Divorce or Separation

Anger is a natural reaction to loss, threat or helplessness. When we feel that something is being taken away from us, we feel anger; it’s an instinct born out of protecting what we consider to be ours. When we feel insecure, uncertain or attacked, we get mad. And when we feel like we don’t have any control over what is going on in our life, when we feel victimized but incapable of fighting back, we can feel enraged.

It’s understandable then for children whose parents are separating or divorcing, to feel anger. When a marriage falls apart, all three “anger triggers” are present: loss, threat and helplessness. In many cases, children are simply caught in the cross-fire of fighting spouses. The spouses will go their separate ways and the children will be the ones who have to live with the short-term and long-term consequences of the broken marriage.

If you’re a parent experiencing divorce or separation, the following are some tips to help you deal with your children’s anger:

Acknowledge That They Have a Right to Be Angry
As mentioned, anger is a normal and expected reaction during divorce or separation. It’s an appropriate feeling; that is, the situation is really anger-provoking. Do not devalue your children’s anger in any way, nor ignore it or “pass it over.” The worst thing that a loved one can do during this difficult time is to make a child feel guilty for feeling whatever he or she feels. Instead, both parents must strive to communicate that they know their kids are angry, and that they respect their right to that emotion. It is often hard for parents to acknowledge and accept their child’s anger; they want to believe that the children will be as “happy” and relieved about the divorce as they are. They tell themselves that it’s better for the children this way. Few parents can stand the guilt they would feel if they acknowledged to themselves that their children might be truly hurt by the divorce. For all these reasons, it takes a brave parent to allow a child to express his or her anger and upset. And yet, allowing it is one of the biggest favors a parent can do for his or her child at this time.

Help Them Find Ways to Deal with their Anger
Anger is not black or white; instead it’s a complex emotion that has many nuances, shades and colors. It is important that you provide you child with the opportunity to look at their anger, and see (a) where is it coming from, (b) how strong it is, and (c) where is it directed. When a person can break down his or her feelings into its component parts, the feeling becomes less of a vague consuming monster and more of a state that’s tolerable inside and can be discussed and shared outside.

This step is important as different kids experience divorce and separation differently. In fact, even siblings have different reasons for their anger. One can be upset because he or she wasn’t consulted in the decision-making; another sibling can be upset because he or she blames herself for not noticing the problem and saving the marriage. A parent must be able to take a personalized approach to their children’s anger, so that specific issues can be responded to effectively.

Give Them an Avenue to Express their Anger
Anger is an emotion that is best released; otherwise it can eat a person up and even cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Art therapy may be suitable for some children, giving them a safe way to release the darkness of their inner world. Professional art therapists are trained to help people of all ages release negative emotions in a healthy way. Some children may do better by talking about their feeling. They may be able to talk to a parent when the parent is skilled in  “Emotional Coaching” (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). Emotional Coaching involves welcoming, accepting and naming a child’s feelings without judgment or correction of any kind. In this way, the emotion is safely released and healed. For instance, if a child says, “I hate you for leaving Mommy” the father can respond, “You’re really really mad at me for breaking up this family. I can understand that. This is not something you ever wanted. You want us all to be together.” By saying all this, the father allows the child to express his rage and let it turn into the sadness that is really under the surface. If the child starts to cry after hearing his father reflect his feelings, the father can say, “I know this makes you so sad. It’s so painful not to have us all together anymore.” And then the child will cry some more and the father can just sit silently near the child, allowing all the pain to move freely. This approach is very healing. It is very different from the “cheerleader” approach in which a parent says things like, “Don’t worry – it will all be great! You’ll have two homes and lots of fun going back and forth and all your friends will be jealous, etc.” This kind of response can actually make a child furious, because the parent is rejecting the child’s pain instead of facing it head on. Child psychologists are trained listeners who know how to help kids express and release their pain. If your child isn’t opening up to you or is inconsolable or is having problems at school or misbehaving excessively at home, do try to arrange for professional therapy – it can really help.

Child Experiences Grief and Loss after Divorce or Separation

It’s normal for children to grieve after the separation or divorce of their parents. Children need and usually love both parents. They usually want both of them at home with them every night. Even when parents are living in an intact marriage, children complain about missing a parent who works nights or who travels a lot and so on. It’s just the way it is – children want their parents at home. People understand the truth of this when it comes to the death of a parent – everyone knows that a child will go through tremendous grief and trauma. However, many underestimate the trauma of a child’s loss when it comes to marital separation and divorce, thinking that since the parent is still alive, the child hasn’t really lost that much. In fact, many parents actually abandon their children completely following the dissolution of the marriage. But even those who are consistently present through the mechanism of the visitation schedule and agreed-upon living arrangements, are now absent for some portion of the child’s life, whether that is 30% of the time or 50% per cent of the time. Even having telephone access during separations from a parent is not sufficient to make up for the absence of the physical presence of the parent so much of the time. The child has really lost something and so the child really grieves. How can parents help kids through their grief and loss?

Your Relief, Your Grief and Your Child
It is important to separate your own feelings and needs from your child’s feelings and needs. After separation or divorce, you, yourself, might be traumatized and/or actively going through crisis, grief and loss. However, what you have lost and what your child has lost are two separate things and require two separate interventions. You may need your own support – both personal and professional. The child needs YOUR support (and possibly professional support as well), as if you have no investment in the issue. In other words, the child needs you to be there for him as if you yourself have not been affected by the separation or divorce. There can be no “we” in the discussion (as in, “we’re all hurting”). The child needs to be free to be a child, to worry only about his own pain and NOT have to even know about your pain, let alone have any role in comforting YOU! The child needs you to help him through his pain as if you were a dispassionate professional counselor. Any sadness you might feel for the child’s plight or any guilt you may be bearing for inflicting this on him, must be put aside so that you can be there for him. Any desire you have for the child to cheer up, toughen up or move on, must also be put aside. You only have one task  – that is to listen emphatically and say YES (nodding your head, saying “yes” slowly and softly) to the child’s grief. Some children can actually express their grief in words. In that case, a conversation might sound something like this:

  • child: “I’m sad that Daddy isn’t here at home with us.
  • you: “You’re sad that Daddy isn’t here now…. Yes.”
  • child: “I don’t like going to his house. I just want him to come home.”
  • you: “You don’t want to go there; you just want him here….. Yes.”
  • child: “You shouldn’t have got divorced.”
  • you: “You feel that we shouldn’t have gotten divorce….. Yes.”

By allowing your child to just state his feelings and by saying “Yes” to each feeling, you help the child to release his pain, one sentence at a time.

Of course, there are many children who do not TALK about their grief and loss at all. Some specifically refuse to discuss the changes the family has gone through. Instead, they show their grief by looking sad, showing a lack of interest in things that used to interest them, developing problems like over-eating or under-eating, having excessive temper tantrums, getting into trouble at school or at home and so on. Parents can help the non-verbal child by talking about their own feelings (and thereby modeling the process of connecting to and expressing one’s own feelings). For instance, the parent can just muse out loud, “You know, I sometimes really miss the way our family used to be when we were all together” or “It’s going to take some time to get used to the new house.” The parent should NOT express intense grief, sadness or anger at the situation or at the ex-spouse. The parent can also name the child’s feelings for him, making educated guesses about how he might feel in various circumstances. For instance, when the family is having its first holiday or birthday celebration without the other parent at the table, the parent can say, “It’s a bit strange today without Mom/Dad being here with us, isn’t it?” Or, when the other parent isn’t around at bedtime anymore, the parent can say, “I bet you miss Mom/Dad tucking you in every night.” These statements are not meant to upset the child – they are meant to help the child have words for experiences that he is no doubt going through. When the parent can talk about it casually and easily, it demonstrates for the child that no experience is too painful to be translated into language. Moreover, putting emotions into words helps to lighten the effect of the emotion by “containing” it. Until a feeling has words to it, it can be a big, vague, monstrous, dark thing. When it is put into words, it shrinks to the size of the word. For instance, the word “devastating” is smaller than the feeling of devastation intself. Therefore, by giving words to the child’s experience, the parent is both teaching and healing the child at the same time.

When children’s physical health, mental health, social or academic performance is suffering and self-help tools are not remediating the situation, it’s time to call in a mental health professional. Giving the child this help early on can prevent more serious behavioral and emotional problems later.

Child Insecure after Divorce or Separation

It’s only natural for children to develop fears after a major transition, such as a parental divorce or separation. After all, the break-up of a marriage is a period of instability in a family, and many things become uncertain about the future. If this is the first time that your child has experienced a major loss, he or she may not yet have the coping skills needed to deal with the emotional trauma.

What fears can children experience after parental divorce or separation? Consider the following:

Living Arrangements and Day-to-Day Needs
Kids worry about practical details too. After a divorce or separation, kids may wonder where they will live, if the family has to move, and whether or not their custodial parent can provide for all their basic needs. These fears are not exactly unfounded; single parents and co-parents usually have to deal with lesser financial resources that they did when they were married, simply because they end up providing for two homes instead of one.

Fear of Losing their Parent’s Presence and Love
Naturally, children fear that divorce or separation will mean not just lesser contact with a parent, but also fewer opportunities to be together in a natural way and build a relationship. Kids may fear that after divorce, their parents will not love them anymore. Even really young children feel this fear, which may result in age-inappropriate separation anxiety.

Fear of Remarriage and What it Means for Them
Kids also have anxieties regarding the emergence of a new family structure. If one or both parents are already in a relationship after the divorce or separation, it’s only reasonable to worry about having to adjust to a step-parent and step-siblings. Kids may also have to accept that a remarriage means that all hope for their parents reconciling is gone. This realization can be difficult for a child who may still be in denial that his or her parents’ marriage is already over.

Fear That It’s Their Fault
Children, especially younger kids, can end up thinking that parents’ divorce or separation is their fault, either because of something they did wrong, or because they are not good enough reasons for parents to stay together. This self-blame can turn into a debilitating anxiety if not addressed early on.

What can Parents Do to Help their Children?
Below are some tips parents may wish to consider:

Provide Constant Reassurance, Love and Protection
Kids need to know that even if a parent will no longer be in the same residence as they are, they are always available — in fact, they will be visiting regularly. Kids also need to be reassured that the divorce is not their fault, and there’s nothing they could have done to prevent it from happening.

Inform Your Child About Future Changes
Keeping kids informed regarding future living arrangements and living standards can help children wrap their minds around the change. Being informed also stops kids from imagining the worst, helping to alleviate their fears.

Avoid Making Promises that Cannot be Kept
As much as possible, give your children realistic hope. If kids expect something and end up being disappointed, their fears will be reinforced. Therefore, only promise what you are truly capapble of delivering. Don’t talk about arrangements that have yet to be established in law or through mediation. Don’t even use the word “hope” to describe what you think might occur in the future (i.e. “I hope that I’ll be able to see you every weekend”). Instead, say only what you know to be true and what you are capable of doing. “Mommy/Daddy and I are working everything out with the lawyers and soon we will have a regular schedule.”

Help Your Child Access Proper Social Support in this Critical Time
Friends and loved ones can go a long way in helping a child manage fears associated with divorce or separation. If a child feels that he or she is not alone, instability can become manageable. Try to continue visits with extended family members, keep up the child’s playdates and even join new parent-child groups in the community in order to keep your child feeling part of a larger world of relationships. Isolation is not advisable during times of stress. It will be good for you too, as you take your child to be with people. Even one regular outing of this kind each week can make a big difference.

Children’s Emotions After Divorce or Separation

Parental divorce or separation is a painful process — for everyone concerned. No amount of careful preparation, heart-to-heart talk, and therapy can make it less agonizing— just more manageable. After all, a loved one is technically saying goodbye. Even if everyone remains be a part of each other’s lives after the marital dissolution, the reality is: nothing will ever be the same.

In order to help children deal with the impact of divorce or separation, it’s important that parents know the roller-coaster of emotions kids go through during the process. The following are some of what children feel after divorce or separation:

Shock
“I knew the situation was bad, but I wasn’t aware it was that bad.”

Kids are often blindsided by their parent’s decision to divorce or separate. To protect children from family problems, parents tend to keep their kids out of the loop. Consequently, the news of finally ending the marriage comes as a big shock. And even if some outward sign of fighting exists, kids being naturally optimistic often think that the fighting is temporary and can be resolved. Even in homes where divorce is threatened openly and frequently, children often “get used” to the threat as just a common part of fighting – they can still be shocked when parents finally act on their words. Children who may not be so shocked are those who have experienced parental divorce before, and have some idea of what is going on.

Anger
Anger is a normal emotion felt by children undergoing parental divorce and separation. The anger can be directed towards one particular parent, the parent whom the child feels is to blame for the marriage not working out. The anger can also be directed to both parents; kids may feel that mom and dad didn’t try hard enough to save their family. In some cases, children may just be angry at the situation. They empathize with their parents well enough, but they would understandably rather that they don’t suffer such a major loss.

Self-blame
Children do blame themselves for parental divorce or separation. Because of the old philosophy of “staying married for the children’s sake,” kids may have the idea that parental love of kids should be enough to keep a couple together. Thus, when a marriage breaks down, kids feel like they failed in providing their parents a reason to try harder. Older children may blame themselves for not doing enough to save the marriage — maybe they’ve already noticed that something is wrong but didn’t say anything about it. Younger children may think that the divorce or separation is directly or indirectly caused by their behavior. It’s not unusual, for example, for a pre-schooler to irrationally conclude that the divorce or separation pushed through because parents are always fighting about their performance in school.

Fear
The source of security in a family is the parents’ stable marriage. A divorce or separation, therefore, can be quite unsettling for a child. Where would the family live? How will they earn enough income to support everyone? Would we have to live with somebody new? And are there any more jarring changes coming our way? There are so many question marks after a divorce or separation that being afraid is just an expected reaction.

Sadness
And of course, kids feel sadness and even depression during this stressful time. There are many losses that come after a divorce or separation, some of which can never be recovered. Understandably a new living arrangement has to be negotiated, and it’s possible that a child will have to give up proximity to a parent once all the legalities are finalized. Siblings may even end up living in different residences. There are also intangible losses, like the loss of dreams about the family. Sadness is a natural part of grieving for a loss, and is a normal reaction among children during parental divorce or separation.

Dealing with Children’s Feelings
The key to helping children with their feelings about divorce is to let them have their feelings. Don’t try to cheer them up or talk them out of their negative emotions. Doing so may cause the feelings to go underground where they might fester, show up as depression or anxiety later, re-route to physical aches and pains or manifest in various types of behavioral challenges. Letting kids be appropriately upset is the healthiest way to help them feel better faster. This is NOT the time to show sympathy by letting them know that YOU also feel scared, mad and sad. Save your feelings for your meeting with your therapist or for discussion with your adult friends. Your kids have already lost one parent; they must not lose another. They really need you now and even though you yourself may be going through intense emotional challenges, it is unfair to unload that onto your children. They will feel that they have to be strong and help YOU or they will feel that they don’t want to add to your burdens by sharing their real misery. What they need from you now is a listening ear and a good model of coping. When they see that you are NOT falling apart, it will give them hope that they will get through this too. If you are, in fact, having a very hard time, seeking professional counseling will help both you and your kids.