Divorce and separation can be very stressful on the entire family as we know. Children have significant resiliency in most cases but often need to have some type of therapeutic intervention to help them understand, cope and most importantly express what they are feeling and going through.
Using creative modalities such as art and play therapy allows a child to express themselves in an age appropriate way when words may be too hard or unavailable to them. The benefits of art making can help a child feel less stressed and anxious by providing a safe and non threatening manner in which to “tell their story”. The art therapist can also gain some insight as to the child’s perception about their parents, their understanding about what divorce actually is, and the expectations of how life will change.
Very young children are often unaware of what divorce means as well as the permanency of it. There may be unrealistic resolutions in their mind. Using dolls or books about divorce can help clear up misconceptions. Whereas older children will have more anger and resentment that can lead to behavioral issues. Offering choices within the session can be empowering and engaging for the pre-adolescent or adolescent.
Here are some creative interventions that I have used with children coping with divorce:
1) Have them fill in a giant heart with colors of “feelings” words to describe what is going on inside
2) Divide a paper in half and have them draw Mom’s house and Dad’s house
3) Make a “worry” box or container- this is where they can write little notes about what is bothering them or worrying them. This can be shared later with therapist, mom or dad.
4) Puppet making and acting- a great way to “tell a story” and project feelings through pretend play.
5) Create a fun calendar that shows visitation days- this is helpful for younger children getting used to the routine of switching homes.
6) Collage, painting, drawing, using clay and other media can be a natural way for children to express and open up. Sometimes no direction of what to create can be spontaneous and more healing when used at the right time.
Keep in mind divorce is a form of loss. There is an process of denial, grieving and acceptance. A child may experience some or all of these in their way way and at their own time. We just need to support and foster healing where ever they are.