How to Help Kids Manage the Stress of Divorce

The following is a guest post by Erin Kassenbaum.

If stress burned calories, many of us would weigh 90 pounds, right? Work, family and the never-ending “to-do” list all create significant stress on our lives. Most of us adults can effectively manage our stress. But what about children, especially kids whose parents are going through a divorce?

Understandably, divorce causes a great deal of stress for children. They are full of fear over the changes they are experiencing, and often worry they are the reason their parents are getting divorced. One of my main goals when working with clients is helping them help their kids manage stress during and after divorce. Children generally respond to stress in one of the following three ways: positive, tolerable, or toxic.

Positive stress response is a healthy part of development where kids learn to cope. Children experience positive stress when getting a shot or starting school after summer vacation. Tolerable stress is more serious and longer lasting, but manageable. This is often the type of stress children experience when their parents get divorced. The good news is both types of stress can be negated by positive, loving relationships with parents and other caregivers who can help them adapt and cope with stress.

However, if parents are so high-conflict they are not able to develop a cooperative co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship, kids are at risk for developing a toxic stress response. Toxic stress puts children in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, affecting their brain development, suppressing their immune system and causing learning and memory problems. As adults, children who experience toxic stress are at risk of developing heart disease, substance abuse problems and depression. Obviously, we need to help kids manage stress so that it doesn’t become toxic.

This is one reason it’s so important for parents to focus on developing a manageable co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship with one another. In addition, parents can help their kids manage stress by:

  • Understanding it’s normal for kids to be stressed during the divorce process. Don’t get stressed because the kids are stressed!
  • Validating the kids’ feelings about the divorce. Using phrases such as “I know you feel sad,” or, “I understand you miss seeing your mom everyday like you used to.” Kids need to hear that it’s okay to feel how they feel.
  • Encouraging honesty. It’s important kids know they can always be honest with both parents.
  • Asking the kids what they think would make them feel better. Sometimes the only answer may be that mom and dad get back together and that’s okay. Try to offer simple ideas like taking a walk, watching a movie together or calling the other parent.
  • Keeping a regular routine, especially for younger children. Routine and consistency give kids tremendous security and comfort.
  • Repeatedly reassuring them they are not the cause of the divorce and that both parents will always love them, no matter what.

So Now You Are A Single Parent

So now you are a single parent and while you most likely share custody with your children’s father  it is you, the mother, who most likely ends up dealing with  most of your children’s health issues (alone). With young children many mothers  have had the experience of being awakened by a screaming child who is clearly in pain. You ask your child or touch their ear and realize that it’s probably an ear infection. You try to sooth your child as best as possible until the morning.

Usually you end up sleeping sitting up since being upright as opposed to lying down helps the pressure in your child’s ear. If this is a first occurrence it can be scary and you tend to want to rush  to the emergency room. If you are a veteran parent you have learned some lessons along the way. I may be able to give some more pointers.

Ear infections often occur when children are switched from being nursed to drinking cow’s milk or to cow’s milk based formula. Another critical time is when children are teething. The reason for the first scenario is that only 20% of all ear infections are due to bacteria. The other 80% are due to other causes. If your child, like many other children, is allergic to cow’s milk they often get very congested and their mucus membrane in their sinuses and ear canals swell and it can set the stage for an ear infection. The same thing happens when children go through the teething process.

Everything in their mouth, throat and ear canals get swollen and inflamed and ear infections can be a result. Colds, which are caused by viruses can also set the stage for secondary ear infections. Additionally emotional trauma can set off ear infections. While this symptom is more difficult to recognize it can be the easiest to control as long as you remember to keep the disagreements between, or about, you and your Ex to a minimum when your children are present.

Finally, another less known, but very common cause is subluxations (or misalignments) at the upper neck. All of the nerves that control the eyes, ears, nose and throat exit the brainstem between the vertebrae in the upper neck. If there is nerve irritation here, the child can be more prone to developing ear infections.

These misalignments can be caused by birth trauma, falls or other injuries. As chiropractors, we find and gently correct these subluxations in many children with chronic ear infections. I have seen children that have been on 6 courses of antibiotics finally clear up after a few neck adjustments!

So as a parent, think about when the first ear infection started. Was it with the  introduction of cow’s milk? If so, you might have a child with an allergy to milk. This can easily be tested by a simple Applied Kinesiology muscle test. If the ear infections occur during teething, massaging the child’s lymph glands to increase the lymph circulation and drainage can be very helpful. We teach parents how to do this at home. A chiropractic exam and some gentle adjustments if needed can make a world of difference.

There are homeopathic remedies that are specific for ear infections. There are drops to take orally and drops to apply to the ear canal for pain. Be cautious not to put drops in your child’s ears without a proper ear exam first, since this is not recommended if there is a rupture of the ear drum.

Antibiotics help if there is a diagnosed bacterial infection, but research has shown that to be only about 20% of all ear infections. The American Pediatric Association’s current recommendations are to not use antibiotics unless the problem has been present for over a week. Antibiotics have been very overused for ear infections and have no effect if the cause is allergies, viruses or spinal misalignments. So next time an ear infection visits your house, you might try the chiropractor first! Or even better, get your child checked before this occurs, to prevent it from happening at all.

How Divorcing Parents Can Reduce Conflict Over Children

Written by Erin Kassebaum/mediator

A while ago I was having a relaxing evening at home with my family when I received nasty a text message from a friend about a misunderstanding between us. I felt attacked, angry, and upset. I spent the next few hours sending messages back and forth with my friend. At the end of the night, after my kids were in bed, I realized that I had missed the entire evening with them because I was distracted by the fight with my friend.

Fortunately, I was able to work it out with my friend and we actually grew closer as a result of the misunderstanding between us. So I guess the evening wasn’t a total waste. But what if we hadn’t worked it out, and our conflict was still unresolved? Or, even worse, what if I was still spending a lot of time and energy trying to find a resolution, but never getting anywhere? I would be missing a lot of fun evenings with my kids, and spending much of my time feeling frustrated, angry and hurt. This describes the unfortunate reality for many divorced parents.

While most divorcing parents feel mutual anger, distrust, and hostility around the time of their divorce, their negative feelings typically diminish over time and they are able to develop a cooperative and flexible co-parenting relationship (Haddad, Phillips, & Bone, 2016). However, about 25% of divorced parents are considered high-conflict (Spillane-Grieco, 2000). High-conflict parents are typically well adjusted, caring parents individually, but their relationship with one another is obsessive and uncontrollable, resulting in frequent, severe, unresolved conflict between them (Spillane-Grieco, 2000).

The driving force between high-conflict parents is their perception that they have no control over their relationship with the other parent, and the other parent’s relationship with their children (Malcore, Windell, Seyuin, & Hill, 2010).

This perceived lack of control, combined with the intense love both parents feel for their children, is a perfect recipe for anxiety, fear, and constant conflict.

The truth is that this perceived lack of control over the other parent is more than perception It is reality. High-conflict parents really do not have control over the other parent, or the other parent’s relationship with their children. If one parent says black, the other parent automatically says white. It’s difficult, frustrating and crazy-making to share the people you love most with a person you have no control over. This is why high-conflict parents frequently end up in court or using a parenting consultant. This is expensive, both emotionally and financially.

The best thing high-conflict parents can do for themselves, and most importantly for their children, is accept that they can’t control the other parent, and do their best to forge a parallel parenting relationship. The parenting style of one parent may be dramatically different than the other parent’s style, but children are usually able to adapt to these differences fairly easily. The kids always win when both parents are focused on creating a healthy, positive relationship with them.

Raising Healthy Kids

Article written by Barbro Brost, DC, the Brost Clinic, Wayzata

A healthy child is a happy child. As parents we are entrusted to protect and care for our children as they navigate through their childhood towards a happy, productive life as adults. They need shelter and warmth, food and water, advice and guidance, but most of all lots of love!

Raising a child in today’s world takes a lot of attention as a parent. There are many new dangers that the previous generations never had to worry about. A lot of them come seductively packaged with bright colors and sparkling lights. Tobacco, street drugs, bad TV shows, computer sites unsuited for kids are pretty obvious things you want to avoid in your kid’s lives, but what about the less obvious hidden dangers lurking everywhere? Fast food, food processed with unhealthy chemicals, genetically modified foods, foods sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, foods that make your kids sick instead of nurturing them. Foods and drinks that are marketed by giant corporations to be fun and “normal”. It takes some strong parenting to stand up against that, it is much easier to go with the “flow” and give in to your child’s cravings for sugar and junk foods. We need to teach them about healthy food and healthy habits. A healthy breakfast with good protein, like eggs, before school instead of a sugary cereal. Extra vitamins for strong immune function. A healthy snack after school and a healthy dinner together as a family whenever possible (sports and other after school activities can be a challenge here).

Encourage play time outside instead of plopping down in front of a TV or computer. Plenty of time set aside for homework to avoid late nights and a set bed time to allow adequate sleep. Preschool and elementary kids need 10-12 hours per night. If they don’t wake up by themselves, they didn’t get enough sleep! There is strong research showing that all the above sets the stage for better health and better performance in school and sports.

Unless a medical emergency, like a fractured leg or severe bacterial infections (remember antibiotics have no effect on viruses), children are best treated naturally. If they get a cold or flu, rest and fluids with a lot of immune boosting vitamins is the best cure. If they have falls or injuries take them to the chiropractor!

If you stop and think about it we all take our kids to the dentist regularly to avoid cavities. If their teeth aren’t perfectly lined up we pay for years of orthodontics. Doesn’t it make sense to take as good care of their spine, which is crucial for optimum function of the body? You can replace teeth, but you can never replace your spine!

The Time You Spend With Your Kids Isn’t Important

Article by Erin Kassebaum, mediator, parenting consultant

“Hurry up, let’s go” is one of the things I say most often to my kids. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and realize the only time I actually spent with them was in the car, running between activities. Like many parents, I worry I don’t spend enough time with my kids.

In divorce, parents’ concerns about spending enough time with their children come out in full force. That’s understandable because divorce, by default, means each parent will have less time with their children. Thankfully the majority of parents are able to negotiate and follow a parenting time schedule that allows both of them to maintain a healthy relationship with their children, despite each having less time with them.

The good news is research proves that children are not negatively impacted when they spend less time with one parent or the other (Trinder, Kellet, & Smith, 2008). However, kids are impacted negatively when they don’t feel emotionally close to a parent (Trinder, et al, 2008). In other words, the quantity of parenting time is not nearly as important as the quality of parenting time when predicting a child’s adjustment and well-being.

Kids do best when parents focus on the quality of the time they spend with their children, as opposed to the quantity of time spent with them.

Despite this, a minority of divorcing parents find it necessary to account for every minute of time their kids spend with them vs. in the care of the other parent. While outwardly arguing over parenting time, these parents may be silently asking themselves: What if the other parent has a better relationship with my kids? Or more influence over them? What if my children have more fun with the other parent, or they like the other parent more? What if everyone thinks the other parent is a better parent than I am?

These questions fill parents with fear and insecurity, and cause them to think of parenting time as their entitlement, rather than their children’s lives. The result is a fierce competition over which parent gets more time with the kids. This competition does nothing to lessen the parents’ fear and insecurity and, even worse, may negatively impact their relationship with their children. Ironically, these parents often end up creating the very thing they fear most:  a weakened relationship with their children. The best thing parents can do to mitigate their fear and insecurity is focus on spending quality time with their children.

Parents who focus on fostering healthy, positive relationships with their children, as opposed to fighting over parenting time, are making the best choice for themselves, and for their kids. The children win because they receive love, attention and affection from their parents.  The parents win because they become more secure in their own relationship with their children and, by default, less fearful about the other parent’s relationship with them. This is a win-win solution to the parenting time competition.