With nearly a 50% divorce rate in the United States (US Census Bureau, 2010), helping children adjust to major changes to their family unit is a growing concern. When a parent dies or divorces, some children adapt well and show no or minimal signs of emotional or academic disturbances. Other children, however, approximately 20-25%, experience significant adjustment problems (Hetherington, Bridges & Insabella, 1998).
Based on age and developmental status, these problems can present as negative feelings (e.g., anger, confusion, self-blame, abandonment), behavioral issues (e.g., non-compliance, aggression), and/or academic decline (e.g., homework refusal, test anxiety).
One positive model of adjustment theorized by Wallerstein (1983) includes these stages:
- Recognizing reality of parents’ separation
- Disengaging from parent conflicts
- Resolving loss
- Resolving anger and self-blame
- Accepting finality of divorce
- Achieving realistic, independent expectation regarding own future relationships
A key protective factor for children of divorce is the involvement of the non-custodial parent. Continued involvement from non-custodial parents was related to improved child outcomes, especially academic success (Nord & West, 2001).
There are a number of school and office-based group programs for children with divorced or deceased parents. In Manhattan, select schools offer a weekly support group program called Banana Splits. Dr Valerie Raymond trains school staff to lead such groups.
In my private practice, I offer group therapy for adopted children and children of divorced or deceased parents. The groups meet weekly and provide support and skill building in the form of emotional expression, self control exercises, problem-solving, and anger control. I am currently accepting children ages 5-18 to join my groups. Please call me for information on availability and fees.