Divorce – A Child’s Perspective

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog


Divorce is an incredibly complex issue for children and teens to understand. A critical factor when considering how children and adolescents might be impacted by separation or divorce is their egocentricity. What is meant by egocentricity is that children and teens look to themselves, almost always, as the cause of problems that arise in the family and this can provoke great stress and anxiety for them, especially in the case of divorce.
No matter how much you as a parent might try to assure your children that they are not the cause of the break up, none the less they tend to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that they are in some way the cause. They may contemplate thoughts like, ‘If I had been a better kid or a smarter kid, this wouldn’t have happened.” I once had a young adult client whose parents had separated several years earlier, right after a baseball game in which he played poorly. A part of him still felt his inadequacy at the game had somehow tipped the marriage, which ended, over the edge. Added to children’s thoughts of blame is usually the enduring hope that the family will come back together again. This hope may span many years. Assurances by parents that kids are not to blame and the reasons for the break up must be consistent and repeated over time as must the fact that the family has changed permanently. Children’s self blame can manifest in behaviors such as acting out, tantrums, bed wetting, sleeping issues and depression. For adolescents, drinking and the use of drugs or other substances are symptomatic of painful feelings they cannot tolerate because they lack the needed coping skills.
Sadness and loss are normal reactions for all of those in the family affected by divorce. However, if your child or adolescent is exhibiting behaviors that concern you, consider whether the help of a therapist might be appropriate—both for them and for yourself. Whether you’re contemplating separation or divorce, in the midst of one, or dealing with the aftermath, I encourage you to reach out for support. Don’t struggle through this difficult time alone.

The Art of Listening

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog, Therapy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb lis-ten as “to hear something with thoughtful attention.” As I work with clients, I’m reminded repeatedly of how difficult this is for the trained therapist let alone those who are just going about their lives. Yet,  to quiet the minutiae of data—past, present and future tasks and concerns—constantly swirling in our heads, is what it takes to really listen and be present for another. And in the end, perhaps what we all want and need more than anything, is to be heard.

The truth is that even when we can quiet our chattering minds, usually our brain is busy either preparing a rebuttal to what we are hearing “Yes, but ….” , or busy rehearsing what we’re going to say as soon as the person stops speaking. As parents, spouses and friends the ability to listen with empathy is especially critical for healthy relationships and keeping open a clear and caring line of communication. What do I mean by that? Listening with empathy means immersing yourself in the other’s experience with the purpose of better understanding that individual. There is no other expectation. If you find you’re having difficulty following what the person is saying, ask questions from a place of curiosity, as though you were a detective unraveling a mystery. The beauty of this approach is that answers to our concerns come to us more easily when we feel calmly listened to and understood.

For parents I encourage you to try the following exercise 2-3 times each week. Establish a time when you and your child/adolescent have time together to talk. The goal of this time together is for you to better understand your child. Find a place where you and your child will not be interrupted by other siblings. You can even give your time together a name, for example, your “special time” or your “alone time.” This is very meaningful for children. For spouses, committing to establishing listening times for each of you is excellent for decreasing the level of tension in your relationship and bringing you closer. The three golden rules are: no distractions; neither of you can talk about the relationship, kids, home or work; and neither partner can comment on what the other shared. In your own words, just let your partner know that you’re interested in understanding them better, and you appreciate them “sharing” with you. A walk together may provide the perfect time for this exercise. You’ll be surprised by what you learn about one another!

Remember, listening is an art and like anything else to be a good listener takes practice. When in doubt about whether you’re doing it well, just keep in mind that the word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.”

Are You Optimizing your Public School Options to Help Your Child?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

As a provider of therapy and school counseling services, it’s apparent to me that parents often have no idea how to optimize public school options to make sure kids who are going through a difficult time are well supported in their academic environment. School counselors (who are not therapists), for the most part, have huge numbers of kids that they are overseeing, with ratios sometimes as high as 1 to 400. Some are academic advisors only; some are personal and social counselors; and others have dual functions. Understanding your school’s resources and using them are very much worth a parent’s time in an effort to help their child.

Kids spend almost 30 hours of their week in the school setting, so it can make a significant difference to your child if you let teachers and the school counselor be aware of issues such as low self esteem, depression, learning disorders, anxiety, fears of bullying or any ongoing bulling that you know about. Similarly, it’s in your child’s best interest that teachers and counselors be informed about family changes such as separation, divorce, death, illness, remarriage, and blended families. While, as parents, we may sometimes feel we want to keep certain events in our lives private from school, the benefit to your child when school personnel are informed far outweighs the drawbacks. In addition to teachers being more kind, sensitive to and patient with your child’s behavioral changes, counselors can often form a special bond with your child and check in with him/her one or more times a week. If your child needs more formal support, 504 Plans or Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) may be called for to put in place and will require involvement of the school psychologist.

The best way to communicate with your school’s personnel is by telephone with a follow up e-mail referring to your conversation and your request for assistance. Documenting your requests and the school’s agreed interventions or measures of support is recommended. It will be up to you to be your child’s best advocate and make sure what the school agreed to is followed through on. For children who need extensive accommodations as part of Individualized Education Plans, if affordable, parents may wish to hire an education advocate to guide them through the IEP process and optimize services.

During difficult and changing times, school can become a major stressor for your child. When parents and schools work together, the school environment can be one that offers children greatly needed support and predictability to navigate those difficult times.