Helping Children of Divorce

Trisha Short of Elk Rapids, Mich., knows the difficulties of being a child of divorce. Short has been working at helping children and their parents mend gaps in communication for over twenty years. Whether the parents are having issues explaining their divorce or their child is simply shutting them out, Short is one of West Michigan’s experts in the field.

Divorce can be a trying time in an adult’s life, but it can be particularly traumatic for children as well. Unlike adults, children have had few relationships to help them comprehend parental separation. Short was recently profiled by the Traverse City Record Eagle, where she talked about some of the strategies she employs in her work. Short said, “A lot of kids are feeling emotions they’ve never felt before.” A couple getting divorced can be a scary thing for a child, whose only idea of love comes from two people who are now separating. Short told the Record Eagle, “We as parents often want to resolve our kids’ issues, but that isn’t always the best thing…It’s frequently better to help them work through it. They learn through emotions.”

Short sees a difference in the way children communicate and separates younger children into two distinct groups: talkers and movers. For talkers, a more conversational approach might be used to help children process complicated emotions. For movers, play therapy might work better at helping them connect with their thoughts. Helping a child work through their turmoil, however, is only half the battle.

Short also counsels the parents. She feels that it is important that parents also acknowledge their child’s emotions to validate them. By acknowledging that their moods and frustrations are real, a parent allows their child to feel understood.

Although Short works mostly with young children, ages 3–6, she also works with teenagers. She says that teenagers are more concerned with issues concerning personal identity. When a teen is concerned with navigating the complicated social structures of high school, parental relationships can become more volatile. A child might need to work out their feelings on their own. If they don’t feel understood, it might be easier for them to be dismissive of what their parents are trying to say. During this time, it becomes even more important to communicate with a child about the emotions involved in divorce.

Short’s work reminds us that divorce can be a trying time for everyone, not just the couple that is separating. Special care and attention should be given to a child in order to successfully minimize their strife. During a child’s formative years, it is important that their parents give them a positive example to live by.

Short opened her own practice for Clinical Mental Health in Traverse City last January, but her work helping children of divorce is far from finished.
Nielsen, D. (2015, September 1). Early Childhood Counselor Goes It Alone. Traverse City Record Eagle. Retrieved September 24, 2015 from http://www.record-eagle.com/news/the_biz/early-childhood-counselor-goes-it-alone/article_391f51a3-788a-5000-8f8b-36ad2a5ec5f9.html