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Section 2
Grieving Children

Question 2 | Test | Table of Contents

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in the last section, we discussed Telling the Children About Divorce.  This included telling together, headlining, the "now"and why?.

Do you have clients who are dealing with the aftermath of divorce?  Are their children mourning the loss of their parents’ marriage?  What advice do you give? 

In this section, we will discuss letting children mourn.  This will include the grief of good-bye, reorganizing their lives and sharing sorrow with peace.  As you listen, think about how you counsel your divorced clients regarding their grieving children.

Colette, age 28... was going through a divorce.  She asked, "I have a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old.  My husband just moved out, and I’m worried about how my kids are taking it.  I mean, I’m grieving myself…my husband left me for someone else, and I’ve certainly got my own issues to deal with…will our processes of grief coincide?"  I stated, "Stages of mourning are usually not in sync with the passage either parent is going through.  For you, it might be the end of a marriage, but for your children, they will likely feel their world has been ripped apart."  Colette stated, "What should I expect from them?"  How might you have responded?

4 Guidelines to Letting Children Mourn

♦ Guideline #1 - The Grief of Good-Bye
I stated, "First, there’s the basic grief of good-bye.  During this time, your children might deny the reality of the divorce.  They might lie to their friends and teachers about what is going on at home.  They might try to convince themselves and younger siblings that their parents don’t really mean it or are sure to change their minds.  They might also express anger and rage at anything and everything.  The world is unfair; their teachers are unfair; and their parents are the worst.  Your children might blame both you and your ex-husband or just one of you. 

Their schoolwork might suffer if they’re lost in daydreams, distracted, or so angry and frustrated that they are unable to concentrate on anything but the reality that their world is being torn apart.  If you and your ex are battling, your children might exhibit extreme hostility or aggression."  Do you agree?  Colette asked, "What if my children express their feelings aggressively?  How can I help them express themselves healthily?"  I stated, "When kids express their feelings irresponsibly, you can accept the feelings as real, name them, and help your children find alternative expressions that are both responsible and constructive." 

Colette stated, "My 7-year-old has been throwing his stuffed animals out the window onto the lawn.  I don’t know what he thinks that will accomplish!  He’s aggressive, I know…"  I stated, "You might say to him, ‘It’s all right to be frustrated about Mommy and Daddy not living together, but throwing your stuffed animals out the window onto the lawn probably won't help.  Can you talk to me about your frustration?  Let’s look at how we can work through this.’"

♦ Guideline #2 - Reorganizing Life
I stated, "Second, let’s discuss reorganizing life.  In this second stage of grief, kids might become lethargic, just barely moving through life.  Each major and minor change will remind them that the divorce is not going away.  They might feel powerless in its wake.  Some children will try to be very good or overly helpful.  Others will try to rewind by setting up ways to force their parents to get back together.  Some think getting ill or hurt will bring their parents back together."  Colette stated, "My 4-year-old is definitely trying her hardest to be good.  She keeps her room very neat and tidy, and she hardly makes a sound sometimes…it breaks my heart." 

I stated, "Again, when you acknowledge your children’s feelings as real and legitimate, without passing judgment, your children will hopefully come to learn that their feelings are important, that they can be trusted to handle them, and that it is okay to count on others for support.  As your daughter goes through her own passage of mourning, you might not just talk to her about how she’s feeling, but honor her expressions of those feelings.  For example, simply noticing, ‘You look really sad,’ can be a helpful acknowledgement to your daughter."

Colette asked, "Would it be appropriate to let my kids know that my feelings are like theirs?"  I stated, "Yes.  That can help your children to know that it is okay for them to express their feelings.  It might even be helpful to say, ‘It’s okay to feel angry at both of us.’  That can give your children permission to express anger at both of their parents."

♦ Guideline #3 - Sharing Sorrow with Peace
Colette asked, "Will my children ever overcome their grief?"  I stated, "When you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband eventually carry out a co-parenting plan, have resolved your differences without hostility and have allowed your children to express their feelings and opinions freely and honestly, your kids may start to see that they still have two parents who love them and have their best interests at heart.  Their enthusiasm for life may gradually return, and they will be able to redirect their energies into all the normal activities their own growing up entails."

In this section, we discussed Letting Children Mourn.  This included the grief of good-bye, reorganizing their lives and sharing sorrow with peace.  If you feel this information may be beneficial to a divorcing client with children, consider playing this section during one of your sessions.

In the next section, we will discuss Helping Them to Cope.  These will include infants, toddlers, five- to nine-year-olds and adolescents. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Christopher, C., Wolchik, S., Tein, J.-Y., Carr, C., Mahrer, N. E., & Sandler, I. (2017). Long-term effects of a parenting preventive intervention on young adults’ painful feelings about divorce. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(7), 799–809. 

Griese, B., Burns, M. R., Farro, S. A., Silvern, L., & Talmi, A. (2017). Comprehensive grief care for children and families: Policy and practice implications. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(5), 540–548. 

O'Hara, K. L., Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S. A., Tein, J.-Y., & Rhodes, C. A. (2019). Parenting time, parenting quality, interparental conflict, and mental health problems of children in high-conflict divorce. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(6), 690–703.

Rosso, A. M., Camoirano, A., & Chiorri, C. (2019). Validity of space responses: What can we learn from Rorschach protocols of divorcing couples fighting for child custody? Rorschachiana, 40(1), 3–21. 

Schonfeld, D. J., & Demaria, T. P. (2018). The role of school psychologists in the support of grieving children. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 361–362.

What are 3 steps to letting children mourn? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 3
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