When one home becomes two: the do not’s for helping your child adjust to divorce

Laura Hutchison

| 3 min read

It is common for parents to seek expert help for their child during a divorce.Since everyone in the family often experiences very strong emotions during this time, it can be helpful for the child to have an outside support person (such as a therapist) that can help him/her understand their own feelings. In many instances, a parent’s own emotions may make it difficult to address the child’s concerns in a neutral manner.
Consider a therapist that will best meet the needs of your child. Play therapists and those that specialize in working with children often create an environment that is enjoyable so that the child looks forward to a visit. While you are considering who would be best for your child, here are a few do not’s for you to keep in mind.
Think divorce means the end of interacting with your ex. You’re still going to be co-parenting and you need to work together.
Argue in front of the child, even over the phone. Try to set aside disagreements in the presence of the child. Address issues as soon as possible and get assistance from the Friend of the Court if needed. Long-term conflict between divorced parents can result in a lasting, emotional impact on the child.
Talk disparagingly about your ex-spouse or in-laws. This type of behavior can be very harmful to children and their relationships, as it’s confusing and shames the child for feeling connected to their family.
Put the child in the middle. Never make the child the messenger or encourage “tattling” on the other parent.
Put the child in the role of caretaker. Seldom done intentionally, sometimes parents stop attending to their own needs and the child feels it’s necessary to fill the role of adult, which can be physically and emotionally damaging.
Make unnecessary changes. Consistency offers comfort, so stick with the same school and neighborhood if possible.
Attempt to compensate for the situation with material things. Buying everything the child wants because you feel guilty or in an attempt to “out do” the other parent will only increase unhealthy behavior patterns for the child. Spend time rather than money.
Become inconsistent with discipline. Do your best to maintain rules and structure within each home (even if they vary) to help prevent long-lasting behavior issues.
Put off getting additional help for yourself. If you are struggling with depression or the divorce is affecting your ability to work or care for yourself or your child, seek help from a mental health professional. You can’t have a healthy family if you aren’t caring for your own needs.
Photo credit: phil dokas
Laura Hutchison, PsyD, LP, RPT/S ,a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider, has been a practicing therapist since 1999. She obtained her Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) in 2005 from The Center of Humanistic Studies (now called the Michigan School for Professional Psychology). She currently works part-time in her private practice in Farmington Hills, Mich., writes her own blog, PlayDrMom, and is a full-time mom of two young children

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