Any kind of change or transition is hard…be it moving from one place to another, addition of a new family member, death of a family member/friend, separation, divorce or remarriage. Some transitions can be positive for people while others may leave a long-lasting negative impact on a person, especially a child. Going through something like divorce is never easy for an adult or for a child, but it can be particularly difficult for a child. Even though every child may deal with such a transition as divorce differently, there are implications to a child witnessing their parents go their separate ways. No matter what the reason might be for divorce, it means that the child would be facing multiple stressors. How a child deals with such stressors depends upon his/her age, gender and where they are developmentally. It becomes crucial for the parents to be able to help and prepare children for what is in store for them as they go through this process together.
Milne (2004) in her article “Impact of Divorce on Children” writes, no matter what age the children might be, their world is shaken.
- There are some universal worries that they may experience, like grieving over the “loss” of one or both the parents after divorce and remarriage, feelings of abandonment…that no one loves me; children or adolescents might start internalizing the problem, feeling that it’s all their fault and might feel helpless and powerless.
- Some ways in which the impact of separation or divorce may manifest itself in children of different age levels [may include a wide range from] sleep difficulties to acting out behaviors like throwing temper tantrums to substance or alcohol use and abuse and can even escalate to violence towards self or others.
- Some other manifestation of the impact might include school problems (academics or conduct), anxiety, nervous or regressive behavior like bed-wetting or being overly attached to comfort items like blankets or stuff toys.
Here are some things that can be kept in mind when helping children understand the situation and help cope.
- It can be helpful for parents to sit together with their children and break the news.
This meeting should not be just about breaking the news but listening to their children as well and empathizing with them
- The parents might have more than one meeting to help children process their thoughts and feelings and voice their concerns about the situation.
- This is also a good opportunity for parents to assure children that all their needs would be met despite the divorce happening and that they would still love them and care for them.
- It is very important for parents to stay away from giving false hopes to their children.
During Divorce Process:
- Remember that not only they are emotionally and psychologically fragile but the children are also going through a rough phase seeing their parents part way.
- It is crucial at this time for parents to be mindful of how they react to their partners in front of their kids.
- Arguing in front of the kids is a big “no-no,” and parents need be on guard about what they say about their spouse in front of their kids.
- Try to be consistent with parenting, even with changes in living situations.
- Seek outside help and support (other family members, friends and people in the church or community, professional help) for oneself and one’s children.
- Set up regular visitations.
- Do not interrogate the child about their visit to their ex-spouse’s house.
- Do not make children confidants against the previous spouse.
Divorce is a tough and taxing process. Many parents get so stuck in the “here and now” that they fail to realize the long-term implication of their decision on their children. It is helpful for the parent/s to have a professional (a counselor or a pastor) along their side who can walk with them through this process, educating them not only about the implications but also giving them some practical skills and tools to help their children through this painful transition. A professional can also help parents and children adjust to a new life in the most caring and loving way they can.
At IDEALS for Families and Communities, you will find trained professionals who are more than willing to walk with you through this journey and help you find ways to help yourself and your children cope with the challenges that this “transition” brings in one’s life.
-Arpita Eusebius, Staff Therapist
Milne, D. (2004). Impact of Divorce on Children. Retrieved from http://extension.missouri.edu/extensioninfonet/article.asp?id=2150
Let’s face it- iPods, iPads, laptops, tablets, cell phones…kids these days are glued to technological devices. And we adults get pretty glued, too! The list goes on- endless laughs from YouTube, pictures to scroll through on Facebook, games galore, and music to enjoy. But where has all this information and fun left us? In the book Alone Together, author Sherry Turkle discusses many of the effects of technology today. She says that, in many ways, we are more connected than we have ever been, yet in other ways, we are feeling more and more isolated from each other. Turkle argues that it is easy to become so immersed in technology that we ignore what we know about life. We think that one of these things we “know” about life is our need for human relationships.
We find it interesting how groups of teens and adults will sit together on their phones. Ever wonder why people sit staring at their screens…together? To us, this shows that we still understand that nothing can replace human connection. Technology is wonderful and useful, but many would probably agree that laughing alone, playing games alone, and learning alone is just not as satisfying as also having someone to share it with. Even the “share” option on social media sites doesn’t quite cut it. We love our technology, but we know it is not enough. There is just something about being with others that brings a needed layer of joy into our lives. The shared human experience seems to fulfill an innate desire, yet we often allow this experience to take a back seat. So, how do we compete with all the screens?
This topic becomes particularly fascinating when we turn our attention to the effects technology is having on the relationship between parents and their children. Mere brief observation allows one to note how, at a very early age, children are being exposed to technological devices. Gadgets that not long ago were reserved for adults are now commonplace among elementary age children. Children are being afforded numerous opportunities for learning and play through technology, but we pause to ask several questions. What is being sacrificed in order to accommodate this movement? With regard to relationship, how can parents compete with the screens in their kids’ lives? Can parents provide anything more exciting or interesting than what screens can offer? And how often are parents and children “together” in proximity but actually “apart” through divided attentions? What impact does technological distraction have on parent-child relationships? What is lost as children are not encouraged to play with others and build relationships with others? What are children being told if it becomes much easier for them to interact with their parents via text or Skype rather than from playing together in the back yard? These are big questions, some with tough answers.
At IDEALS for Families and Communities, we offer parent workshops, which teach parents of children ages 3-10 a special way to play with their children that builds connection and teaches skills for life for your kids. And, get this – the kids truly LOVE IT, so much so that they don’t care about having devices. Let IDEALS give you some tools to create a time in your week that both you and your kids will look forward to and does not involve devices. It can take only 30 minutes a week to increase connection within your family.
The next scheduled workshop is THIS Saturday, Nov. 2nd, a 5-hour workshop where parents come together (without kids) to learn this new way of play, and then the workshop will be followed by three individually scheduled follow-up visits for each family to come with their kids to get extra coaching to develop these skills.
-Jon and Sharon Bryant
With all of the recent super-hero movies, many of us may have identified at one time or another with one of the characters. Maybe we would love to have the engineering ability of Iron Man, the super-strength of Captain America, or maybe even the ability to throw Thor’s hammer. However, while we may hope to identify with all of the super-powers, we may most often identify with Bruce Banner, the Hulk. Bruce Banner is always combating the “stress monster” that comes about when his anger gets the best of him. He manages to keep it all in check sometimes, but when he loses control, he transforms into the Hulk and can no longer think rationally about his decisions. Does this sound familiar when stress and anger get the best of you?
While we may not transform into the Hulk, stress can cause mental, emotional, and physical problems when we experience it long term. So, how can we keep our inner Hulk in check? Bruce Banner is very aware of his heart rate, breathing patterns, and how his body specifically responds to stress. All of these things are key to managing our own stress when life throws us curve balls. Self-awareness or knowing how our bodies individually respond to stress is the key to managing it. Next, once we recognize these heightened types of mental, emotional, or physical patterns in ourselves… stop… and BREATHE. Breathe deeply from your belly. Imagine how a baby breathes when it is sleeping- its belly, not its chest, rises and falls. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing can help slow our heart rate and bring our other physiological symptoms back to manageable levels. Taking time each day to breathe deeply for 5-10 minutes, and it will make a big difference when the stress monster creeps up in the day.
There was a time when the cardinal rule for kids was: be home for dinner. No more. Children don’t just go out to play with somebody somewhere on the street. They have activities scattered here, there, and everywhere, often scheduled at times when families used to eat dinner and requiring an adult to drive them. Dinner is grabbed at a drive-thru before or after practice or scouts.
It is the modern way. Maybe it is a way that needs challenging. Much good can happen at the family dinner table: The highs and lows of each person’s day can be celebrated, problem solved, or mourned. You can share jokes (even those funny to an eight year old) and news. You can pray to remember God with thankfulness before you eat. Shared food makes for shared feelings and lives.
There are some things NOT to do at dinner. Discipline anybody for what happened earlier in the day; argue; text, talk on the phone, or otherwise say “other people are more important than my family”; become the Inquisition; fight over what is not being eaten; lecture; tease beyond happy banter.
INSTEAD, let everyone tell the best or worst moment of the day; talk about the news or a topic of interest; plan family fun; tell or retell family stories; express caring for each other, extended family, and friends. Make up a communal story (one person starts, then another adds, etc). Have fun!
Try turning off the TV and parking the cell phone in another room. Have meals that people enjoy. Sit around the table together. If you almost never have a family dinner, start by doing it once or twice a week. If you do it that often, add a day or add something to make it special—breakfast for dinner, make your own sundaies, each week somebody gets to pick the menu. If someone does some of those “not do’s” at dinner, find a way to keep on having family, to keep on having fun. It builds memories, communication skills, and bonds.
-Mary Ortwein, Founder and Director
Stepfamilies comprise 50% of families in America today. While there can be great opportunities for growth, there are different dynamics within stepfamilies that can become stumbling blocks. Less-than-effective communication skills, poor conflict management, unrealistic expectations, and lack of empathy often get in the way of the new family formation being successful.
Many parents are highly concerned about the children who may have already suffered from the divorce and may be having difficulty adjusting to the new dynamics. While there are multiple factors to consider that can help, one of the most helpful gifts you can give to the children is to strengthen the new marriage relationship. When problems arise, the couple relationship often gets lost in the shuffle. This can lead to problems including mistrusting one another or looking down on the other for how they handle parenting issues. This can cause additional strain a family system that may already be difficult to maneuver.
If you are stepparents, what can you do to strengthen your relationship and offer this gift? Set aside time for one another to enjoy each other. Remember and experience the reasons that brought you together in the first place. This may be as simple as 10 minutes a day talking about each other’s day as well as your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and desires. Do something together that you can both look forward to. Plan even a short date to connect with one another.
Strengthening the parent-child bond is very important (and we know how to help people do that), but both parents in the stepfamily can offer a gift of stability to the children and to one another by strengthening the marital bond.
IDEALS for Families and Communities is offering a Saturday workshop called Successful Stepfamilies. This workshop will help give couples valuable information and tools to help them be successful.
Register for our upcoming workshop on Saturday, October 5th.