From the Therapist's Desk

HEALING ESTRANGEMENT IN SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN AGES 6-9

This begins the age of empathy and moral understanding. It is also a stage where sadness prevails in situations of loss.

As children this age continue to try and make sense of their world, they do so through the eyes of compassion and empathy. These children deeply grieve the loss of a parent and miss them terribly. Developmentally children this age work hard to please their parents and would rather put themselves in the middle of a conflict than take a side. Children in this age group are particularly vulnerable to being emotionally hijacked by an insecure and immature parent who desperately needs the child to need them more than the child needs the other parent.

When exposed to conflict, these children understand the basic content of arguments -- which are almost always about money or the kids or the belief of one parent that the other is inferior. Given their age, these children will blame themselves for the argument and blame themselves for their parents feeling bad. The child might think "if it wasn't for me my parents wouldn't be getting a divorce/separation; or would be getting along." When children watch the two people they trust and rely on for safety and security battle with each other, it's as if the child is at sea without a life vest.

Signs of distress in children this age are often physical -- headaches, tummy aches, leg pain. Some children might go back to bedwetting. Others become anxious and overly concerned about the needs and feelings and well being of the parents. If you see any of these signs consider slowing down the pace of the family restructuring, or getting additional therapeutic help.

Children who are school age need their energy and focus for the huge lessons they are learning in every area of life as they explore and experience. Don't allow your inability to be good and cooperative coparents to take away your child's spontaneity and joy.