Tag Archive for: Children

During times of transition and grief, parents often expect sadness and anxiety as the news of a divorce is shared and daily activities and homelife changes. We practice empathizing and soothing our children, creating structures and plans to help them feel safe and loved during the changes.  And, still, despite the well thought out plans, disruptive anger and aggression often present themselves in the picture. Today’s article will describe the developmental purpose of anger, as well as offer some strategies for meeting and managing these feelings together as a family.

At every developmental stage, there is a need to have influence and control of our environment, from cradle to grave. We seek a secure base from which to take multiple risks to grow. Children do not have control in a divorce. They don’t decide to separate. For many, the awareness of this and the uncertainties that lie before them, evoke a forceful resistance to maintain a known experience. There is power in anger, a fierce “no” to protect themselves. Children can feel and touch their influence in a real way, as others respond to them. Anger is a normal response to unexpected change. With that said, it is not a desired state to reside within, but move through toward a balanced acceptance of a new reality.

Following are a few ideas to help manage and work with anger and aggression:

  • Acknowledge the truth about the lack of control while creating opportunities for them to have influence. What are some elements of the transition that they can make choices about? Some examples that families have tried are choosing the times of transition “Would you like to go to the other house in the morning or afternoon?” or helping to decorate the new home, “I’d like you to choose the color of dishes for our new kitchen.”
  • Allow for healthy expressions of anger and create a plan, “What are some things you can do when you’re angry?”  Belly breathing doesn’t always work then! What activities can release the physical energy? Jumping on the trampoline, running around the yard, yelling into a pillow, creating a “punching” object are all examples of ways children can direct this emotion. Just as important, establish boundaries around the expressions of anger that are not allowed such as yelling at or punching a sibling. This co created plan creates a safe place to move through the unpleasant feeling.
  • Lastly, help your child to accept this as an understandable response. Many children feel guilt and shame that their anger affects their family, too. “Our family is going through many emotions together, and we’ll get through this together.”  Read books or tell stories to help them understand that other children have felt similarly, too. Anger is a normal response in the grieving process and can lead them to a healthy adjustment within the new family dynamic.

 

“All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s).”-Bowlby, 1988

 

 

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Diane Gans, MA, LPC
Psychotherapist & Child Specialist
1609 Willamette Falls Dr.
West Linn, OR 97068
503-704-3759

Diane’s Website
Email Diane

 

As families begin the process of divorcing, understanding how this loss affects children can help parents prepare to respond and support them.  Psychologists like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and William Bridges have explored grief for decades, hoping to universalize and connect us through these shared experiences. As with all development, these are guidelines from which each child enters and explores the process. It is not linear nor something to “check a box” for completion. The transition to acceptance is circular and ongoing.

In this first article, I’ll explore some initial emotions and typical reactions and how I work with children during these first stages of grief.

Some common terms to describe the first stages of a loss include shock, denial, and confusion. How does this show up in a child?  How might they respond when parents first tell them about the upcoming change in the family?  It’s helpful when parents work with me prior to the conversation to create common language and plans for responding to the questions and what potential challenges they expect. Parents are managing their own strong emotions of loss during this conversation and concerns for their child’s well-being are heightened and natural. We discuss developmental differences with various ages and temperaments. Responses might range from tears and physical clinginess to seemingly disinterested replies: “Cool, can I go play now?”  Denial serves a protective purpose for the mind. It helps create space and time for the safety to emerge in which this unexpected reality can enter…

Parents can create safety in these first moments by addressing questions potentially unasked about the upcoming weeks and months ahead.  How are my daily activities going to change? When are these changes happening? What choices do I have within these family changes? What will stay the same for me?  These responses should be delivered while attuning to the child’s capacity to receive. If a child is in denial and seeking normalcy, chasing them to their room with these overwhelming plans obviously isn’t recommended, rather understanding their potential confusion and offering time and space to respond to expected questions helps to give children control in unfamiliar waters.

When I meet with children during these first weeks, our time together is designed to empower them to be with their unique experience through exploration and validation of feelings and concerns, while reinforcing their strengths and resilience of their families. We work expressively through art, play, and conversations.

Families are creating their divorce story in these first stages. I help parents honor and retain the love that created this family in these moments. This love lives through their children and can help guide and support the loss the children experience.

In the next article, I’ll address bargaining, anger, and anxiety that affect some children during these stormy seas.

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Diane Gans, MA, LPC
Psychotherapist & Child Specialist
1609 Willamette Falls Dr.
West Linn, OR 97068
503-704-3759

Diane’s Website
Email Diane