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Play Therapy and Divorce

One of the most difficult things that a child goes through is the divorce of his or her parents in childhood. This not only impacts the emotional and behavioral health of the child, but it changes everything in the child’s environment as well. What was once part of the normal family routine is uprooted and shifts to two (sometimes very) different expectations. This change can be extremely difficult to navigate for kids, especially if they are prone to worry, anger, or control issues.

New Normal

Every family works toward their understanding of balance. Whether this is chaotic and crazy or quiet and calm, each family does not veer too far out of their “normal.” When a separation or divorce happens, kids are all of a sudden thrown into something completely different than what they are used to. This means that they are forced to adjust to their new environment, and accept that what they are accustomed to is no longer their reality. This “new normal” is not necessarily bad, but it is certainly confusing for kids and takes time to figure out.

Shifting Expectations

Whenever parents create separate households and kids go back and forth between homes, parenting styles influence family life and rules change from one household to the next. There are different bedtimes, different expectations, different wardrobes, different neighbors, different everything. Kids thrive on consistency, so when everything shifts it can be overwhelming and frustrating. This requires a lot of resilience and coping skills, which often kids lack until they are forced to build them.

Power Struggles

One of the consistent patterns is that when kids feel that their world spins out of control, like in a divorce situation, they will latch onto and grasp at any measure of power that they can find. This often means that refusing to comply to requests, resistance to rules, physical or verbal aggression, and argumentative postures are common. This is a child’s way of trying to make sense of everything turning upside down in their world, and they want to gain some semblance of control back in their lives.

Play therapy allows kids to work through all of these issues through the natural process of playing. They will play through power and control, obeying rules, scary circumstances, competence, resilience, and expectations so that they can better navigate the changes that are happening in their lives. This method gives them the time and place to process their feelings, fears, and desires, acting as practice for the real world.

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