Q – My Ex-wife and I have been divorced for over a year and get along very well. Unfortunately our children (6 and 10 Years old) seem like they’re struggling. One child won’t talk and holds everything in while the other seems angry all the time. Their mom and I don’t know if they’re just being normal kids and we’re dealing with personality traits or if we should be worried that our divorce is having a profound effect on them. As a result, we’ve decided to take them to a counselor. What is the best way to approach them about it and keep them from being anxious?
A – When issues come up with kids after parents part, figuring out what’s related to divorce and what’s not can be really tough. Since you and your Ex have a good co-parenting relationship, I’d recommend that the two of you make an initial consultation appointment with a professional before engaging your children in therapy.
Here’s why. I frequently tell parents therapist are a lot like shoes, just because they look good doesn’t mean they’re a fit. Before introducing kids to a professional, it’s important that you feel comfortable and confident that they’re someone you want working with your children. While some professionals may be willing to talk with you by phone, it’s usually best if you can meet face-to-face first. An in person meeting also gives you the chance to:
- See a counselors office space.
- Get a feel for their personality and access whether they’d be a fit with your children.
- Receive additional information about a professional’s background, experience and treatment philosophy.
Additionally, keep in mind that most children of divorce can make a successful adjustment without engaging in therapy or professional counseling. If you are concerned about how your kids are handling things, it could be really beneficial for you and your Ex-wife to consider jointly participating in counseling or coaching first. Through working with a counselor, life coach or therapist, parents can often receive the kind of information and support they need to make important changes and substantially improve things for their kids.
At the end of the day, if you still feel your children would benefit from having someone else to talk to, do your best to prepare kids for what to expect. Probably the best first step is to normalize the reason for talking to a professional. A lot of times children may think they did something wrong or that they’re the problem. Other kids may view therapy or counseling as punishment and resent being told they have to talk to some “stranger” about things that are private.
Let your kids know that when parents divorce lots of kids feel like they have to go it alone. A lot of times kids carry around worries or feelings that they don’t want to share with their parents because they don’t want to make things worse or hurt Mom or Dad’s feelings.
Reassure your children that a therapist or counselor is someone safe you can talk to when you need help sorting things out. I often use the analogy of going to the dentist when your tooth hurts or going to the doctor when you don’t feel good. A therapist is a lot like a dentist or a doctor except instead of helping you feel better on the outside, they help you feel better on the inside.
**For more information on when to look for help, check out Chapter 27 of PARENTING APART the book. Providing separated and divorced parents the tools they need to raise HAPPY and SECURE kids.
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