Separation and divorce can be hard on everyone. Parents and children alike may suffer through the process, feeling they have little control over what is happening. A child’s day-to-day life may be changing; they may be moving to a new house or houses; and they may need to go back and forth between mom’s and dad’s houses, never feeling truly at home or at ease. Fortunately, there are ways to help ease the emotional turmoil and better your child’s mental health after divorce or separation.
1. Talk to Your Child and Listen
Many children, especially young ones, have difficulty putting their emotions into words. Without words to describe how they are feeling, those emotions can be difficult to process and understand.
Start by talking with your child about how they are feeling. Remember that listening, especially to older children, is very helpful. Simply validating feelings, even if you can’t offer a solution, goes a long way in supporting your child’s mental health after divorce.
2. Get Your Own Professional Help After Divorce
It can be hard to help our kids when we need help ourselves. As you navigate the divorce or separation process, enlist a therapist or other professional to help you process your own emotions. When you understand your feelings and are working to manage them successfully, you will be in a better position to listen to and help your child.
3. Start with Someone Your Child Knows and Trusts
Sometimes children are reluctant to discuss their feelings with their parents because they sense their parents are also having a difficult time with the divorce or separation. Other times, kids are hesitant because they don’t want to express negative feelings about their parents to their parents.
A trusted professional can be a great sounding board and source of comfort to children navigating through a divorce or separation. If your child’s school has a mental health counselor and psychologist, they may be a good place to start. Because your child may be comfortable with them already, talking with them about the divorce may be easy and comfortable.
Your school psychologist may also be able to recommend a mental health professional in private practice who would be a good fit for your child based upon his or her knowledge of your child’s personality and preferences.
4. Comb Your Referral Sources for Professional Help
Your child’s primary care pediatrician is another ideal place to start when looking for professional help for your child. He or she can recommend community-based programs and providers as well as professionals in private practice.
You can also seek referrals from your child’s school, your local children’s hospital, your health insurance provider, your own therapist, or your lawyer. The professionals who can help your child may have different titles, including counselor, therapist, mental health provider, behavioral health services provider, or licensed clinical social worker, among others.
5. Look at Community-Based Support
There are state and local organizations in North Carolina that provide service professionals to support your child’s mental health after divorce. They can also refer you to other community-based organizations. Some of these organizations include:
- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which lists resources and information on its website.
- North Carolina Families United, which provides lists of and referrals to mental health care providers throughout North Carolina as well as Medicaid information.
- NC Child Treatment Program, which offers a mental health provider roster.
- North Carolina Collaborative for Children, Youth, and Families, which provides information and resources, including the most up-to-date System of Care family handbook.
- Your Local Management Entity/Managed Care Organization (LME/MCO), which provides services to uninsured, underinsured, and Medicaid patients based upon the county of residence, and offers a 24/7 access and crisis phone line.
Choosing the Right Mental Health Professional for Your Child After Divorce
Once you have several referrals, ideally in your geographic location, here are some questions to ask to determine which professional is right for your child:
- What experience does this provider have working with children navigating through divorce or separation?
- Does this provider take your insurance or Medicaid?
- What are the fees?
- How long are sessions and how often do they recommend meeting with your child?
- What are the provider’s credentials?
- What can you expect at the first session?
Also, assess the provider’s demeanor and determine, as best you can, how your child is likely to react to the provider’s manner and personality.
While divorce and separation can be challenging for your child, the right professional support can provide the care your child needs to stay mentally well.
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