Supporting children when working with separating parents - part three

Episode 155 January 21, 2024 00:22:31
Supporting children when working with separating parents - part three
Emerging Minds Podcast
Supporting children when working with separating parents - part three

Jan 21 2024 | 00:22:31

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Show Notes

In this episode, practitioners and parents share ideas and practices for supporting parents to understand and respond to their child’s experience of separation.
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: I always present parents as the expert of their children because they are. There's definitely things that they've maybe noticed about the children and they might come in with worries around how they're coping through the separation, but again, they might notice what the children need. It might be quiet time, it might be having a movie night, it might be talking about what happened in the other home. So really checking in with them, because again, they often do know what the children need and they notice the activities that calm the children and they know the activities that sort of rile them up as well. So checking in around their strengths of what they've already noticed and what's already happening. [00:00:45] Speaker B: Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast. [00:00:50] Speaker C: Hi Everyone, my name is Chris Dolman and I work with emerging minds. This is the third of a three part episode that explores ideas and practices for supporting children's mental health when working with separating parents. Separating families come into contact with a range of practitioners during separation, such as GPS educators, school counsellors, allied health providers, and generalist counsellors. So it's important that all practitioners have the understanding and skills to support parents and children during this time. Emerging Minds recently consulted with a number of practitioners to understand how they go about supporting children's mental health when working with separating parents, and we also spoke with parents who've navigated relationship separation about what they felt was important in terms of how practitioners go about doing this and supporting parents and children during this period. In the first episode, we discussed practices for supporting parents own wellbeing during relationship separation and how this not only is important in itself, but also in turn supports wellbeing of children. And in the second episode, we explored ideas and practices for supporting parents to be child focused in their approach to parenting, and in this episode, we're discussing ways to support parents to support their children during this period. Due to the potential impacts of parental separation on children's mental health and well being, practitioners can invite parents to explore and understand their child's experience of separation. It's clear from our consultations with practitioners and parents that parents commonly take steps to lessen the negative impacts of separation on children's wellbeing. We've heard it's important to acknowledge these steps as well as explore with parents the ways they can further extend support to their child. I spoke with emerging Minds family partners Alan, Jocelyn, and Vanya, parents who have navigated relationship separation, about what it's like to begin to have conversations with practitioners about their child's experience of separation. [00:02:31] Speaker D: I think it's quite hard because as a parent, you probably want to come across as you're doing a good job, you are the good parent, you've done the right things. So I think it's quite hard that if there's something not quite right, then it's probably difficult to talk about that. [00:02:51] Speaker E: And that's probably a little bit confronting because we all want to be the best possible parents we can be. And inevitably there will have been moments and times through a separation process where we'd probably not meet that goal as well as we'd want to. So confronting to talk about that type of stuff, but also really important, really important to center those thoughts back on the impact on children and how we can best behave and parent our children in a way that supports them whilst going through a really tricky situation. [00:03:27] Speaker F: Maybe as a parent you'd paint a rosy picture that everything's going fine, so you don't need to talk about how your children are doing. Oh, they're fine. We're out playing all the time and they're fine. So as a parent, it is really hard to talk about if you feel insecure about it or you're worried that you're doing something wrong. There's so many emotions and fears and feelings that go on with being a parent. So I don't think it is very easy for parents to talk about. [00:03:58] Speaker C: I asked Vanya what she thinks a practitioner can do to make it easier to talk about children's well being. [00:04:03] Speaker F: I think what I found did help is asking just a simple question, oh, so how are your kids going at school? And do you know, because that's a step removed from the home and the parent might say, oh, yeah, they're doing really well, their grades done, all their assignments and they're keeping up, they've got great friends. Or the parent might say, oh, actually, I've noticed that he's lost attention and his grades are going down. So those slight hints is a way to break that barrier down to really get to what may be happening for that child. [00:04:39] Speaker C: Alan said it was about the relationship with the practitioner. [00:04:42] Speaker D: I'm assuming this is a regular practitioner that you're visiting and you've built some rapport with them just to try and get them comfortable. If you're comfortable to talk, then things can flow from there. But I think practitioners sometimes they have a certain window of time that they meet and can be rushed sometimes. And I think if that is portrayed across that you're trying to rush through things, then it might not be so forthcoming. The focus is here. Focus is on you. I'm not thinking about my next patient, I'm just thinking about your situation right now and some way of conveying that somehow. [00:05:21] Speaker C: Helen McMullen, service manager with uniting communities, describes how seeking to understand the context and history of separation can lead into inquiries with parents about their children's well being. [00:05:32] Speaker F: So when we first meet parents, we do a very comprehensive intake and assessment so that the general focus is on understanding when the parents separated, who initiated separation, because there's a lot of loss and grief associated with the breakdown of any relationship and family. Along with that comes some of the factors of that cause of separation, and they can include family and domestic violence, drug and alcohol impacts around mental health of parents. And so those factors then lead into us asking how the children are experiencing separation and what we are really interested in is at what crisis point are parents actually able to notice the impact on children? Because if there's no understanding that children have been impacted, because they're dealing in their own cris and distress, the children have become invisible. We look at how they are understanding the impact of separation. If they're noticing that children maybe not want to go to school, or they're reluctant to do handovers, or if there's a change in behavior or they start wedding, the bed, whatever they notice, that hasn't been a previous issue we explore. Have you ruled out medical issues? What else might it be? And then to sort of delve back into when the behavior started and if that was around some transitional time in the family, how are they talking to the children about that? Can the children feel safe enough to tell them or would they prefer to tell somebody outside of the family? [00:07:30] Speaker C: Alicia Akintoye is a family law counsellor with Relationships Australia South Australia. I asked Alicia how she opens up conversations about children's well being with parents. [00:07:39] Speaker A: We've separated parents, I guess, asking into what they've noticed about the child since the separation. Sometimes they've noticed difference in behaviour or it might be something that they've heard from school, from teachers, may have noticed that they are maybe distracted in class or there's a shift in them. So asking parents into what they've noticed is one way of opening up the child focus conversation. And also asking them how transitions between the two homes go as well is a great way of knowing what's happening for the child. [00:08:14] Speaker C: So once you hear from a parent about something they've noticed, how do you work with that? [00:08:18] Speaker A: So what comes to my mind is often parents say in the days after the transition, maybe the children have been with mum or been with dad and they've come back home and that day there's usually a lot of angst, there's a lot of attitude. They see a different child that left them. So I ask around what sort of things have changed? What are they noticing? How long does it take the child to go back into their regulated self? What do you notice the child may do or need to do when they get home? And again, the child may need some space and just go straight to their room. And there might be times where they actually want to sit on the sofa with mum and dad and actually get a cuddle or talk about what's happened in the other home. So there's usually, again, a way that the child has reached out and said, this is what I'm needing. And there might have been some conflict around that thing that they're needing. So having conversations around that can be helpful. [00:09:16] Speaker C: Claire Daly is a child counsellor and parent educator with centrecare catholic family services. I asked Claire how she goes about having conversations with parents about their children's well being. [00:09:26] Speaker F: We really almost will our children to be fine and so to have any evidence that maybe they're not is really tricky. So to put it on the back burner to keep it just percolated a little bit and just say, let's still be curious and let's. Mum, dad, how about you just observe him or her at home and see how they're traveling and bring it back that way rather than pushing that on them. Because I think when they say they're fine. And so actually, I think for some parents too, not to know what to look out for as well. And so going back to the developmental ages, especially for little ones, it's more obvious. Although with older ones you can see as well, but little ones, if you see regression, like toilet training, sucking thumbs, all those very obvious physical movements of regression are easy to see that something's troubling a child, but when you get to the eight to twelve year olds, you're less able to kind of pick up those things. So I guess to reassure parents, it's normal to think that they are fine and then to go, okay, but what if they're not? And what are some areas we could look at? So it's really about encouraging parents to look beyond just the what if they're looking like they're going really well, but underneath maybe they're not doing so well. So, yeah, just to invite them to watch and observe at home and notice, especially around verbal cues, non verbal cues, all those things. [00:10:57] Speaker C: Here's Roxanne Nathan, a post separation practitioner with Relationships Australia, South Australia speaking about how she opens up conversations with separating parents about their children's well being, I. [00:11:07] Speaker G: Would go to how they're noticing what their child is doing at the moment and how they noticed what their child was doing pre separation, before separation and post separation as well, and asking them about the external factors of their child. So you want to look at the ecosystem of the child as well. So you've got the child themselves in the middle, and then you've got the immediate family, and then you've got the really important other things, community, sports, school. How are they doing in those arenas of their life as well? My intention is to draw on how the conflict has changed the life of the child, and not so that that can then turn into shaming or blaming for the parent. My intention is never to shame or blame a parent. They're going through a cycle of life that they need some support with if they're coming to a community service. And they may not have noticed that actually their child has stopped sleeping so regularly through the night. Or they may have noticed that when mum and dad are in the room together, the child withdraws from the room. And those are things that could be happening in the peripheral of the separation, because we all know that separation, you don't wake up one morning and go, I really feel like separating today. It's something that happens over a period of time. So children are like little sponges. They would have noticed these things probably in a way that parents were maybe not noticing them yet. And so it's interesting to see how parents have seen how their children were when they felt things were okay in the relationship and how they are behaving now. It could also be that the children are behaving in a more positive way post separation, because we know that children will say it's actually great that mum and dad aren't together anymore. It's less arguing. And that that can sometimes be a really positive thing for parents to hear as well. They've made the right choice by separating. It's now how they're going to parent across their two different houses, by helping. [00:13:01] Speaker C: Parents notice any differences, positive or negative, in their children's well being and behaviour. I asked Roxanne, is there something she's hoping for in terms of how parents might respond to those questions? [00:13:11] Speaker G: Yeah. I hope it just gives them a bit of a light bulb moment, that their children are a stakeholder in what's happening at the moment. They're not just someone that's living in the house with them a bit like a flatmate would live in the house and have their own ability to move away. They're actually someone who has a stake in this separation, and it's really important that they notice what their children are doing at this point in time because children don't have the ability to go, hey, I'm feeling this way and I don't know what to do with it. So they will withdraw or they will cry or their behavior will become different. And that is them saying, I don't know why I'm feeling this way, and I need you to help me sort it out because you're the adults. And so those are the things that I want to encourage parents to notice in their children. [00:14:00] Speaker C: It is important to acknowledge and be curious about the steps parents have already taken to lessen the negative impacts of separation on their child. These conversations can help strengthen a parent's sense of their own capabilities in supporting their child as well as serve as a basis for supporting their child's well being into the future. We asked emerging minds family partners how important this was for practitioners to help make visible what parents have already been doing to support their child. Here's Jocelyn and then Jamie. [00:14:26] Speaker E: I think always going from a strength base is really important because there will also have been many things that those parents would have been doing to protect their children and to support their children through the experience of separation as well. I think it's really common as a parent or as a mother to feel guilt around the job that you're doing, but there will always be wonderful things to uncover that parents are doing to support their children. I think being able to speak about the things that you're doing well is really important, important foundation for the practitioner and client relationship as well. Because when you feel like there are things that you're doing well, perhaps you're more able to speak about the things you'd like to change. [00:15:14] Speaker H: Like, for instance, a kid is suffering from that anxiety and suffer from the separation, then obviously both parents are probably trying to support that situation. Finding out whether both parties are would be the first point to make sure that if both parties aren't responding to it, understanding what the kid's going through, then be asked to the parent who isn't to acknowledge it, and then find out what the parents are doing to try to guide through it, see if the kid is also seeing someone or speaking to someone themselves. [00:15:47] Speaker C: I asked practitioners Roxanne and Alicia, how important is it for them to understand what parents are already doing to help their children through separation. [00:15:55] Speaker G: I think that when you're in the tornado of separation. You can't see the forest for the trees often. So sitting down and actually saying, what have you done? They can open up that line of conversation going, actually, I've tried all of these things. And then I reached out to this organization and they were with them, or I told the school, and even as a professional, recognizing, wow, you've actually done a lot to support your child. [00:16:18] Speaker A: I always sort of present parents as the expert of their children because they are. There's definitely things that they've maybe noticed about their children, and they might come in with worries around how they're coping through the separation. But again, they might notice what the children need. It might be quiet time, it might be having a movie night. It might be talking about what happened in the other home. So really checking in with them, because, again, they often do know what the children need, and they notice the activities that calm the children, and they know the activities that sort of rile them up as well. So checking in around their strengths of what they've already noticed and what's already happening. [00:16:58] Speaker C: There's not always many opportunities for parents to talk about these things. So I asked Roxanne and Alicia what these conversations might be like for parents. [00:17:06] Speaker G: Yeah, I think it really helps them to understand that they are a good enough parent. I think all parents just want to know that they're a good enough parent, and I think that gives them that kind of tick to go, yeah, actually, I am doing okay. I'm not as bad as I think I am, or I'm not missing all these things that I think are going to be detrimental to my child, actually, I am doing okay. And I think that's for most people, we have so many thoughts in our brain about how we're failing, doing whatever it is, and then you have that one positive thought, but you often dismiss it as not being true. So to have that thickened up by the professional that you're working with, to say you've actually tried that or even asking the question, well, what would you do? How would you manage this? Well, I've done this and this and this. Okay, you know what? That's the advice I would have given you, actually. So sometimes that is that little push towards a higher level of self confidence about the issue that's happening at the moment. [00:17:58] Speaker A: I think it can be quite affirming for them because there are a lot of things that parents do day to day that are maybe not noticed by themselves or by other people. So really naming if they made the favorite lunch for their child on Friday is kind of just a parent thing to do, but it's also, oh wow, you know what their favorite lunch is. And you know that on Friday maybe they had a test and it'll be great when they open up their lunchbox and they see that from you. That's a really special thing that you did for your child. So really naming those small day to day things can be really affirming for parents. [00:18:34] Speaker C: These seem like important outcomes for parents and ultimately for children. As part of our consultations with parents, emerging Minds asked a group of parents about some of the ways they had sought to lessen the negative impacts of separation on themselves and on their children. Their wisdom has been compiled into a document called steps Parents take, and it's available in the podcast show notes for you to download and share with parents and discuss which ideas they find interesting or helpful. Also, a group of parents in rural South Australia decided to document some of the skills and know how they have drawn on to support them through relationship separation. Their hope is that this document called parents supporting parents after separation might be helpful for others too. It's also available for you to download in the show notes and share with others to finish. Here's emerging minds family partner Alan with his perspective on how important it is for practitioners to help make visible what parents have already been doing to support their child. [00:19:26] Speaker D: I think it's a good thing that they ask because as I said before, the parents just do. And if you ask them to reflect on it, then it kind of puts them in a review mode of what have I done? What have I done for the children? What have they achieved? And a really good example is with myself that my oldest daughter, she finished her year twelve and I was preparing her Christmas present for her, achieving all the finishing her education and things like that. But I wrote in her Christmas card about all the things that she'd done that year, and I didn't realize how many things that she had actually achieved until I wrote it down. So, yeah, summarizing the year of year twelve, where she achieved about half a dozen things. And the Christmas day was, she was in tears after she read the card. Just so happy, just, I guess for her to maybe see that I had acknowledged what she'd achieved and also what she probably didn't realize she'd achieved until I'd written it all down. I even made a mistake in the hemicrism's card about a number. And afterwards she came up and said, can you fix this? So I believe that was really important for her to understand that I'd seen what she'd done and she realized what she'd done as well. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of it. These are the positive things that have happened and you've been part of it and you've helped to make that happen. So the separation, you move that to the side and it's, well, I'm still moving forward and I'm still contributing to my children. I'm still contributing to what I believe in. [00:21:19] Speaker C: That brings us to the end of this podcast episode and the end of this three part series on supporting children when working with separating parents. Thank you again to our guests, emerging minds family partners, Jocelyn, Vanya, Alan, and Jamie for sharing their ideas and insights from their lived experience. Thank you also to Roxanne Nathan, Alicia Akintoye, Helen McMullen, and Claire Daly for sharing their practice, reflections from their work with families. And just a reminder that the themes we've covered in this podcast series can be explored further in emerging minds online course supporting children's mental health when working with separating parents. So if you're interested in this free online course, please visit our [email protected] au thanks so much for joining us today and we look forward to your company next time. [00:22:03] Speaker B: Visit our website at ww dot emergingminds.com to access a range of resources to assist your practice brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. Led by merging Minds, the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the national Support for Child and Youth Mental Health program.

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