Guide to Children's Divorce Counseling
Divorce can be hard on kids. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help children cope. Professional counseling provides a safe space for children to express their feelings and gain tools for coping and resilience.
Does your child need counseling?
Divorce is a seismic shift in any child's universe. The familiar landscape of life as they know it undergoes a tectonic change, and the aftershocks can be profound and perplexing.
As parents, it's essential to understand what might be going on in your child's head during this time.
What your child may be thinking
Your child may be grappling with a whirlwind of thoughts. They may be blaming themselves for the divorce, struggling to understand why it's happening, or fantasizing about a reconciliation. They might be wrestling with questions like. 'Why don't Mom and Dad love each other anymore?' Another common one is, 'Is it my fault they're separating?'
These thoughts can weigh heavily on their young minds, and they may not feel comfortable sharing them with you.
How your child may be feeling
Parental divorce can make a child feel as if they are on an emotional roller coaster. Fear, anger, confusion, sadness, and even relief might take turns dominating their emotional landscape.
They might feel torn between both parents. They might feel anxious about future changes and grieve the loss of their family unit. It's important to remember that every child is unique and will react differently. Some retreat into their shells; others act out their emotions. And there are lots of shades in between these two extremes.
How your child may be acting
Behaviorally, your child’s thoughts and feelings could manifest in various ways. You might observe changes in their eating and sleeping patterns, academic performance, or social interactions. They might start acting out in a way they never did before, or they might become withdrawn and irritable. Younger kids may regress in their behavior, while teenagers might engage in risky activities like drug use and sexual promiscuity.
You’re going through your own emotional journey at this time, and it can be challenging to fully address your child's needs and behavioral issues as you grapple with your own problems. This is where professional counseling can step in.
A trained counselor can give children of divorce a safe space to express their thoughts and emotions. They can help your child understand that their feelings are normal and teach them coping strategies.
Counseling doesn't mean your child is broken. It means you've decided to provide them with an additional resource to handle a significant life change. In fact, the coping skills they gain now may help them monitor and preserve their well-being throughout life. Thanks to their new emotional toolkit, they may feel more equipped to deal with challenging situations in the future.
Types of counseling to consider for your child
Your child probably spends a considerable portion of their day in school, making school counselors a readily accessible resource. These professionals are trained to handle a wide range of issues, including the impact of divorce on kids.
A school counselor can provide a safe and familiar environment for your child to express their feelings and concerns. They can monitor changes in your child's behavior, academic performance, or social interactions that might signal distress. They can also refer your child to more specialized help.
In our digital age, obtaining emotional support and guidance through online counseling has grown in popularity. It offers flexibility and convenience that traditional face-to-face counseling may not. Sessions can be conducted via video calls, phone calls, emails, or chat platforms.
This form of counseling can be particularly beneficial for adolescents who are more comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings digitally. However, it’s essential to make sure any online counselor you engage with has appropriate credentials and can maintain confidentiality.
If faith plays a significant role in your family's life, you might consider church counseling. Pastoral counselors integrate spirituality, theology, and psychotherapy to provide a holistic approach to dealing with life's challenges. They can help your child understand the divorce within the context of your faith and offer spiritual guidance and comfort.
It's important to note that the effectiveness of church counseling largely depends on the counselor's training and your child's comfort with discussing personal issues within a religious framework.
Traditional counseling, often referred to as talk therapy, involves one-on-one sessions between the child and counselor. It provides a safe, neutral space for your child to explore their feelings about the divorce. The counselor can help your child develop coping strategies, improve communication skills, and boost self-esteem.
Therapeutic approaches can vary, so it's important to find a counselor who's a good fit for your child. If you’re unsure where to start, consider asking your child’s pediatrician for recommendations. You could also look at the American Psychological Association’s online Psychologist Locator or the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s online Therapist Locator.
Family counseling can be particularly beneficial when the entire family unit is experiencing a significant change like divorce. This type of counseling helps family members communicate their feelings, understand each other better, and solve problems together. It can also help you and your ex-spouse learn how to co-parent effectively.
In family counseling, the focus is less on individual issues and more on family dynamics and relationships.
Are you wondering where to find a good therapeutic provider for your child? Check out the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator. Enter your location and a search term such as “child” where you are prompted to identify a practice area.
Group counseling offers a unique advantage. Children find themselves in a room with peers who are navigating a similar situation: parental divorce. This shared experience can be incredibly powerful. It helps kids see they are not alone, which can help them feel less isolated.
The group setting fosters empathy, mutual support, and peer learning. Under the guidance of a professional counselor, these sessions become a beacon of hope, illuminating the path to resilience and healing.
For younger children, articulating their feelings can be like trying to catch the wind. Enter play therapy. This form of counseling uses the universal language of children: play.
Therapists use toys, games, and activities as tools for communication. As children engage in play, they often reveal emotions, fears, and thoughts that might otherwise remain bottled up. The play acts as a mirror, reflecting the child's inner world to the therapist. In response, the therapist can help them understand their feelings, giving them the emotional vocabulary they need.
FAQ about children’s divorce counseling
Are parents present in the counseling room?
In most cases, no. Counseling sessions are a safe haven for your child to voice their thoughts and feelings freely. The absence of parents in the room fosters an environment that encourages open dialogue without the fear of judgment or reprisal.
If not, will parents get to know what is discussed?
While the specifics of the conversation remain confidential between the child and the counselor, don't interpret this as being left out. Counselors can share general updates about the child's progress, behavioral changes, and strategies for supporting them at home. You won't get a minute-by-minute account, but you'll be well-informed.
How can I assess if my child is benefiting from counseling?
Look for signs of improved communication, better emotional regulation, increased self-esteem, and a more positive attitude. Remember, though, that change is a process, and each child's journey is unique. Regular updates from the counselor can shed light on your child's progress.
Psychologist Locator. American Psychological Association (APA).