How Not To Divorce the Kids

  • Will I go to the same school?
  • Will I get to see my friends?
  • Who’s going to feed “Trixie” when I’m not here?

Divorce is messy. It is complicated and stressful and heartbreaking. None of this happened on Definitely, Maybe or Crazy, Stupid, Love, or any of the other Hollywood films in recent memory. But in addition to what adults have to contend with, there’s also the difficulty of finding a way to talk to your child about divorce and the changes to come. Most importantly, keep in mind that you’re not divorcing the kids.

Successful parenting during and after divorce and how to make transitioning between households as easy as possible are among the topics to be discussed at a free program on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cadenza Center, located on 450 N. Park Road, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021. Parking is easy and free. 

Since the initial discussion may be one of the most difficult moments in the process, let’s review some scenarios for discussions with your children. First of all, make sure to have a strategy in mind. During the planning period, you’ll need to figure out logistics before involving the kids. Then, share your plans at an appropriate developmental level.

While it is important to be honest, it’s even more critical to select an appropriate timeframe, as kids don’t need to know six months beforehand. If they’re ten, the kids don’t need a review of the college pre-paid plan. They need to know who’s driving them to baseball practice this weekend.

Ideally, the whole family should initially sit together after guidance from a trained therapist. Providing clear information the first time will smooth the process. Try to have an idea ahead of time of what the kids will want and need to know, and be prepared for many types of questions.

  • Who is moving?
  • What days will I be at mom’s house?
  • Are you going to be lonely when we’re with dad?

Everyone, parents and children, will be experiencing a new lifestyle and that type of transition can churn up emotions and instability. Be aware of how your child expresses stress; some kids are likely to become extra clingy, whiney, or irritable. How will you manage that?

Likewise, as a parent you will have to let go of an unrealistic expectation that you will know everything going on with your kids at every moment. Setting up a contact schedule, such as nightly phone calls, might be helpful although the calls will likely last only a few minutes.

But make sure you’re not putting the onus on the kids to call and report. It’s critical not to add pressure or stress, and to keep things somewhat flexible. Rigid call times are not realistic but you can set a consistent timeframe, like just before bedtime.

An agreed-upon calendar will help minimize the anxiety from timesharing; it is helpful to post it in the homes of both parents. Kids, especially those that plan and dislike instability (which is most kids), want to know where they will be and who they can rely on. A child-sharing calendar will allow them to envision their own schedule and plan some projects accordingly. As many have learned, some school projects don’t travel well. Planning ahead is critical for all, but especially the children, who are likely the least able to express the insecurity.

  • Will I get to see my friends?
  • Who is “Trixie” going to live with?
  • Can I take my bed?

The flow of belongings and storage has been dramatically altered, and it might take a while for all concerned to get organized again. It’s imperative to detach from the “I need these items back” mindset but engage your kids when they are packing and help them plan ahead.

For example, if the kids have a habit of not bringing their favorite sneakers home, should they take them for a weekend visit? Or, if you need to make a tie-dye t-shirt for the school play, make sure all the supplies are ready in one place and there’s a plan or schedule to make it happen.

In getting accustomed to these changes, avoid control issues and work to manage or let go of your own anger and anxiety. It is crucial to maintain a healthy relationship with your children, and to model resilience and flexibility to your kids during the transition and afterward.

For more information and a chance to ask questions, join us at our program on March 25th at 6:30 p.m. at the Cadenza Center, located in the Regions Bank building, 450 N. Park Road, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021. The program and parking are free. Please let us know you’re coming by calling 954-925-3191.

And oh yeah, make sure the kids know you’ll feed their hamster if “Trixie” isn’t going along to visit the other parent.

Bullying: Taking the Power Back

A disappointing number of school-aged children experience bullying. Bullies use many different tactics, including verbal, social, and physical abuse. Neither you nor your child can control a bully’s actions, but you can find power in your own actions and responses.

Because of the negative short and long-term effects of bullying, it is crucial for parents to watch carefully for these signs, which may indicate that your child is experiencing this problem:

  • Unexplainable injuries;
  • Lost or destroyed personal items;
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness;
  • Changes in eating habits, sleeping, nightmares;
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school;
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem, and
  • Running away from home, or self-injurious behavior.

As a parent, you can be there for your child if you recognize these signs. One major action to take is figuring out ways to build your child’s confidence i.e. help them develop their sense of self. This means helping them learn about themselves and excel at being who they are.

Building self-confidence also requires supporting the effort not just the outcome. Parents can encourage their kids by making comments such as, “I like how you always try hard,” or “You’re good at helping others when they need it.”

Some other suggestions include joining a new club, exercising, or honing a skill. The resulting boost in self-esteem will help the affected child ignore the mean kids.

Further, spending at least 15 minutes a day talking to your child will help them feel that they can approach you with problems. It is also very important to broach the topic of bullying with your child. Here are some questions I use to start the dialogue:

            “What was one good thing that happened today? Any bad things?”

            “What is lunchtime like at school? Who do you sit with? What do you talk about?”

            “What is it like to ride the school bus?”

Talking to your child also gives you a chance to practice strategies with them such as how to react to bullies. An aggressive response is always a bad idea. Instead, we should try to deny the bully the response they seek. Two ways to do this are by ignoring them and by using humor. After a few encounters, the bully may become bored and go away.

In my practice, I teach children to think logically about what the bully says to recognize that it isn’t a ‘fact’…I also teach them to say, ‘So?’ to all the comments made by the bully.

Psychologists use role playing in the office, and parents can too. For instance, I might have one parent model answering, ‘So?’ to every statement the child makes. Soon, they are likely to be laughing, as the person playing the bully struggles to come up with more insults. Then, I suggest that the parent and the child switch places.

Being bullied is a relentless, ongoing, horrible experience. It must be addressed as soon as possible. We can start with making sure our children feel safe talking to us or to someone else who can provide the support they need. Finding true friends can help ease feelings of hurt and isolation until everyone can keep growing, rising above to where the bullies can no longer reach.

Bullying: Understanding the Situation

Every day our children walk away from us and venture out into the world. Whether they get on a bus, step out of a car, or walk to school, it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen. Unfortunately, studies show that 28-35% of school-aged children will experience bullying, an alarming figure for any parent.

Bullying can have an enormous impact on your child in the future, and so it is imperative to be aware of what bullying is and what we can do about it. First, let’s differentiate between bullying and normal peer conflict. Conflict is an inevitable part of childhood, and not all conflict is harmful or bad. Constructive conflict occurs accidentally and both parties feel bad afterwards. It is distinct from destructive bullying.

Constructive conflict helps children to learn, grow, and change for the better. They become more open-minded and tolerant, and they learn to see things from other perspectives. We cannot, and should not, hide our children from this.

Another difference is that normal conflict usually resolves itself rather quickly. Between kindergartners and 2nd grade, students who have squabbles during morning recess are likely again BFF by the following day.

How to Identify Bullying Behavior

Elementary school students are likely to label everything that happens to them which they don’t like as ‘bullying.’ At this age, they might interpret bullying as kids not playing with them, others not sharing, or simple name calling when frustrated (such as one kid telling another, “You’re annoying!”)

Bullying, on the other hand, is highly destructive. It is an abuse of power intended to hurt or humiliate another person. Destructive conflict damages relationships, creates bad feelings, and leads to future problems.

A bully will exploit a real or perceived power imbalance to carry out their unwanted, aggressive behavior. They then take advantage of the damage they’ve caused to do it again and again and again, until their victim is completely terrorized. They also manipulate others to broaden the influence of their attack by swaying the victim’s friends and causing alienation.

Bullies may use one or more of many different methods. A few examples are inappropriate comments, serious threats, isolation from the peer group, spreading rumors, hitting or pushing, and breaking possessions, among others. These can be categorized, but the point is that a bully will exploit any opportunity to hurt their victim.

The mental and physical stress for the bullied child – or adult – is inescapable.
If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, it is important to address the problem right away. This must be done carefully so as to create an environment where our children feel comfortable talking about their problems. In a follow-up column, I’ll review the possible warning signs and how parents can help their children deal with verbal abuse.