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Section 3
Marital Conflict

CEU Question 3 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed Letting Children Mourn.  This included the grief of good-bye, reorganizing their lives and sharing sorrow with peace.

Do you have a client who is trying to help his or her children of different ages cope with their parent’s divorce?  Do you have a child as a client who is trying to cope with his or her parent’s divorce?  How do you advise them to help their children through the crisis of change? 

On this track, we will discuss Divorce and Different Age Groups.  These will include infants, toddlers, five- to nine-year-olds and adolescents.  As you listen, think about how you respond to your clients’ divorce circumstances as compared with the techniques presented on this track.

Enola, age 40... was coming out of a divorce after having been married for seventeen years.  Enola stated, "I’ve got four kids.  Elise is 15, Leo is 9, Annika is 3 and Martin is 9 months…just a baby, really…needless to say, having more children is not the way to save a marriage.  They’re all kind of doing their own thing right now in terms of trying to cope, I think…"  I asked, "Have you been able to talk with any of them about it?"  Enola stated, "Of course I have!  I keep trying to emphasize to them that the divorce is not any of their faults, but it doesn’t seem to be helping!"  What might you have said?

I stated, "It is very easy, especially for loving parents, to fall into the trap of ‘protesting too much.’  By actually trying to keep children from believing a divorce is their fault, it’s actually possible to do the opposite, leading them to believe that they are somehow responsible for the divorce, by repeating the fact that they are not." 

Are you currently treating a client who needs to hear this piece of information?  Would playing this track in your next session be beneficial?  Enola stated, "I can’t do anything right!  I can’t even help my children separate themselves from my issues!  How else is there to let them know that they’re not responsible for this?!"  I stated, "It is your time, your affection and your sense of optimism that will likely help your children the most.  How have you observed that each of your children responds to this grief?"

Relating Divorce to 4 Different Age Groups  

Share on Facebook #1 Infants
Enola stated, "Martin, first of all, has been spitting up more often than he ever has…he’s had some diarrhea too.  My sister came over the other day in an effort to give me a break, but Martin wouldn’t let her hold him.  He was irritable and fussy when anyone else tried to hold him but me."  I stated, "Infants are often aware of presence, sudden change in emotional climate and absence.  Keep providing loving, consistent care.  Try to avoid rigid, angry, agitated movements or loud confrontations in Martin’s presence.  Continue trying to honor Martin’s need for closeness to you, staying with your usual schedules, rituals and routines."  Do you agree?

Share on Facebook #2  Toddlers
Enola stated, "Annika, my 3-year-old, has begun to regress in her verbal expressions.  She used to be rather articulate for her age, and now she’s started behaving more like a baby again.  She has also started hitting people at daycare.  I think she wants attention… but she has never behaved this way before…not even when her baby brother was born!  Do you think that it’s stress from the divorce?"  How might you have responded? 

I stated, "It’s not uncommon for toddlers to feel anxious and confused.  Annika can likely understand that her parents don’t live together anymore, but she probably won’t understand the ‘why.’  Patience and tolerance are probably the way to go with Annika."  Enola asked, "And I should be tolerant with her hitting other kids?"  I stated, "Not with her aggression.  Try to be tolerant, instead, of her regression.  You might consider keeping other changes in the house to a minimum also."
Share on Facebook #3  Five-to-Nine-Year-Olds

Enola stated, "Leo, my 9-year-old, is another story.  He’s full of questions!  He wants to know whose fault it is, and when I dance around the question, he blames me automatically!  He says I make his life miserable!  I want to tell him it’s his father’s fault, but I restrain myself… How much do I tell him?"  I stated, "You will want to be cautious not to overwhelm Leo with your anger, hurt and grief.  Instead, talk to him about what he can expect in his stages of grief.  Remind him that finding fault is not the issue in the divorce, and that both you and your ex still love him very much." 

Enola stated, "Another thing…I’m concerned about accidents he seems to get into…his teacher has called me on a few occasions, saying that he’s jumped off of the monkey bars, seemingly on purpose, and then, of course, had to go to the nurse for a cut or something.  Is he trying to get attention?"  I stated, "He may be trying to punish himself for believing he caused the divorce or trying to get your attention and affection.  You will want to encourage Leo to express his feelings about the divorce with you or another trusted adult."

Share on Facebook #4 Adolescents
Enola stated, "Last, but certainly not least…Elise seems completely apathetic and doesn’t want to talk.  She has friends over a lot, or goes out with them…she must talk to them about the divorce.  I worry that she’s going to turn to alcohol or drugs…but at the same time, I want to trust her.  She has been very helpful with her younger siblings." 

I stated, "Adolescents are usually very aware of the dynamics of the family.  Elise will probably need you to be honest about what is happening.  You will want to encourage her to express her feelings.  If you’re worried about her turning to substance abuse, you’ve probably heard about the signs to be aware of, such as deep depression, severe fatigue, overeating or under-eating…etc.  As Elise is coming to a point in her life where she will become more independent, she will need to know that even in this time of chaos and loss that she can count on you for affection and a sense of optimism."

Do you have an Enola with one or more children who are trying to cope with their parent's divorce?  Might playing this track be helpful for him or her? 

On this track, we discussed Helping Them to Cope.  These included infants, toddlers, five- to nine-year-olds and adolescents.

On the next track, we will discuss After the Abuser Has Left.  This will include explaining the violence to the children, maintaining connection after the abuser has left, getting back to normal relationship with the abuser, and life without the abuser.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Gallegos, M. I., Murphy, S. E., Benner, A. D., Jacobvitz, D. B., & Hazen, N. L. (2017). Marital, parental, and whole-family predictors of toddlers’ emotion regulation: The role of parental emotional withdrawal. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(3), 294–303.

Porter, C. L., & Dyer, W. J. (2017). Does marital conflict predict infants’ physiological regulation? A short-term prospective study. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(4), 475–484.

Schonfeld, D. J., & Demaria, T. P. (2018). The role of school psychologists in the support of grieving children. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 361–362.

Skinner, O. D., Sun, X., & McHale, S. M. (2021). Links between marital and parent–child relationship in African American families: A dyadic approach. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication.

Steinbach, A., & Augustijn, L. (2021). Children’s well-being in sole and joint physical custody families. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication.

Zhou, N., & Buehler, C. (2017). Adolescents’ responses to marital conflict: The role of cooperative marital conflict. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(7), 910–921.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 3
At infant, toddler, five-to-nine-year old and adolescent stages of child development, what are some key elements to consider when talking about divorce? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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