Why Consider Counseling for Children of Divorce?

“When and how do I know my child needs to meet with a counselor after parental separation and divorce?”

While the answer depends on the circumstances, parents may find it helpful to consider the following:

All people, children and adults, need at least 3-6 months to adjust to any change, especially a major change to their family such as a divorce. This is especially true for children. A groundbreaking study called the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study (Kaiser et al. 1999) found that a divorce is a traumatic event associated for children who are under the age of 18. The U.S. Census Bureau, involved in research about counseling children of divorce, estimated that about 50% of all American children born after 1982 lived in a single-parent home sometime during their first 18 years of life, mostly due to a divorce. Given this research; counseling children of divorce has huge benefits.

Changes in a child’s behavior during that adjustment period is normal. However, if changes last longer than 6 months or interfere with everyday life, i.e. school, friends, activities, etc., it’s time to consider assessing the child for counseling.

A Child’s Reaction to Divorce Based on Age

One of the most effective advantages of counseling is helping the child develop coping skills. Research examining children’s mechanisms for coping with divorce shows their age and developmental stage are predictive of their behavior. How do children of divorce react to counseling by age group?

Ages 5-8. Children in this age group tend to react with great sadness. Some may feel fearful, insecure, helpless, and abandoned by the missing parent. The younger children in this group often express guilt and blame themselves for their parents’ divorce.

Ages 9-12. Intense anger distinguishes this age group from younger children. They may still feel loneliness, loss, shock, surprise, and fear, but anger and possibly the rejection of one parent are the predominant reaction.

Ages 13-18. Adolescents also experience loss, sadness, anger, and pain. A typical adolescent reaction to parental divorce, however, often includes acting-out behaviors i.e., sexual promiscuity, delinquency, the use of alcohol and drugs, and aggressive behavior.

Benefits of Counseling

Depending on the child, here are two methods of counseling that offer benefits:

Group Therapy. The first type of counseling for children of divorce is group therapy. Therapy groups that are made up of other kids going through divorce are particularly helpful for pre-teens and teens. Those children commonly turn to their peers (children of the same age and in the same situation) for help understanding their world. This makes it one of the better choices for counseling with kids over 12.

Individual Counseling. Another therapy option is individual counseling. This usually targets children with long-term, unproductive coping behaviors and for children who cannot work well in groups. These sessions work well for young kids, teens and even for adult children of divorce.

Match child, counselor and treatment. It’s important that the counselor and child have a connection along with the right therapy. When all of these things work, magic can happen. Counseling children of divorce builds their resilience, coping skills, and combats the dreary statistics listed above related to children of divorce. Ask questions of the therapist about how he or she plans to conduct their counseling sessions and what their goals are for your child. Observe the interaction with your child. Once you feel confident in the program, then go forward with helping your child.

Alpha Resource Center, LLC


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