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California: Don't Divorce The Children
(provided by Dana Schutz, MA, LMFT and Irving Zaroff, JD, LMFT)
Does divorce traumatize children? The answer depends on two factors: the child's resiliency and the environment created by divorce. People are unique in their personal makeup. Some experience events like they're made of Teflon - it just slides off. Others experience events as severe trauma - they are enduringly influenced. While parents can do no more for the former, once they have left their DNA, they have a great deal of influence over the latter.
How can parents help to minimize the risk of trauma to children during and after divorce?
Parent to child:
- Provide space for children to express their fears, sadness and sense of loss.
- Make clear that the divorce was not their fault.
- Reassure them that they will be safe.
- Create a stable routine and appropriate discipline.
- Give them ample advance notice of changes whenever possible.
- Avoid making your child a source for your emotional support.
Parent to self:
- Support your child's relationship with their other parent and avoid negative comments about them.
- Keep the specifics of the divorce between yourselves - because it is.
- Avoid using children to communicate between parents - or report on them.
- Avoid conflict and argument in the presence of the children.
- When possible, speak to your children together to reassure them they are loved by you both.
- Find ways to communicate with each other that eliminate (or reduce) hostility.
Some of the indicators that children are experiencing the divorce in a traumatic way are:
- Maintain and/or build a support system from extended family and friends.
- Consider individual or group organized or professional support.
- Strive for balance in your life despite the stresses (eat well, exercise, and nourish your spirit).
- Set goals and prioritize issues you need to address.
- Inform yourself of the challenges faced in divorce and co-parenting.
- Be forgiving and accepting of yourself - there's probably enough guilt in the system already.
When parents divorce, they don't divorce the children.
- Increased moodiness.
- Negative self-comments (i.e., "No one likes me." "I hate myself." "I'm dumb").
- Withdrawal or losing interest in things they used to like.
- Sleep or eating problems.
- Drug or alcohol use.
- Uncharacteristic anger outbursts or fighting.
- Loss of concentration.
Information provided by:
Dana Schutz, MA, LMFT and Irving Zaroff, JD, LMFT
California Divorce Source
California Divorce Laws
California Community Forum
California Divorce Resources
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