Last month Stacey Hart joined us on the latest Instagram Live and shared an abundance of information about family breakdown and how children are affected physically and psychologically post-divorce.
Stacey has been involved in counselling for 20 years, and in that time, she has helped many people deal with grief and trauma.
We’ve compiled a quick recap of all the most essential info, making it easy to read through!
How do parents help children navigate split household situations practically?
Living in two homes is difficult when children go backwards and forward. I used to put a little timetable up on the fridge for my children to see it. It was visual, so they could see the days they were staying at their dad’s and the days with me.
It becomes more complicated when there are different rules in different houses, but if you could both agree on consistent rules between both houses, and keep the routine the same, rather than having completely different lives at different homes.
What is “magic thinking”, and how can you support children going through it?
So magic thinking is where they think they caused something, and if they had acted differently, maybe something wouldn’t have happened. Or maybe, if they’re really good and behave themselves, the parents will get back together. It all stems from children blaming themselves for the family breakdown when it’s never their fault in reality.
I think that parents mustn’t argue in front of their children; try to keep it as amicable as possible. And it’s tough because I know that things do boil over, but the children should be kept kind of safe and secure away from that.
If you can do that, that makes it helpful for your children’s ability to deal with it. Parents don’t have to be best friends, but if you could just be as amicable, then children might pick up on that because that can be frightening when their parents are arguing. I’ve previously worked with children through a divorce who have been relieved that their parents are split up because the situation has been managed at home. I think age plays a significant factor in this too.
How do you approach introducing new families to your child? (Step-parents, step-siblings)
It’s just one of those complicated things. I’m sure there are many “I hate you and you’re not my real father” or “you’re not my real mother”, but it just takes time for children to get used to that. It’s vital from the parent’s point of view to share the love; as a parent, you should reassure your children that a new partner will not negatively affect their love.
So that can be hard. So it’s just that reassurance, reassurance that you still love them as much as before. I guess it’s about making children still feel valued, even though it’s a problematic situation that everyone’s going through giving them.
What are the psychological effects that you probably see most commonly with separation?
I think anger can sometimes take over. I’ve worked with very angry children who had signs of trauma from family breakdowns.
I’ve often seen that they kind of put themselves into a bubble. They just go into themselves and don’t want to talk to anyone. Children can often see anxiety or depression develop after their parents’ divorce. So if you’re seeing any of those worrying signs, I think it’s time to maybe look at some therapy.
If the child is young, it might be good to think about some art therapy or drama created therapies for them. And if not, it’s probably better for the older child to have some talking therapy.
I think parents will know when they feel it tip over the edge, and their child needs some more help than they can give their child. Ultimately, parents know their children best, and they’ll have the best judgement about when a child needs professional intervention.
Do you think play, storytelling, and reading have a role in managing trauma?
I think reading is excellent. I always used books when I worked with children. I worked with teenagers and used more simple books to use metaphors. They can imagine themselves as characters and relate to their experiences. It makes them feel like this is normal.
Sometimes I utilise drawing and art, and it can be quite cathartic. And sometimes, it’s just good to put words onto paper. Also, I think things like Play-Doh and things they can do with their hands help them. So when they’re talking, it’s something else to focus on. Not all children are great communicators who go to therapy and could have difficulties expressing themselves in words.
So if they can express themselves by playing or reading books and being creative, it’s a great way of getting children to open up.
How can I reach Stacey?
Stacey’s website is www.staceyharttherapy.co.uk. You can also reach Stacey directly via her email address:firstname.lastname@example.org