RELATIONSHIPS: Support For Your Child During Separation | Great Health Guide
RELATIONSHIPS: Support For Your Child During Separation

RELATIONSHIPS: Support For Your Child During Separation

‘Support For Your Child During Separation’ by Nakya Reeves published in Great Health Guide (Nov 2015). Children may have a hard time expressing their thoughts and feelings during this time of uncertainty in their lives. Parents can create an environment that makes it easier for their child to express their feelings. Read more by Nakya to discover how parents can make this transition easier for their children.
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Relationships: Support For Your Child During Separation

written by Nakya Reeves

One of the most devastating things about a divorce or separation is the effect on the children involved. In my experience working with families, I often talk with children who are going through this difficult transition or have already experienced their parents’ separation. In talking with them, I have noticed that one of their biggest insecurities during this process surrounds issues of identity. For children and teens, parents are the foundation of who they are, as they have not yet moved away from home and started their independence. It can be difficult to maintain a secure sense of self when a parental separation has happened. Oftentimes, divorce/separation usually includes some level of frequent discord, expressions of bitterness, or any number of various issues. Children may have a hard time expressing their thoughts and feelings during this time, for fear of re-introducing a difficult topic. 

One thing parents can do is to create an environment that makes it easier for their child to express their feelings about the separation. Parents can show they are available for conversation and will be more likely to hear these expressions by providing opportunities for the discussion to occur and letting their child know that it is okay to talk about this topic. The alternative is that children hold in their feelings. 

When it comes to difficult emotions, sometimes a typical ‘Question and Answer’ style of conversation is not always helpful. In my practice, I specialize in using creative methods of therapy to help clients express underlying emotions. Phototherapy exercises have proven most helpful in this area. Phototherapy techniques involve clients bringing in photos from albums, taking photos for homework assignments etc., all for the purpose of helping me to fully understand who they are and the ways in which they think/feel. Photos hold such value to our sense of self, our identity and our families and can be a great starting place for many important conversations. 

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You can use the following exercise to create an opportunity for a discussion with your child about a divorce/separation. This is a simplified version of an exercise I would carry out with a family in a session or give as a homework assignment:

Gather materials to create a ‘new’ family photo album. This album gives the child a chance to do an activity that involves both parents (i.e. both sides of who they are). This is powerful because they don’t always get to do things that include both parents any more. Many kids are hesitant to even broach the subject of involving both parents in something. They may want it but feel it is best not to express these thoughts because of the discord they have seen.

For the album, you need to include photos from the early part of the parents’ relationship, the child’s early years, several important trips/occasions over the years and photos of recent events. The album does not have to be a huge project. It can be a simple overview; the main focus should be the conversation you are having during this time. You want to assure your child that it is okay to think about both parents as important parts of what makes up their family. For the child, it will be nice to hear parents talk about one another in a way that is positive (which for many will be a deviation from the current day-to-day discussion). Creating the album also puts into perspective the new structure of the family. The family is now living in separate homes, may now include other family members such as step-parents, etc. Overall, the album symbolizes that every piece plays a part in what makes up the complete family. 

Depending on your circumstances, you can create a few pages with your child and let the other parent provide some of the photos for the book so that they are able to continue the activity when the child is with them. It is okay if only one parent is available for the activity; the child is still able to benefit from the conversation in a major way.

Divorce/separation can be hard on all family members, especially children, as they have no control over something that greatly affects the rest of their life. Children often have a hard time expressing their thoughts and feelings during this time and don’t always feel that parents are open to hearing what they have to say. Children may feel that talking will only cause more problems and/or they may not always have the words to fully express themselves. Parents can help support their children by encouraging them to open up and assuring them they will not receive a negative reaction from simply sharing their feelings. Activities like the exercise presented here are great for opening difficult conversations. This is a very important transition in the lives of all family members involved and having the support of a mental health professional is strongly recommended. This exercise alone is not meant to take the place of the very important work that can be done in therapy. 

Author of this article:
Nakya Reeves is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Florida, USA. Nakya is owner of Creative Solutions Therapy, a private practice specializing in using creative methods to address individual, couples and family therapy issues such as self-esteem, communication and relationship difficulties. She is trained in using Phototherapy methods, exercises which help clients deal with difficulty in emotional expression and/or addressing underlying issues. To learn more visit her website or she can be contacted at

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