Family bonding is vital for healthy human growth and our ability to achieve successful intimacy and relationships in adulthood. The early years of our lives and the interaction we experience with our caregivers mark our path of self esteem, capacity for intimacy, and overall success and happiness throughout our lives. Understanding our family dynamics and the patterns of interaction with our caregivers is a key factor in understanding ourselves, and our relationship with others.
Early childhood traumas and family dysfunctionality can lead to a variety of psychological disorders. Following are some examples of childhood traumas.
- neglect, including emotional neglect
- abuse, physical or sexual
- separation from primary caregiver
- changes in primary caregiver
- traumatic experiences such as death of parent or disaster
- maternal depression
- maternal use of drugs or alcohol
- undiagnosed, isolating painful illness such as colic or ear infections
Divorce is a painful experience for all the members involved, however, the way we handle this process can significantly make a different in our ability to heal, accept, and move on with our lives.
There are things you can do to help yourself and your children accept and cope effectively with the experience of separation and divorce. There are also things you may unwittingly do that can make coping with separation and divorce harder for your child now, and in future relationships. It is important to learn how to help your child cope with the negative short and long term effects of separation and divorce, as well as ways to help prevent trauma and decrease hardship. Challenges that are confronted effectively can improve relationships and strengthen your child’s ability to cope.
When talking with your children about separation or divorce, it is important to be honest, but not critical of your spouse. Most children want to know why their lives are being upset. Depending on the age of your children and reason for divorce, this may require some diplomacy. As children mature, they will probably want more information.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Make plans to talk with your children before any changes in the living arrangements occur.
- Plan to talk when your spouse is present, if possible.
- Remind your children of your love.
- Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for the separation.
- Tell them that your marriage problems are not their fault. Let them know they are not responsible for fixing them.
- Tell them about changes in living arrangements, school or activities. Let them know when they will happen. But do not overwhelm kids with details.
- Be emotionally available to comfort them. Even if there has been much conflict in the home, children may deeply experience the loss of the leaving parent, or the loss of hope for reconciliation.
Blended Families – Stepfamilies
Studies show that children of stepfamilies face a higher risk of emotional and behavioral problems. They also are less likely to be resilient in stressful situations. Although most parents are able to work out these difficulties within the family, they should consider a psychological evaluation for their child when he exhibits strong feelings of being:
- alone in dealing with his losses;
- torn between two parents or two households;
- isolated by feelings of guilt and anger;
- unsure about what is right;
- very uncomfortable with any member of his original family or stepfamily.
A psychological evaluation might be appropriate for both the child and the family when:
- the child directs his anger upon a particular family member or openly resents a stepparent or parent;
- one of the parents suffers from great stress and is unable to help with the child’s increased need for attention;
- a stepparent or parent openly favors one of the children;
- discipline of a child is left to the parent rather than involving both the stepparent and parent;
- members of the family derive no pleasure from usually enjoyable activities such as learning, going to school, working, playing, or being with friends and family.
By devoting the necessary time to develop their own traditions and form caring relationships, stepfamilies can create emotionally rich and lasting bonds for each member. In the process, the children acquire the self-esteem and strength to enjoy the challenges that lie ahead.