February 10, 2016

What I’m Not Saying

133791230-tin-can-communication-gettyimagesListening to the voice of the child is increasingly becoming a mainstream concept in family law.  This is a welcome development, as careful attunement to children’s perspectives and needs can guide resolutions and parenting plans that are truly in the best interests of children.

Having worked with children of all ages for many years,  I am aware that the language of children has its own rhythm and cadence.  Children do not always use words to express their inmost feelings and concerns.  Very young children express themselves through play and behaviors rather than spoken language.  When distressed, young children may temporarily regress to earlier behaviors.  This is a normal process, but may need professional guidance to resolve if it becomes persistent, especially when accompanied by patterns of anxiety or angry outbursts.

At the opposite end of the developmental spectrum, one of my favorite essays about teenagers is entitled “Please Hear What I am Not Saying.”  Children, especially adolescents, often have difficulty expressing their feelings directly.

To fully understand their child’s experience, parents need to be observant of patterns of behavior that may indicate feelings the child is unable or unwilling to express directly.  Asking a child, “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you acting that way?” may not yield much information.  Another approach is to express empathy and the offer of support, “It looks like something is bothering you.  I’m here if you want to talk about it.”  If a problematic behavior pattern persists for more than a few weeks, it might be the right time to consult with a child or adolescent therapist to get neutral, professional help in decoding the problem and helping your child find healthy ways to cope.

Consulting with a neutral child specialist during the divorce process can enhance your understanding of your child’s perspective and feelings.  Collaborative Team Practice is designed to provide a sounding board for all family members during a difficult time of transition.

Deborah ClemmensenABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Clemmensen
Licensed Psychologist

Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., Licensed Psychologist was a child and family clinician for many years before her discovery of Collaborative Team Practice in 2000 motivated the transformation of her professional role from therapist to Neutral Child Specialist. This work---hearing the voices of every family member during a divorce or break up, keeping children at the center and out of the middle, and assisting parents in the creation of developmentally responsive parenting plans---is both a passion and a privilege. Find out more about Deborah's work at www.deborahclemmensen.com

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