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Divorce, Trauma, and Therapy in the Life of a Child

Kids are resilient. We hear this so often it has become cliché. Kids do seem to heal faster, embrace easier than adults. Then there are those times when an event in their lives is bigger than their emotions can handle. For some children this event is divorce.

If handled incorrectly, if the outcome is the loss of a parent in some way, divorce can serve as a traumatic event in the life of a child. Local therapist Ashley Earnhart (Licensed Professional Counselor, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) says "[t]rauma can result from any situation or experience that causes emotional stress. Because divorce is full of emotional stress, it can definitely be considered a trauma. Many variables and dynamics play a part in how stressful and traumatic the situation is and the extent to which long-lasting emotional scars may form." Not only can the event itself be traumatic, but divorce also serves a great loss to be grieved. "Divorce is also a grief process because there are many losses and adjustments that occur. Often times, there is not much about a child's routine that doesn't change when a divorce occurs. For the school age child it can mean that a different parent now takes you to school, having to move to a different neighborhood, having to attend an afterschool program instead of being picked up by a parent when school dismisses, having to share your time between two houses, and having to share your parents with new significant others. For adult children of divorce they can question the authenticity of their whole childhood, be pained by reminders of happier times, and can be triangled into the parental relationship in the 'friend' role while their title of 'child' is neglected," says Earnhart.

A step towards healing and understand is therapy. Earnhart explains, "Simply put, therapy is professional support in resolving emotional stress. For everyone involved, divorce involves unimaginably hard conversations, decisions, and adjustments. All families experiencing divorce can benefit from professional therapy. Individual emotional responses and the presence of additional traumas, such as affairs and domestic violence, and conflicts such as blending families, will determine the duration of therapy. Children often lose their sense of security when parents divorce. They also blame themselves often. Parents must learn to co-parent in a manner that will provide a continued sense of security for the child. The child needs to know that the parent unit is a team no matter what, or else anxiety can develop. Single parents can benefit from learning how to cope with the challenges of a child who doesn't understand why they lost a parent. Family therapy without the child present can be beneficial in helping parents resolve conflicts that interfere with their ability to co-parent after a divorce."

Pay attention to how your children respond to the divorce process, especially if it is a complicated one. Look for signs of depression, like anger and aggression. Take note of their behavior in school. Don't take for granted their youth and "resilience." As a family, whatever that definition comes to be, work together for the happiness and success of all involved.

Further Reading - Huffington Post Article on Play Therapy