Helping Child Cope with Anxiety/Divorce

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    My daughter is 11 and her father and I split up last year and the divorce was just finalized. She is very reluctant to talk about her feelings with anyone. I had asked my therapist if he thought it would be helpful to her to talk to someone and he said not to force the issue because it would make things worse. She is an excellent student and is not acting out. However, something small like bumping her knee instantly turns into tears and then she begins sobbing uncontrollably and talking about the divorce, the friend who moved away last year, her grandma’s dog who died 3 years ago and her latest fear of being separated from all of her friends when they begin Middle School in the fall.

    Just listening doesn’t seem to be helpful to her and trying to help her focus on positives doesn’t help either. Feeling helpless. I did ask if she thought it would be helpful to talk to someone besides her father or me, and she said that counseling is for people who are “messed up.” I assured her that was not that case and pointed out that her father and I both went to counselors over the years and found it helpful. Her response was, “Well, that didn’t work out very well. You got a divorce.”

    Any suggestions on how to help her would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


    Hi GlassSpirit,
    I relate to your post. My children have coped with my divorce in different ways. My son already had a therapist, so that was a very good thing in place already. My daughter however, powered through it like she usually does with things. She has a very driven personality. It is only now, 5 years later, that I see some effects it’s had on her. I always offer to help her get support outside of me, when she is having a tough time. So far she has declined. I ‘ve decided to trust she will get more out of it when she is ready. I focus on my own healing, believing that my modeling is a powerful help to my children. I strongly feel that when your daughter cries over things, she is releasing pain from all the losses she has had in life. I find it a hopeful good sign she can do this regularly! Trust she is healing every time she grieves, even it if isnt directly related to talking about the divorce. Children go through a profound loss, as do we, with divorce. I try to remember that for myself, and my kids.

    Hugs, to you and you daughter, Lily


    Thank you, Lily for sharing your story. It was very helpful!


    Hi GlassSpirit,

    My son seems to have coped well with my divorce, but he was only 3 at the time. My stepdaughter however, has a lot of baggage related to her parent’s divorce. However, she also had the added complication of her mother not caring for her properly and her father (my husband) taking over full care.

    She has had abandonment/security issues as you can imagine, despite my husband’s best efforts. We haven’t taken her for counselling. We just let her know that we are here for her to talk to and that there is other help for her if she feels she needs it. So far, she has declined that.

    I guess the point of difference with out situation is that my stepdaughter turns to me when she’s struggling. I have made a point of allowing her to feel free to discuss ANYTHING with me, including being able to tell me that she wishes her parents stayed married, that I wasn’t her step mum etc. This has all been in a non-judgemental environment. I don’t take those comments to heart as I only need to put myself in her situation to understand that I would have felt the same even if I did love my step parent.

    We have also spoken to two psychologists about her situation and both have said to not pursue counselling as it can create the mindset that she is ‘damaged’ and ‘troubled’ rather than helping her to process what’s happened in a supportive environment, accepting it for what it is and moving on.

    The acting out when injured etc is normal. It is your daughter’s way of letting it all out. Another point to consider is that the family situation is mattering less and less to my stepdaughter as she gets older (she’s almost 13) and friends start to become more important. She’s more focussed on acceptance in her friendship group, moving into high school and growing up rather than what is going on at home.

    Your divorce is reasonably fresh, and these things take time….years even. My main advice is just to be there for your daughter and keeping her father up to speed with any conversations so that you are both on the same page.

    All the best to you and your daughter….it is a tough time, but with love and support you’ll both get through it.


    Kids handle divorce so differently that it’s hard to find any “good” way to handle things. My oldest (18 years old) already had some depression issues and felt like she needed to be the care giver for her siblings. We’ve worked hard with her to see that it is not her duty to do that, and she has been great about seeing a counselor at school. My middle child (my son who is 15) is the quiet one who keeps it all inside. He refuses to see anyone, talk to anyone (including friends), and keeps pretty much to himself. Yet, this was his best school year ever and he’s blossomed as a student and a person- so it’s hard to know what to do there. My youngest is 13 and she is the emotional one, so she has been clinging to either parent and I think struggles the most with the idea of the family being split up. And yet, once we split, the tension was out of the house and the kids were able to relax some.

    I don’t know your full situation, but if you and your ex are on decent enough grounds, then perhaps the two of you can approach her together to let her know your concerns. It shows her that even if you’re divorced you both put your concerns for your daughter first. And I would suggest talking to the school she attends- teachers and the school counselor. I know the school year is pretty much over, but do that in the fall. We did that wiith all our kids and it paid off when a teacher contacted us because he knew there were issues at home and it was affecting our oldest daughter’s concentration at school. From there we worked with the teacher, the school counselor, and my daughter to get her back on track. The only other thing is to keep an eye out for if she really starts acting out in school or social situations. And if it does start acting out, then work together with your ex to get her into a counselor whether she wants to or not. She’s a minor and really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. My youngest daughter resisted, but we made her go. Once she went in, the counselor (who specialized in children and divorce) got her to start talking and crying because she finally couldn’t hold it in any longer. The counselor told us afterwards that they only said a couple sentences once my daughter got going- not a big shock with my chatty youngest!

    Sorry- I wish I had better ideas to offer, but kids react so differently. Just as there is with the adults, kids will find a way to help them move forward. It’s just that sometimes we have to give them a gentle shove in the right direction. Good luck to you. I know how tough this is.


    Thank you so much! Your stepdaughter is blessed to have you in her life. <3


    Thank you. Our daughter is doing well in school. We talked to her teacher last fall to let her know what was going on and she kept a close eye on her. My ex won’t speak to me except thru email and that makes working together impossible. I’ve suggested that we go to a counselor just so we can communicate for her benefit and he refuses. I just try to let her know that I am here for her and that she can share anything with me. My best friend put her phone number in my daughter’s cell phone so she could feel free to call her if she needed to talk. She got all A’s in school this year and has no behavioral issues, and I am so hopeful that continues to be the case moving forward.

    Best wishes with your family!

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