Children and Stress

Children, like adults, are  familiar  with the discomfort of anxiety, even though they don't need to worry about earning a living, paying bills, dealing with health issues, etc.  They, too, are confronted with the uncomfortable feelings of tension.  There are three categories of  stressful events which affect children:

*   Environmental or developmental events, such as toilet training, beginning school, learning and becoming more responsible for oneself.

*   Disturbing events include illness, accidents or death of a relative or new events such as the birth of a sibling, moving to a new house, a new school or a first camp experience.

*   Major stressful  events are hospitalization for a chronic illness or surgery, a disabling accident, separation and divorce, family violence or the death of a parent or sibling.

Although many think of stress as a negative, it's important to remember that it can help a child develop good coping mechanisms for future emotional discomfort, therefore strengthening character.  Children's reactions to stress vary, depending on the reasons for the stress, the child's personality and a variety of social, psychological cultural and developmental factors.

Temporary behavioral problems may arise when a child can't cope with a situation at hand.  For young children, temper tantrums, excessive clinging or fears. nightmares, bedwetting or a new reluctance to attend school may occur.  How adults react to these symptoms may dictate whether the distress is temporary or becomes chronic. We parents constitute the alter ego of our young ones.  We can help them to understand an experience and separate reality from the fantasies (young children often engage in ' magical thinking' ) which can diminish anxiety.  Here are some ways to help your young child cope:

*   Become aware of how children think, feel and react at different stages of growth and development.  You'll know what kinds of experiences can  be traumatic and be better equipped to assist.

*   Be honest and open, as possible,  when discussing a traumatic event to help your child build a sense of trust and strengthen your relationship.

*   Develop your children's coping skills by offering information and talking with them in [age appropriate] advance.

*   If your child is struggling, talk about the problem in small doses to make it more manageable.  Provide facts and observe reactions.

*   If considerable anxiety or behavioral changes persist, consider consulting a mental health professional.


Children are wonderfully resilient but caring, understanding parental support is a crucial asset for learning how to manage life.




Keeping Peace During The Holidays

Does anticipation of the coming holidays have you stressed - gifts to buy, people to invite, meals to make, in addition to your already busy daily schedule?  First, enjoy a slow, long, deep breath and then, keep reading.

The frenzy of festivities for adults inevitably trickles down to children.  They sense tension (if not the reason for it) and react.  Children are creatures of habit and find comfort in the security of routine....knowing what comes next.  It gives them some sense of control, which is something they don't yet have, in general.  As holiday preparations interfere with parents' usual routines and their stress level increases, and patience decreases, children may show signs of distress,  becoming more clingy, needy, cranky or combative.  They may present problems with activities that they normally do with relative ease.  Bedtime, waking up, going to school or their play may be affected.

If you observe any of the above, or other changes, in your child's behavior lately, you might want to consider a quick self-check.   Are you feeling overwhelmed by adult responsibilites?  Do you have less time to play or talk with your children?  Do you feel less patient when they are not being angels?  Relax.

Your first step is to help yourself.  [Think of what they tell us on airplanes.  Put your own oxygen mask on first!]  You need to summon your support system - spouse, parents, family, friends - to lighten your load.  See if you can organize your time better, eliminating the frills for a while.  Only do what is most important;  some tasks and chores can wait until after the holidays.  A babysitter, even a young one who can occupy the children while you are at home, can offer some breathing space.  Keeping as many of the routines that your children are attached to helps keep them grounded.

Children are often the most problematic when you really need to get something done.  Spending ten or fifteen mintues with them (a story, game or simple project that they can continue with themselves) should allow you to return to your chore more peacefully.  If what you are doing is something they can participate in (making cookies, etc.), even at a very simple level, they feel important and may actually be helpful.  Even clean-up can be done together if it's presented as fun ("see if you can beat the clock", etc.).  It's easier to do if there's a promise of  something special to follow. ["If we can finish this chore quicker, we'll have more time to read a book together"]

Young children can feel overwhelmed by the level of activity  -  crowds of pople, having to sit on Santa's lap, worrying about Santa and all those reindeer on the roof, having to kiss  or be adorable for scores of relatives and friends.  What we take for granted or fun can be stressful to a child, depending on their personality and age.  Taking a few moments to listen or observe your child, especially if they are not yet verbal (or inclined) to express their feelings, can save a lot of time and energy.

The spirit of the season will be remembered, in the long run, not necessarily the number of presents or events attended.  Feeling safe and secure in a loving family ignites the spark of the warm glow we feel when we think of the holidays.   Enjoy !

Single Parents in Stepfamilies

While members of blended families are concerned with dancing to different tunes and not stepping on each other's toes, there is another member of the stepfamily, who may appear, to some, as the wallflower (male or female) - the single parent who doesn't have a Significant Other.  In fact, many single parents don't even think of themselves as part of a stepfamily but they are.

Two Homes, One Family

The holidays are over and somehow you got through them because you didn't want to spoil it for the whole family. But, you believe  that divorce is the only answer at this point.  You don't feel that you can continue as a family, in one house, but still hope to be a family, in two houses.  Your children are young, impressionable and need two parents.  You don't want to go through a custody battle, evaluations, etc. and want to continue to have more of a voice in parenting, without the negatives that some of your friends or family members have experienced in getting their divorces.

There is an answer - Collaborative Divorce.  With this method, your attorneys, both collaboratively trained, are committed to helping people get divorced, out of Court and the public record, in a non-contentious environment. Collaborative attorneys work together for the benefit of the couple, or family  if there are children.  Although each lawyer advocates for his/her client, he or she does so in an open and cooperative manner.  The result is that you can each walk away from the marriage knowing that not taking a "battle" approach allows you both to move on, feeling better about your spouse and yourself, which is  invaluable when you have children of any age.

A number of Collaborative attorneys work with a team, which handles, as needed, the emotionally charged aspects of divorce.  Specifically trained and licensed mental health practitioners function in two ways, as a Divorce Coach or a Child Specialist.  These professionals free the lawyers to do what they are best trained to do and also offer their clients additional services, often needed during divorce, at less than attorney rates.

Divorce Coaches help their clients overcome any emotional obstacles (which can result in less attorney time) and offers them better ways of coping,which is so crucial during the divorce experience, and, useful for a  lifetime.  They do not serve as therapists in this role but can refer to another therapist, if indicated. Although a client may already be in therapy, the work of a Divorce Coach is different.  It is brief and focused on the present, getting you through the divorce with your dignity intact. Many therapists are not trained in this kind of coaching and would not,  ethically, be able to fill both roles anyway.  We are ethically bound to not 'wear two hats'.   Therapy is a totally confidential process and divorce coaching involves sharing pertinent information only  with the Collaborative team.  Outside of the team, all information is confidential.

When a couple has children, the manner in which they divorce sends a powerful message .  The most important factor in a child's future emotional development is how well their parents continue to co-parent during and after the divorce. The Child Specialist is another team role filled by a mental health practitioner. S/he is the only member of the team to meet the child(ren) and becomes the 'voice' of the child(ren).  Children are not always forthright with their parents, at this time, for fear of hurting their feelings, upsetting them further, etc.  When parents are not able to agree about the children, the Child Specialist, trained in child development, family relations, parent education, communication skills and marital transitions, helps parents come to agreements about each child's specific needs. The goal is to assist parents  in helping their children adapt and move forward, in the best way possible, during and after the divorce.  The Child Specialist can be available, following divorce, if there are issues, with children, related to the divorce.  It IS possible to have one family in two homes -  when parents learn how to effect that, there are long-term benefits for each family member.




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