Counseling children of divorce can be heart rending.
But those of us in the field may forget how perceptive children are, how closely attuned to mom and dad's relationship they are.
I can remember as a little boy of five or six how sad I was when my mother and father quit kissing passionately when he came home from work. I knew that something had died. I used to watch for that to happen, and the watching links directly to assuring myself that someone was going to take care of me. If they were a team, my chances were better.
In other words, children are aware of the conflict between mom and dad, and they may struggle to fix it, but they already know in most cases.
The emotional connection between my parents, both of whom were very susceptible to the victim side of the victim-persecutor-rescuer triangle, died when I was little. My younger brother may have never known them to be connected.
But children do continue to hope, and when my parents finally divorced after I had gone off to college, I listened to the two of them talk about what they were perceiving, and I was truly amazed at the divergent stories.
Even at 19, I made a decision to write long letters to them both in an attempt to mediate and urge them to talk.
Neither replied, and I dropped my efforts. I had my own life to live. But that does not mean I wasn't sad, or angry, and right now I am feeling sad for their divorce and the choices I made about my relationships with them and my siblings.
Their divorce proceedings happened in the late 1960's, and both had passed not too long after that, I believe because of WWII and its aftermath coupled with way too much drinking and smoking.
However, I did not make any effort to reconnect with my brother and sister until the mid-1990's, as I entered into my 40's.
So divorce and family of origin issues impact kids for a long time.
So what do we do as counselors, working with children of divorce?
The most important thing I would want my children to know, imagining myself divorcing, is how to manage their feelings about mom and dad and themselves.
I would want them to know that they are going to experience a full range of feelings, that those feelings will pop up unexpectedly, and that the feelings are OK, and some awareness should be brought to behaviors. In other words make some choices.
I have worked to teach my children some Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT) in regards to thoughts and thinking patterns.
What is CBT?
"Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) helps improve a child's moods, anxiety and behavior by examining confused or distorted patterns of thinking. CBT therapists teach children that thoughts cause feelings and moods which can influence behavior. During CBT, a child learns to identify harmful thought patterns. The therapist then helps the child replace this thinking with thoughts that result in more appropriate feelings and behaviors. Research shows that CBT can be effective in treating a variety of conditions, including depression and anxiety." (From the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)
As I teach those tools, (even without a divorce) I strive to find analogies from my children's lives which will demonstrate how fast their thoughts change.
For my son, the Play Station, oops, XBox champion of the world, and budding Little League pitcher, it is easy to point out how fast the screen on his game changes, and how much time he has as a batter to make decisions about whether to swing at a pitch or not.
I think he understands that his mind is very quick, and when he is frustrated by a game, that he feels anger very fast and the expression of that anger is almost as quick.
So any CBT teaching must take into account the speed of the Central Nervous System.
I would certainly consider mindfulness tools in working with children in divorce counseling, including a couple of computerized brain fitness programs, Heartmath and Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro.
They are both easy to learn, which helps the child be successful at a time when they may not feel like there is any hope, and both are learned experientially which allows the child to be successful without "talking" much.
As the child develops some success, perhaps other emotional issues can be worked on in counseling.
Heartmath helps a child to recognize feelings and thoughts and their impact on the inside of their body heart beat by heart beat, and the Freeze Frame side of Heartmath is an excellent CBT model.
Switch the thoughts to switch the feelings. Heartmath also has an impact on test taking for kids, and sports, so it is an excellent stress management tool.
Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro is a tool which increases IQ, and what budding Super Hero, or child feeling bad about a divorce won't jump at he chance to increase brain power.
When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
Would you share what you are most grateful for? Your story could be just what another person is searching for to renew themselves? Thanks.
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