Coping With Divorce - Do Your Kid(s) Really Need Therapy?
Kids will just be kids. They don't yet realize they are little manipulators. They say or do what they think will get them what they want. Babies use their cries and their tears. Toddlers often use their defiance, fits, cries, and their tantrums. Young kids learn to use their words and whines to get what they want. If you pay close attention you can dig down deep to the REAL reason they are saying something or acting in such a way.
Therapy or No Therapy?
Divorce and especially high conflict divorces (where you have to attend hearings to sort everything out) this can greatly affect your children negatively. If your children are starting to act out it's unlikely that you have the money to send them to therapy if you are in the middle of a divorce, are separated, or have just finalized your divorce.
Since your separation or divorce do you find your child (or children) making some unusual comments? Unsure how to respond to them? Feel free to post your own below and your exceptional responses that helped your children cope. Here are some examples to get us started:
"I don't have a home"
"I don't like Daddy's girlfriend Mommy"
"I don't have any fun over there, we never go anywhere"
Or they just sit there and don't say anything at all. They just give you a purposeful sad look and will do anything to avoid smiling.
I want to give you something psychological to think about and address each of these comments so far because they will be similar to many comments you will hear in different words.
"I don't have a home" A few good responses: What do you mean dear? You have two homes. Your home is always where your parents are. You could follow up with a question to get into their mind such as "are you sad about something" or "do you not like having two homes". Then you could even put it into a kids perspective - You have two parents that love you very much, and guess what!? Now on Christmas and your Birthday you'll get double gifts, some at Mommy's and some at Daddy's. At young ages kids don't get get the meaning of Christmas yet, so you can focus on that another time. Of if they are a very sympathetic child who is a little older you could say "You know how lucky you are to have two homes? Remember those children we see on TV that live in straw houses or don't even have anything to sleep in at night? Well, thank about how lucky you are that you have a home that protects you from the cold and better yet, you have two great homes. Chances are they are upset about both parents not being in the same home and/or having to go back and forth.
"I don't like Daddy's girlfriend Mommy" or the other way around. Before I go into responses there are a few things you need to ask yourself (either way, whether you are the Mom with Daddy's girlfriend or the Dad with Mommy's boyfriend). Do your kids have any reason to believe that you aren't happy about the new person being in the picture? If you have said one word to your kids about it or have shown any kind of disgruntled body language opposite of kind words and a smile towards the other person....the root cause of this comment is nobody else but you. Guess what?
They want to make everyone happy and kids are often way smarter than we give them credit for. He/she is saying this to you in hopes it will make you happy because they see there is a conflict. A child should never have to know there is a dislike or conflict between caregivers who may or not be family especially if that person is a significant other whom they spend a lot of time with. Kids should never know that you don't like the other person or their Mother or Father. The other parent is a reflection of them and half of them so if you bash the other parent (or even their future step-parent to be) they will believe the same about themselves. If you bash their possible future step-parent this may affect them for the rest of the life. You won't be able to convince the kids forever that the step-parent isn't nice and that they shouldn't like them because you don't. Eventually they will act on their opinion based on their experiences and it will back fire on you. A good reason to want to go live with the other parent when they are 14. Just watch yourself...don't be the cause of comments like these. If you are guilty free you are rare but I commend and respect you.
Chances are he/she is trying to make you happy and the chances are also high that there is something he/she wants...might even be a sweet tart. They will use it to win you over or get your sympathy so you'll say yes to something. Put yourself in their thoughts based on their age, kids want food or junk food, they want fun, they want something at the store or the mall, you name it, it's probably something really simple and nothing to do with the actual comment strategically stated to manipulate you.
A few good responses: First of all - don't even ask why because you'll open a door that shouldn't be opened. If there is an abuse concern that is different but you will usually see other signs for that and should approach that type of situation differently. Unless you are a great communicator and never blow things out of proportion I would suggest asking why. Curiosity is a killer though...I get it, but if you can't take it use gentle, surprised, and kind words and body language. So the best way to respond to this (even if you have said things you shouldn't have in the past) is honey I like him/her and hope we can get to know each other better. You can even say that you shouldn't have said what you did before about the other person and that was wrong of you because you didn't even know that person and the more you see or talk to that person the more you like them. This will take the whip right out of your child's hand.
You should also discuss this with the other party and meet the other person (and eventually in front of the kids) and just remember this is another pair of eyes on your children...to protect them and care about them. Unless you have proof that the new woman is abusive, mean, or crazy the only Mom's who act ridiculous when another woman comes into the picture are women who are threatened by the other woman because their parenting and/or mothering skills suck. You will always be your child's Mom so big deal if they have a step Mom or a woman around who is mothering them when they are over there. Basically, make sure the child or children know by your words and actions that you like and care about the other person. I know it can be hard, especially if you feel like she is trying to make you jealous but maybe it is just that she sincerely loves your children like they are her own. You should appreciate that and not be threatened by it. If she/he doesn't love them then you have a bigger problem. Suck it up and do what's right for your kids. No excuses.
"I don't have any fun over there, we never go anywhere" Ah, manipulation at it's finest!
It's possible that this is true. More often than not it is a cry to you so you will take he/she or them to more places while at your house. For example, I know two wonderful kids from a split family who ask Daddy to go out to eat all of the time. Daddy cooks dinner and is very maternal with his children so going out to eat is not high on the agenda, going out isn't as family oriented, it's not as healthy and it's money that doesn't need to be spent because he is great at cooking. When they are at Dad's they are always going somewhere or doing something. Examples of a few things he did with them practically in the dead of winter are: Disney on Ice, The Circus, the mall to play in the play area, Monkey Joe's to play on inflatables, out to eat about once or twice a month, always playing different types of family games when indoors, among many others. But the kids think or tell their Mom that "they don't get to ever go anywhere over there".
They say this because they are looking for sympathy from Mom because there is something that they are wanting. Whether it be attention from her or something specific they want they will say what they can in order to get what they want. Because the truth is that they don't get to go to as many cool places when they are with Mom because she is not very maternal and is too focused on work when she is at home. In many cases it might be the other way around, because usually the Dad isn't the maternal one but in this case he was always their primary caregiver even when they were married. Just tell your kids "You have fun over there so I'm sure you do all sorts of things and go places when you are over there". Then ask them what they are wanting to do. If you think they were purposely trying to manipulate you then it's probably a good idea to tell them no or maybe another time, that way they don't associate their comment and dishonest attempt to get what they want with you saying yes.
Free Parental Therapy
Before you spend all of that money on therapy...consider this. Maybe all they really need is you...
- Your Attention
- Your Structure and Consistent Discipline
- Time Away from Home with You
- Go to Special Places Together
- Time with Loving Extended Family
- Play Grounds and Indoor Play Places
Small Town Circus? Cheap Therapy...for Adults too ;)
Therapy Doesn't Have to Cost Money
Often times it's the parents that need to learn how to step away and stop and smell the roses. As parents we get so wrapped up in life, errands, cleaning, and money that we forget that our kids need our FULL attention as often as possible. Is quality time at your house reflect you on your computer and your child watching movies or playing alone? Or you sit together and watch movies?
If this is what your evenings and weekends consist of...come here for a minute...bad parent! bad! I know...I know...you're just busy and life is crazy...tell me about it. But that's still no excuse. Even if it's only 20 minutes a night between dinner and bed time or before dinner take some time out to play with your kids. During nice weather you should be outside with them, running around the yard, throwing ball, taking walks through the neighborhood, riding bikes....breaking out the play dough (easier to clean up if you do it outside).
If it's cold outside and you're broke drive to the nearest mall or McDonalds with a play area and let them be kids. Don't be looking at your phone or ipad while you're there with them. For several reasons...the most obvious one is they could escape the area...or someone could take them. The other reason is because even though you can't play with them they want you to...and you've heard it before "Watch Mommy" or "Watch this Daddy"! If you are really paying attention you'll see their face light up and they won't even have to say those words because they know you're watching. Or go see a 3D movie or a kids movie with them. Or stay in and play board and card games together. Buy stuff they can throw in the house, play ball or catch with them inside. Make up your own rules depending on their age...just have fun. Wrestle on the floor, tickle them a bit...just laugh and play. Make some muffins, homemade popsicles, or cookies together. Don't let them near the stove though (that should always be a rule) and don't let them help with the hot water or stirring for the popsicles. If you have any common sense I don't have to tell you that...but just in case I thought I better throw that in.
If it's raining and lightening free...throw on some rain coats (or at least one for them) and play and dance in the rain! Or forget the rain coat if it's warm and throw some pajamas, a towel, and blankets in the dryer, turn it on for 30 minutes...go out and play...and when you come back in dry them off with a warm towel, put warm pajamas on the, and wrap them up in a warm blanket.
When they act up, take the fun things away. Don't reward bad behavior. Be consistent, only give in if you misunderstood your child. If you warn them, and they don't listen, so you take it away...then they decide to act right and continue to get what they wanted...don't do it. If you don't be consistent with the first time you asked they will never listen to you the first time you say something. Their listening skills comes from you...not from them. You have to give them a reason to listen to you the first time you ask them to stop doing something...or else. I know they're cute and you hate when they appear mad at you, but don't give in to it. They are even cuter when they are being good and listen to what you ask of them...so remember that. They will be happier in the long run and you will be setting the foundation for the rest of their lives.
Have standards, cook a real dinner, go to a fun church, have healthy snacks, give up a piece of candy sometimes (they don't need a whole bunch at one time) forget about work when you're not at work, issue discipline consistently, have a bed time and stick to it.
Even the smallest gestures show your kids how important they are to you and how much you love them. Such as reading a book to them every night at bed time. My boy knows it's bed time when I tell him to go pick out a book. Make up a special handshake or gesture that only you two do together. Do the handshake or special gesture at bed time for one last smile. Butterfly kisses, eskimo kisses...you name it.
If it's warm outside and you aren't broke take them to the Zoo, a water park, the pool, the museum, an outdoor theater, give them some money for toys and take them to garage sales.
I'm sure there's a website where you can look up ideas of fun things to do with your kids...so do it.
What does all of this have to do with therapy? Well, let's see...most kids act out when they want something from you, usually that something is ATTENTION. If you find that's all they were after no matter what age they are...make it happen and kiss the need for therapy goodbye...and save some money because therapy is expensive. The zoo is cheaper and your child will be happy.
Take some pictures of you two together and of your child having fun, look at the pictures with them in the next day or two. Actually get them developed and add them to an album with notes and dates with the pictures. Any child should be able to look back at memories with you when they get older. Show them again years down the road how great their child hood really was.
Still Acting Out?
Have you done it all, have you given them all your attention and consistently disciplined them when they are naughty and still need more results? Well, remember they are kids...they are not going to be perfect, they are learning their boundaries and you have to continue to be the one who teaches them. There is no therapist that exists that can make up for your lack of proper parenting skills. But the right therapist can help if your child has some deep down issues that someone specially trained can assist with. The trick in my opinion is to advise the therapist that you want to avoid the child thinking there is something wrong with them and that they need "therapy". Just be careful how you word it depending on your child's age.