Separation and Divorce

Breaking Bad News to Your Children

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Posted on by Freya Gardon

Father, daughter and mother. Grieving child, around dog's grave

Allied health professionals, such as psychologists, can undergo years of training and practical experience to build their communication skills to deliver difficult news sensitively. They quickly learn that, when it comes to delivering bad news to children, it is essential to be prepared.

Parents, however, may need to learn as they go. At some point, all parents will have to communicate difficult or unpleasant situations to their children. Whether it’s the death of a family pet, moving away, separation/divorce, or harder still, the passing of a loved one – children and parents will need help navigating their emotional responses and behaviours through these tough times.

Clearly, this is a daunting task for anyone as we may feel inadequate to handle such situations. Research and experience tell us that the key is to let children know you are available to answer all questions and to provide as much support as needed. 

Here are some other top tips for delivering –  and dealing with the aftermath – of delivering bad news to your children.

1# Be honest

Lay out the facts at a level that is developmentally suited to the age of the child. Younger children may need help to understand the implications of the bad news and what it means for them. For example, approaching the topic of death or loss may result in a conversation about what death really means. Use words they understand and avoid saying things in such a way that might leave children confused about what you’re really saying.  Speak clearly.

For teenagers, it is particularly important not to “sugarcoat” or limit details of the information, as this is often perceived to be dishonest or patronising. A study of young adults revealed that if they viewed their parents to be hiding something, or later found out that the parents had not been entirely truthful, the response was negative.

2# Be prepared to answer their questions

Children want their questions answered.

In fact, a survey of young adults revealed those who had access to the information they wanted from their parents in times of crisis were much more satisfied than those who were told  to ask “no questions.” It is essential to schedule a time when there is enough opportunity for children to react and to think about what they want to ask, and for you to have time to respond calmly.

Avoid having difficult conversations immediately before school or work as this may be met with stress and anxiety without the chance to address these feelings appropriately.

Additionally, be prepared for awkward or tricky questions and be ready to answer them if you can. If you can’t answer a particular question, it is okay to admit you don’t know, rather than over-complicate an explanation.

3# Respect their ability to cope with the news, and their right to hear it

Respecting children’s developmental stage and maturity is essential. No one likes to be talked down to. Children whose parents speak to them as ‘equals’ feel respected and trusted, and are likely to respond with more maturity in a problematic situation.

In a research study by Donovan, Thompson, LeFebvre, and Tollison (2017) early adult respondents who perceived that their parents discussed tough issues with them more as peers, reported higher ratings of disclosure quality and in turn, greater relational closeness following the disclosure.

4# Provide reassurance

It is an essential role of parents to provide comfort and reassurance to children in stressful or distressing times. Let them it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling (e.g. sadness, anger). Confirm that these emotions are entirely valid responses to the situation.

Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this situation again at any time. Reassure them that they are loved.

5# Model good self-care

Share how you feel. Experiencing difficult situations, as well as talking about it with others, can be exhausting. Taking care of your own emotional well-being is essential and being honest is part of it.

Besides, it is perfectly okay to let your kids see that you are sad, angry, upset, etc. This gives them a chance to see how emotions affect other people and to learn how to regulate them effectively.

Parents are emotional role models, especially in times of crisis, and your children will inevitably look to you to assess what is an appropriate response in these times. Be natural and talk about it.

6# Seek help for yourself and your child(ren) if needed

This all being said, it is essential to reach out for help when needed; both for yourself, and for your child.

Calling on your support network and sharing how you feel or what do you need, can help everyone to cope better.

Additionally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or the kids seem to be having an especially hard time coping, find a child psychologist who can work with your family. Child psychologists can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. You can contact the  Quirky Kid.

References

Brott, A.(2014, September 29) 9 tips for breaking bad news to kids[Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/knowmore-tv/9-tips-for-breaking-bad-news-to-kids_b_5623488.html

Donovan, E. E., Thompson, C. M., LeFebvre, L., & Tollison, A. C. (2017). Emerging adult confidants’ judgments of parental openness: disclosure quality and post-disclosure relational closeness. Communication Monographs, 84(2), 179-199. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1119867

Levetown, M. (2008). Communicating With Children and Families: From Everyday Interactions to Skill in Conveying Distressing Information. Pediatrics, 121(5), e1441-e1460. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0565

Livoti, N.(2013, June 30)Honesty and reassurance is key when talking to kids about bad news[Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.pennlive.com/bodyandmind/index.ssf/2013/06/honesty_and_reassurance_is_key.html

Marshall, L.B.(2016, July 8). How to break bad news to your teen. Retrieved from: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/communication/how-to-break-bad-news-to-your-teen

 

5 Things To Do To Be A Great Parent After Divorce

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

Parenting children in a perfect way after divorce.

Parenting is a big project and can be challenging under any circumstances; after divorce, however, it can become even more complex due to the new dynamics between family members.  Most parents want to ensure their children continue to thrive, socially, emotionally and academically at all times. To help with this process, we have compiled some useful techniques to ease the transition and help to create new working relationships between divorced couples.

Communicate with respect

When speaking to your ex-partner, it is crucial to keep it positive. This is especially important when emotions are high, and you don’t feel in control; take a break and implement some relaxation strategies to help you cope better and to think and speak rationally. For example, take deep breaths or leave the room and visualise a scene, place or situations that you consider safe, restful and happy. While living arrangements may have changed, it is essential that you continue to interact positively with your ex-partner to successfully co-parent your children. Studies have shown that parents who remained calm and communicate in a respectful manner with their former partner were able to improve their relationship as a result (Markham, 2015). In an article from the Child Study Center (NYU School of Medicine) it states that parents can have robust disagreements about a variety of topics in front of their children without necessarily causing stress and anxiety. The key here is for parents to do so in a way that shows their kids that conflict can be managed and even resolved with love and mutual respect. 

Agree on a consistent schedule

One reason communication between parents is so important is to increase consistency and stability for your children. Children require consistent rhythms in their life that do not change frequently (Pruett, 2014). This does not necessarily mean that the children must be cared for in a single environment; it merely requires consistency in each parent’s responsiveness from day to day. If children can keep regular daily schedules regardless of which house they are living, their internal clocks will remain in check. Regular schedules help to reduce behavioural problems, separation anxiety, regression, and other issues which are prevalent in children of divorced parents. From the age of 7 years, children can contribute to defining their options for schedules, so make sure to consult your child when changing their plans.

Maintain consistent discipline

Like with schedules, consistent discipline is necessary for children’s well-being. This is not confined to punishment; discipline includes chores, homework, manners, and attitude.  If there are fundamental disagreements about how to discipline your child, it is advisable to reach a compromise where possible. If it is not possible, maintain consistent discipline in your home (McMurray, 2008).

Stay in close contact, if possible

It is often in the best interests of your child for both parents to remain involved after the divorce (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). Certain accommodations will be necessary within the family dynamic to support the arrangement (McIntosh and Long, 2006). While shared custody is often an ideal, if the child lives with one parent, try to ensure that the child sees the other parent regularly.

Moving away is sometimes necessary for one parent. However, it is important to consider the consequences for their child. Relocating can create an imbalance in the parenting, and can create a more formal relationship with the parent who has relocated. Is it important to make it as easy as possible for the child to have a relationship with the parent who has relocated. For example, the child may benefit from having a mobile phone to contact the other parent without feeling as though their relationship is being mediated.

Manage your new relationship with your children

Divided loyalty is common but needs to be managed. Avoid making children choose sides. It is likely that your relationship with your child will change as a consequence of the divorce. You may choose to take a more proactive role during after-school sports; be more present in the school setting; or perhaps due to circumstances, have less time with your child after the divorce. During this new stage you may develop new routines and experiences to share with each other.

Try to keep activities inexpensive with a focus on quality time to avoid competing between parents and encouraging divided loyalties. Consider attending key events together, like graduations, concerts, school meetings. By role modelling positive relationships in the community, your child will feel safer and securely attached with both parents. During special events and celebrations, if spending them together is not an option, try to ensure your child is involved and informed about what decisions have been made. If your child it is not happy about the arrangements, acknowledge their feelings and try to encourage children to spend time with both parents.

Support network:

References:

Kelly, J.G., & Johnston, J.R. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3), 249-266.

Markham, M. S., Hartenstein, J. L., Mitchell, Y. T., & Aljayyousi-Khalil, G. (2015). Communication among parents who share physical custody after divorce or separation. Journal of Family Issues, 1-29. 10.1177/0192513X15616848

McIntosh, J E. and Long, C. M. (2006) Children Beyond Dispute: A prospective study of outcomes from child focused and child inclusive post-separation family dispute resolution. Final Report. Australian Government Attorney General’s Department. Canberra

McMurray, S. (2008, 08). Discipline after divorce. Today’s Parent, 25, 43-45. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/232888210?accountid=12528

Pruett, M. K., & DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). Closing the gap: Research, policy, practice, and shared parenting. Family Court Review, 52(2), 152-174.
http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/coparenting.html

Roffman, A (2016). The Art of Arguing: Tips for Handling Parental Conflict around Your Kids
http://www.med.nyu.edu/child-adolescent-psychiatry/news/csc-news/2016/art-arguing-tips-handling-parental-conflict-around-your-kids?mc_cid=f08198a623&mc_eid=039ce82960}

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Co-sleeping with Children

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

When should my child be sleeping in his own bed?

Children often sleep alongside parents or siblings as they are growing up. This practice is termed “co-sleeping”, and typically, it occurs on a nightly basis for an extended period of time: weeks, months, or in some cases, years. Many families find co-sleeping a good way spend time together and bond as a family, or to reduce their child’s stress around falling asleep or waking during the night. It is also popular among breastfeeding mothers during their child’s infancy.

While sharing a bed might ease pressures on families while children are very young, the habit of co-sleeping can pose problems as children mature. By the time their children are 2 – 2 1/2 years old, most parents will be eager to have them sleep easily through the night in their own beds.

Why should my child learn to sleep alone?

Encouraging independent sleep in children as they mature is important for several reasons:

  • Extended co-sleeping can discourage children from achieving what’s known as “night time independence”. Children with night time independence are confident that they can fall asleep on their own, and know how to comfort themselves if they are stressed or anxious around sleep – key steps in healthy emotional development.
  • Frequently, pre-school and school-aged children have fitful sleep cycles. Having a child kicking, tossing and turning in their bed can interrupt parents’ sleep, leading to exhaustion and stress throughout the day.
  • Parental intimacy is often compromised when their children sleep with them. This can have a detrimental effect on a couple’s relationship, affecting communication and physical closeness.

How do I break the cycle of co-sleeping with my school-aged child?

If your child refuses to sleep alone, or wakes up crying during the night, and only stops when you are near, he might be experiencing separation anxiety at night. This pattern is also known as “night-time separation anxiety”. Night-time separation anxiety is common among children up to 3 years old, but older children can experience it as well.

Here are some things you can do to ease night time separation anxiety and help your child sleep alone:

  • Develop a regular daily routine. The same waking, nap time, and bedtimes will help your child feel secure, which can help them fall asleep more easily. Have a bedtime routine – for example, bath followed by story time and a brief cuddle. Consistency and clear communication is key.
  • Keep lights dim in the evening and expose your child’s room to light, preferably natural, as he wakes. These light patterns stimulate healthy sleep-wake cycles.
  • Avoid putting your child to sleep with too many toys in his bed, which can distract him from sleeping. One or two “transitional objects”, like a favourite blanket or toy, however, can help a child get to sleep more easily.
  • Don’t use bedtime as a threat. Model healthy sleep behaviour for your child, and communicate that sleep is an enjoyable and healthy part of life.
  • Avoid stimulants like chocolate, sweet drinks, TV and computer use before bed time. Children ideally need to relax and “wind down” for at least 1 hour before bed time.

Some other strategies to reduce your child’s dependence on co-sleeping include:

  • Wean your child from your bed over time. For example, you might plan to spend part of the night on a mattress on the floor of your child’s bedroom or sleep with him for a few hours in his bed before returning to your own.
  • Use a baby monitor to help a child who wakes at night communicate with you or your partner. This will also reduce the likelihood of him walking to your bedroom. If your child communicates to you through the monitor, visit him in his bed to reduce disturbance.
  • Use rewards, such as The Quirky Kid Tickets to measure improvements in your child’s independent sleeping. For example, a partial night spent in his own bed will earn him a yellow ticket, while a full night sleeping alone will get him a red one. The child might collect tickets to exchange them for a prize.

We offer a range of services, workshops and individualised consultations to support children with sleeping difficulties. Please contact us for more information.

 

Recommended Resources:

Sources:

University of Michigan Health System (2011). Sleep problems. Retrieved September 23, 2011 from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/sleep.htm

Brazelton, T. Berry and Joshua D. Sparrow (2003). Sleep: The Brazelton Way. Perseus Books.

Kimberley O’Brien (2011). Interview on Co-Sleeping with children and strategies for parents.

Keller, M. A. and Goldberg, W. A. (2004), Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children’s independence?. Infant and Child Development, 13: 369–388.

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The Likes of Youth Kit

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

It gives us great pleasure to unveil our most recent youth–friendly resource.

The Likes of You{th} is a  Tool to Boost Social and Emotional Well–being for Adolescent Boys.

The Likes of You{th} Kit is a set of 12 Picture Cards, 24 Questions Cards and a User Manual written by Child Psychologist, Kimberley O’Brien. The LoY Kit has been developed to help boys (10–16 years) through the often turbulent transition to young adulthood. With an emphasis on self-awareness and coping strategies. The Likes of You{th} Kit empowers young boys to improve their social and emotional well-being through collaborative activities and discussion.

Covering themes such as Authority and Rebellion, Motivation and Depression, Confidence and  participation, Freedom and Escape, Study stress and conflict, Girls, rumours and sexuality, Screen Addiction and boredom, Companionship and loyalty, Independence and Identity, Pa rents and Responsibility, Self-esteem and style, Gangs and aggression this resource is perfect to complement the practice of those working with young people.

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The Tell Me a Story cards

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

We are incredibly proud to introduce a very special Therapeutic Resources – The Tell me a Story cards.

The highest you ever climbed! – The furthest you ever swam! – The fastest you ever ran! –

Children love stories, especially true stories describing adventure and emotional extremes. Often they will ask to hear our stories but how often do they get to tell theirs?

The TMAS cards invite young people to recall and retell their own memorable moments of extremity (Luckiest! Loneliest! Bravest!), as they rediscover a sense of pride in their own achievements. The story topics have been carefully chosen to appeal to young storytellers, with the capacity to engage listeners of all ages.

The TMAS cards are a useful tool for parents and professionals working with young people to facilitate communication, highlight strengths, give praise and boost self-esteem.

The TMAS collection is designed for young people and adults, (aged 6 years and above). We all have stories to tell and the TMAS cards provide a forum for all people to share their experiences, children and adults alike. The cards have been tried and tested with individuals and small groups, throughout a number of different contexts.

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