Strategies and Techniques For Working With Post-Divorce Children,
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.
The previous and the next article address what the child
thinks about the divorce and how s/he behaves afterwards. Please
read the previous article in this series before reading
In the literature on emotional intelligence, there are eight
major feelings that encompass most of what we humans emotionally
experience. I looked at this list and thought they left one out,
so in my office and for the purposes of this ebook, there are nine.
The major feelings are: anger, sad, happy, love, fear, hurt,
surprise, shame and disgust. Parents can help their kids better
process divorce by using these vocabulary words, out loud, in
Start with the above nine and add synonyms--as many for each of
the nine feeling words as the child's emotional and intellectual
maturity allows. I go to thesaurus.com and type in each word, and
then type in the synonyms of the synonyms. (I did this for a year
and had others do the same. At the end of a year, I had nearly
eight hundred synonyms for the nine feeling words. This list can
be found at the end of another ebook I wrote, The Five Steps of
Assertiveness. Younger children only need three or four words for
each of the nine feeling words. Teenagers need five-to-ten.
When a child acts out, he or she is expressing feelings in
non-verbal ways, through behaviors that usually attract negative
attention. The non-verbal, unexpressed feelings are usually
negative, so the non-verbal behaviors usually convey those feelings,
which is why the recipient of said behaviors usually feels negative,
and which is why such behaviors usually attract negative parental
attention. Such behaviors, if unchecked are troublesome, not to
mention annoying. But, emoting in this way (verbally or
nonverbally) is a normal reaction to a very abnormal event. From
the child's point of view, the divorce is bad, even if not expressed,
so naturally the child has "bad" feelings.
As a parent, the task is to teach children, which words go with the feelings they are having.
Parents are usually pretty good at intuiting what their kids feel,
so if the child doesn't know what feeling he or she is having, the
parent can say something like, "When kids act like you are right now,
they are usually feeling ________. (Parents fill in the blank with
the appropriate feeling word.) Is that what you feel now?"
Most times, this nails it and the child will say, "Uh-huh" or just
nods. The trick is to get children to talk about what they feel,
not act out their feelings. It takes a little practice, but kids
catch on quickly, especially if there is a reward that quickly follows
just for trying. It turns out this tool is a very effective way to
connect with the child just when they need it most. In addition,
verbalizing one's feelings is a tool that sets up life-long success
in communication in all kinds of relationships.
When the vocabulary words are in place, parents can more easily
teach children that what they are experiencing because of the divorce
is difficult to deal with, stressful, even painful. It is important
to teach them that what they are experiencing is normal; that most
children feel just the same way as they do. It is not an ideal
situation so their reactions will not be, either.
Even years after the divorce, make sure you are available to
listen to your kids express their feelings whenever they want to talk.
As they grow and develop, they will need new information or want to
express themselves more completely and deeply.