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 they are having trouble managing) or the altered parenting environments are impacting on their functioning.  I am not saying this happens for all children, as some families separate and the children cope well with the changed routines and the circumstances.

However, for a majority of families, the changed routine or the family conflict can significantly impact on the child.


The Family shift:

I speak with many parents who express concern about their child or children. In some circumstances there has been parental conflict, or domestic violence for a period of time. This is often what can have the most impact on children. However, how the parent communicates with each other, and talk to the child about the other parent is also a factor. Some children may have an anxious personality and this can give them a vulnerability towards experiencing difficulty coping with changes in their routine. So, if their home life changes, then this can be an additional challenge for them. While it may work for some children to go between each parent in a shared care arrangement, it is often the older children that cope better with this.

For example, in my experience, children under 12 will find the disruption to their routines will affect their emotions and their behaviour. Many children flourish in a stable and consistent routine and life where there are not constant changes.

Period of LOSS

For some children, this family separation is a shock, and they too go thru a prior of loss and experience grief. Loss of the family being together, of their hopes and dreams of what family meant to them. They may think it was their fault and this may add further emotional challenges for them. For some children mum and dad “parent” very differently and this is their biggest challenge. I see a lot of children who (for whatever reason) cannot be their true selves with their father. This means that they are keeping their feelings inside and when return to their mother, where they may feel more emotionally “safe”, they release these feelings. This means that many mothers experience more emotions and challenging behaviours from children, and their parenting challenges are greater. In a family where the children may see their dad fortnightly on a weekend, having fun times with him, then being with their mother for school week stability- this can either be a stable and consistent life or it can be emotional and challenging. Many children then may challenge their mum’s “limit setting” or boundaries and this can cause more conflict in mums home ( as often at dad’s the boundaries are less rigid). It is not the “fault” of either parent, and no-one should be blamed for this situation, certainly not the mother, nor the father- and definitely not the children either. By realising all the impacts on children, then parents can better understand their child.



separation children

In our culture, the word “counselling” or “therapy” has many meanings attributed. This can cause a stereotype or resistance to accessing this service.  And if parents believe that there is something wrong with their child, then they may expect a professional can “fix” this……rather than understanding that the circumstances themselves need changing and the child needs more support. Some parents are resistant as they are embarrassed or experience uncomfortable feelings when hearing that their child is attending counselling and get very angry about this-rather than realising that their child is having difficulty and that counselling will give their child support and strategies to better manage their “tricky” feelings.

“In our culture, the word "counselling" or "therapy" has many meanings attributed. This can cause a stereotype or resistance to accessing this service.”

What is Involved?

This can differ from counsellor to counsellor. There are many different ways of “doing therapy” and “counselling” can look different depending on the background, qualifications, skills and experience of the counsellor. Some professionals will meet with the parent first, to obtain information and assist in the assessment.  Some professionals will see the child and parents together, either for the first session, all sessions, or part of some sessions. Other professionals treat the child as the client, giving the child confidentiality and a private therapeutic space.

The age (and stage of development) of the child also needs consideration.  Some children are very verbal and can be involved in discussing and considering their problems and challenges directly. Some children can listen and participate directly in their therapy. Other children need a variety of play-based techniques or activities to assist them.  There are a range of child counselling techniques that are very different to adult counselling techniques.

So, when a child comes to counselling, they may meet in a specially designed and set-up playroom. They may engage in play or draw or create things. They may talk directly with their counsellor about things at home, or they may not.  I encourage you, as the parent, to speak with your counsellor first about what to expect, and what techniques they utilise.

Many children benefit from having a safe place and a trained, experienced professional present to support them. Children can then be free to express their emotions, play out their emotions or experiences, or talk about their life-their worries, their memories and their good times.  Counselling for children is important, particularly if there has been a significant change in their life, experienced distressing situations, they are experiencing a range of emotions or their behaviour declines.

Jay is a Registered Psychologist, Counsellor and Play Therapist. She practices in southwest Western Australia. 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 within our directory.


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