August 2006

“What Children Have Taught Me About Grief”
From “Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope” by Suzy Yehl Marta

  • Grief is normal.
  • Children and teens who experience loss are wise beyond their years.
  • Grieving children and adolescents are frightened and overwhelmed by their feelings.
  • Both children and teens need adults to protect them and guide them through the grief process.
  • Grieving youngsters need to be reassured that they can survive the crisis.
  • Children want to talk about the loss event but hesitate to initiate the conversation.

In my few years of experience with grieving kids, I have found all of this be true. The wisdom they have at such a young age is the most amazing to me and I often end up learning a thing or two from them!

From “Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope” by Suzy Yehl Marta:

Here, at a glance, is a list of how normal responses to loss compare with troubled ones.

Decreased ability to function, apathy
Loss of appetite
Restless sleep
Irritable, crabby
Stomachaches, headaches
Decline in grades

Isolation, withdrawal, depression
Change in eating habits, eating disorder
Refuses to sleep alone, nightmares
Physical aggression, violence
Psychosomatic illness, accident-prone
Total denial of loss event
Drops out of school or is expelled

If you know a child who is showing any of these troubled responses, seek professional counsel. These are major cries for help and should not be ignored. With a lot of love, patience, and support, children can work through the process of grief and on to healing.

What Children of Divorce Really Think and how you can help by Angela Elwell Hunt

Some excerpts:

“I wonder if my mom or dad ever really loved each other. Isn’t love supposed to last forever?”

Go through old photo albums and dig out those wedding pictures. It’s important for kids of all ages to know they were wanted and enjoyed. Reassure the child there were happy times, that his or her father or mother both had strong and decent qualities the other loved.

“Mom and Dad expect me to ‘adjust,’ but the home I once knew is gone. Why can’t they just cut me some slack?”

Kids, by definition, lack maturity. They don’t know how to “be angry and not sin” (Eph. 4:26, Psa. 4:4, NKJV). Many times they can’t even verbalize why or at whom they’re angry.

Let kids know anger is natural—we can’t control our feelings. But we can control our actions and talk about what’s hurt us and our reactions. Ask direct questions: “Are you angry because your father can’t see you this weekend? Are you angry because you think your mother’s spending too much time at work?” By analyzing what they’re feeling, children can begin to recognize and master that powerful emotion.

“My parents divorced, so I’ll never get married. Love and marriage just don’t work.”

Sensitive to their maturity level, be honest with kids about why the divorce happened. Many parents shrug off their kids’ curiosity with “You’re too young to understand.”

But children of divorce need to know so they can keep from making those same mistakes and breaking those commitments. Be encouraging, hopeful, and strong when you talk to children about their future marriage partners. Tell them to wait and trust God’s timing, and reassure them that you’re praying now for the person they’ll one day marry.

One thing I would like to do with this blog is give people an opportunity to share their stories with us. Some have done this through the comments on other posts, but I would like to devote a page to this so they are all in one place. Children of divorce all have very unique experiences, depending on the age we were, what events took place, what siblings we had (if any), etc. If you would like to share your story with us, please e-mail your story to me at mindyrichmond (at) comcast (dot) net and I will post it to our “Your Stories” page. I will keep it entirely anonymous unless you request otherwise.

Thank you!

Elizabeth Marquardt reports on sessions held at the International Conference on Children and Divorce. I have long felt that remarriage can be just as (if not more) difficult for the children as divorce, and the following excerpt does a great job of explaining one of the reasons why.

Claire Cartwright of the University of Auckland presented moving qualitative interviews with young adults who grew up in stepfamilies and, based on those interviews and other research, made several recommendations for clinical practice. The most striking, and one I couldn’t agree with more, is that parents in stepfamilies need to be told that the parent-child relationship is as important as the couple relationship. Sound obvious? It’s not. She and Scott Browning, a family therapist in Chestnut Hill PA (who gave out copies of his very helpful, brief paper, “Treating Stepfamilies: Alternatives to Traditional Family Therapy,” email him at scobrown (at) for a copy) noted that traditional family therapy emphasizes the couple relationship first. In an intact family it makes sense — the mom and dad are often absorbed in the kids and their work and they need to be reminded to priortize their own relationship for everybody’s sake. But in a stepfamily, the kids need tremendous reassurance that they’re not losing their mom or dad to the new marriage. When you tell a stepchild that “the couple relationship comes first” (or, as Cartwright noted, one father’s probably well-intended but all-wrong words to his daughter: “I love your stepmom more than you,”) you reinforce their fears and further jeopardize the chances of the family’s success.

There is definitely a lack of research in this area. My hope is that researchers continue to press on and that it would lead to greater awareness and understanding. Therapists especially need to know what approaches to take when treating divorced and step families, because they come with very different issues and dynamics than intact families.