Separation EMOTIONS:

Emotions are tricky things…….sometimes even adults can’t handle emotions!! Annoyed, happy, angry, frustrated, hurt, sad, scared, excited, nervous…….so many different feelings. So many situations, and we all respond differently.

Children gain comfort and security from a combination of factors – but mostly it relates to a positive relationship with their parents and a consistent routine.  When a family is separated, there are many emotions – for everyone.

For some children, there were a whole bunch of emotions before the separation – and for others, the separation was a surprise.  Indeed, for even the adults involved, a range of emotions are involved in the separation decision.  It may be a mutual decision, but often it is one parent/adult’s decision – a decision that impacts significantly and out of the control of the other adult, and the children involved.

How do we support kids?

As a Child and Family Counsellor, I work with many children every day.  Children who have experienced their parents separate are often the majority of my clients.  Some children attend counselling because both of their parents are concerned about something.  Many children attend because one parent is more concerned about things, and often that is their emotions. Too often the parents are not talking, in conflict, or saying mean and terrible things about the other parent. 

A typical situation would involve a mum seeking support for her boy who is angry, not listening and with “difficult behaviour”.  She says that his dad reports no problems at home with him……and that with her there are tantrums and regular emotional outbursts.  In my experience, children are often more comfortable in “letting their feelings out” with their mum. 

Even in families where both parents are together, it is common that children are more likely to be more comfortable sharing their feelings with one parent, rather than with both parents. Ie some children share with their mum more than with their dad.

"Children often feel stuck in the middle – unable to say how they feel, and often made to agree with one parents feelings about the other parent. It’s a real tricky situation!"

Forcing a child to spend time with one parent: 

The child may have particular fears or worries about something, and this is being ignored. 

A child may not have a close relationship with one parent, yet they are being considered as a “pawn” and made to spend more time with one parent, because that parent seeks to meet their own needs, and not consider the best interests of the child……Its important that parents listen to children express their feelings, and if children are distressed, to allow them space and to focus on improving the relationship – rather than forcing a child into a situation that they do not wish to be a part of.

Emotions:

Once parents are separated, there are a range of emotions; shock, disbelief, upset, hurt, angry

For some children it is a relief, as perhaps home was scary and noisy and upsetting with parents arguing or with physical or emotional abuse.  For other children it is a disruption.  Some children may blame themselves for the separation, or even blame one parent.  Sometimes, one parent shares their feelings about the situation with the child (inappropriately) and that leads to a range of other emotions. 

Separation Decisions: 

Decisions about who cares for who and about “who lives there, who lives here”. 

Sometimes parents separate siblings, with one parent keeping one child, and another parent keeping the other child.  Often the children stay together, with one parent – and then spend time with the other parent.  At times, the routine of this care arrangement can be complex and unsettling for children – many children spend equal time with each parent.  This may be a few days here, a few days there – or a week here and a week there.  All of this involves a range of feelings and emotions.

Tips and strategies to improve your relationship with your child :

1. Spending some time reflecting on the day – allowing space to discuss feelings.

2. Listen carefully and acknowledge your child’s feelings.

3. Be a good role model – Share your thoughts and feelings in a general way – when children understand that adults experience emotions too – it helps them understand their own.

4. Keep communication respectful with your ex-partner.

5. Before disciplining your child – consider the emotions involved and reflect that back to your child – eg I can see you are upset right now, or it looks like you are frustrated.  This can help your child in recognising their own emotions and helps them to see you understand.

6. Contacting a child counsellor – allowing your child independent emotional support can be most beneficial in many situations.

"Remember that your child learns emotion management from YOU!"

Jay is a Registered Psychologist, Counsellor and Play Therapist. She practices in southwest Western Australia at the Southwest Wellbeing Centre. Jay has worked in the Human Services field for about 20 years, of which the last 9 years have involved therapeutic work.  Jay’s passion is “making a difference” and she works with adults as well as children. 

She has a strong interest in Animal Assisted Therapy and her dog has engaged in therapy with her for a few years now.  You will find Jay at www.swwellbeing.com.au

How can counselling help my child during Separation?

Let's chat about the basics: As a child and family counsellor I have found that a major proportion of our referrals (and my clients) are children from separated families. What this often means is either that children are experiencing more challenging emotions (that...

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