Listening to the voice of the child is increasingly becoming a mainstream concept in family law. This is a welcome development, as careful attunement to children’s perspectives and needs can guide resolutions and parenting plans that are truly in the best interests of children.
Having worked with children of all ages for many years, I am aware that the language of children has its own rhythm and cadence. Children do not always use words to express their inmost feelings and concerns. Very young children express themselves through play and behaviors rather than spoken language. When distressed, young children may temporarily regress to earlier behaviors. This is a normal process, but may need professional guidance to resolve if it becomes persistent, especially when accompanied by patterns of anxiety or angry outbursts.
At the opposite end of the developmental spectrum, one of my favorite essays about teenagers is entitled “Please Hear What I am Not Saying.” Children, especially adolescents, often have difficulty expressing their feelings directly.
To fully understand their child’s experience, parents need to be observant of patterns of behavior that may indicate feelings the child is unable or unwilling to express directly. Asking a child, “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you acting that way?” may not yield much information. Another approach is to express empathy and the offer of support, “It looks like something is bothering you. I’m here if you want to talk about it.” If a problematic behavior pattern persists for more than a few weeks, it might be the right time to consult with a child or adolescent therapist to get neutral, professional help in decoding the problem and helping your child find healthy ways to cope.
Consulting with a neutral child specialist during the divorce process can enhance your understanding of your child’s perspective and feelings. Collaborative Team Practice is designed to provide a sounding board for all family members during a difficult time of transition.
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