Strategies and Techniques For Working With Post-Divorce Children, Part I
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have
worked with children of all ages for over twenty years.
Usually parents drag their kids into my office complaining
of a litany of bad behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up
their rooms, to getting bad grades, hitting their siblings,
or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs. I work with
parents to change their children's behavior. It is very
helpful for the parents to know their children's experiences.
This and the next article address what the child thinks about
the divorce and how s/he behaves during visitation.
In an ebook, I focus on how to work directly with children.
In that ebook, I describe the two main behavioral "engines" that
change children's behavior. One is the ratio of positive-to-negative
messages. I call them the Four-To-One rule. This states that for
every five things you say to your child, four of them should be
positive. There are four positive communications to every one
"other." The "one" communication that is not positive should be
as close to neutral as possible. It can be negative as that is
sometimes necessary, but overall, make sure there are four
positive things said to offset it. The 4:1 rule is the right default
ratio for warm-blooded, social, nurturing-dependent mammals
in relationships, including and especially children. As parents,
you get to pick what the four "things" are, but this is what needs
to be kept in mind when addressing children.
The other engine involves the characteristics or "contingencies"
of the reinforcers. There are three in my system: Immediacy,
Consistency and Constancy. In short, these mean rewarding
the chosen good behaviors right away, every time and with the
same kind of reward, each time. The techniques discussed in
the ebook, How To Change Children's Behavior (Quickly) are essential,
especially when dealing with poorly behaved children, or in this case,
children who are distressed. If you did not know how to
effectively deal with children's behavior before the separation and/or
divorce, you will have a much more difficult time afterwards. If your
child is acting out, consider learning how to work with the behaviors
alongside with the below tips.
Overwhelmingly, the norm is for kids to regret the separation of
their parents, and then to act out some of their feelings to express
their displeasure. As a rule, the younger the child, the more he or she
will act out vs. talk about his or her feelings. When children do not
talk about how they feel, acting out intensifies. One of the first things
to do for your children even before and certainly after the divorce is
to teach them a vocabulary of their feelings.