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Counselling for Children Post-Separation - Psychologist, Counselling & Mediation Services » Psychologist, Counselling & Mediation Services

Counselling for Children Post-Separation

Children Deserve Help – but is it timely and well enough supported?

It is not unusual for children to show signs of strain and to develop anxious responses to their parents when there is a separation underway, so the issue of counselling for a child or a sibling group comes up.

Ideally, both parents support any decision to provide psychological services for a child but sometimes one parent is absent or unavailable.  Sometimes, one parent opposes the provision of services for a child.  This is particularly likely when trust is low between the parents.  It could be that one parent fears the other will be able to use the counselling process in some way against them.  It could also be that there are family secrets that one or other parent does not want to come to light.

When both parents are involved in supporting counselling for children, results are likely to be better than if there is dissent between the parents.  In some cases, the resistance of one parent to having their child receive psychological services can be a barrier to successful treatment and, in a few cases, downright prejudicial to the child’s well-being, as children cannot easily deal with the fallout from parents’ disputes about them.

It is often the case that children do not want to talk to a psychologist, fearing that they will offend one or other parent if they say anything at all.  Younger children worry less but pre-adolescent or teenage children are astute enough to know that they could be walking into a minefield.  They know that one of their parents may be hoping to re-connect with them while the one they live with might prefer that the other parent simply faded out of their lives.

Parents’ Support is Key

As in all things about separation, the parents with the most capacity for collaboration and focusing on the needs of their children are likely to provide the best conditions for their children’s care, welfare and development.

Does this mean that only children with two supportive parents can receive help?  A lot depends upon the circumstances.  A big one is the child’s age and stage of maturation.

Teenagers generally make their own decisions in many cases but they still may need help with things like transport and negotiating fees and referral by a GP.  They are also less likely to talk to adults than to their peers, so they often resist a parent’s offer of counselling.  Older children sometimes benefit from school based services, where they do not have to sacrifice peer time in order to seek normative information from an adult advisor or to up-skill their negotiation, listening or assertiveness techniques.

Expect To Hear Different Things 

There will be times when each parent is receiving different information from children about how they are feeling and what they want, so please bear that in mind and slow down.  Typically, this comes up when parents re-partner and children again have to adjust to great change.  At such times, children often ‘make nice’ to the new partner and one parent, while complaining to the other parent that they ‘hate’ the new partner or are no longer able to get their parent’s attention because of the newly in love effect.

While there may be truth in that, it will not be helpful to the children or anyone else to take up an oppositional stance on their behalf, thinking that you are doing the ‘right thing’ by advocating for them.  Remember that the children are more than likely complaining about your rules or your new date over at the other parent’s house.

It could be more helpful to your children to ask: ‘How can you talk to Dad about that?’ or, if the subject is one for parents to talk over together: ‘Mum and I will talk that over and get back to you’.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that your children are adjusting to change and they want to maintain their relationship with each parent, so they are doing their best to align with each of you.  However, when your co-parenting relationship is adversarial or strained, their task becomes much harder.  Instead of being tempted to say they are lying or exagerating, think of the task you have set them and practice patience and compassion.  The biggest contribution you can make to their wellbeing is to create a cooperative co-parenting relationship with your ex.

What About the Very Young?

Pre-school children and younger can benefit from play based help, in which the psychologist provides a safe and contained environment for self-expression through a variety of activities.  This largely non-verbal approach relies on the natural benefits of play and exploration to help the child resolve some conflicts, such as having experienced a trauma.  The benefits may be seen in changed behaviour, from fear or aggression to a more peaceful and sociable demeanour.

Of course, if the child is still subject to the risks or stressors that prompted the fear or aggression, play based intervention will not be enough to see an improvement in mental health and social behaviour.  Until children are feeling safe, they cannot deal with higher order social functioning, learning and creativity.

When parents disagree about offering psychological support, it is often about their own fears that the service will be used by one parent against the other, for instance, to alienate the child.  If this is the case, it might be overcome by each parent having time with the psychologist, to develop trust that it is the best interests of the child that are the focus of treatment and each parent can make contributions.  Another source of disagreement is about whether the child is safe with the other parent, either physically or psychologically.

Fears of this nature can be a barrier to treatment and if this becomes an issue, it is likely that psychological support will need to be delayed until the cooperation between the parents improves, or terminated to avoid the child becoming the ‘meat in the sandwich’ between feuding parents.

Your GP can Help – Mental Health Plans

Children who are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or depression following parents’ separation can usually be provided with a Mental Health Plan by their GP, who will assess whether a referral to a psychologist is appropriate.  If a Mental Health Plan is provided, it will give the child access to an initial six sessions with a practitioner.  In some cases, the referring parent might also consider asking the GP for a Plan of their own, as treatment of children cannot be provided in isolation from their family group and particularly their primary carer, who is often struggling too.


Psychology, Counselling & Mediation Sunshine Coast Ph 0424 002 640

  Rosalin Primrose Horse Therapy
Rosalin Primrose Psychology Services

Rosalin Primrose

MA , Reg Psych, (FDRP)
  • Medicare Provider No: 4197097T
  • Counselling Psychology Reg No: PSY 0000976237
  • Nationally Accredited Mediator & Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP)
‘Ocean Central’
Suite 18, Level 4
2 Ocean Street

Weekend & telephone appointments available by request

Ph: 0424 002 640

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