The Family “Solar System’: The Emotional Impact of Separation/Divorce on Children
The realisation that parents are no longer together can feel pretty devastating for children. It’s like tectonic plates shifting and experiencing the effects of an earthquake. But as with all dramatic change it is how we support ourselves that is indicative of how well we recover. The more we nurture and take care of ourselves, the better and quicker we will heal and move forward into acceptance. Children and young people are incredibly adaptable, robust and resilient if given sufficient support.
With all the emotional losses and endings, just as in experiencing a death, this series of unexpected and unwanted dramatic changes can make us feel like our entire solar system has been thrown into turmoil. Sometimes losing a parent might feel like our sun or moon has disappeared as it’s true to say that parents are the planets that children revolve around. And they certainly want to be seen as the centre of your universe!
Whenever there is gravitational discord between two parents, children are the first ones to pick up on these signals, just as tiny bees feel vibration through their finely- tuned antennae, children can feel confused, disorientated and express discomfort.
Their reference points are quickly out of sync. Similarly, when parents separate, it feels like one planet (or both) has been eclipsed for a while but hopefully, not for too long, whilst you work out the practicalities, support and recover yourselves and begin your own healing process too. Our gravitational pull will go awry for a while until we have mourned, grieved and healed and it can take a while for our (solar) family system to find a new dynamic.
Through all of this, you and your children will be feeling incredibly ‘raw’ – like being severely sunburned out in the desert. And yet you have to seem to be functioning normally when all of this has happened. It’s hard to muddle along when you are feeling so sore and sensitive and many other relationships will be put under strain when you’re not feeling like ‘yourself’. Trying to grip onto some sense of normality when your usual references are no longer the same takes time to adjust and adapt.
Listen to the Voice of the Child of Divorce
A* Standards & Exams: Achievement Anxiety in Children
The standard of exams seems to have gone sky high! Remember when an A was a great grade and was a real achievement? Now young people have to get an A* and lots of them! Getting a mere ‘A’ is just not good enough!
Young people and children are under ridiculous amounts of pressure these days. The number of cases where young people are suffering from acute anxiety has risen dramatically in my practice. More and more frequently, young girls and boys facing GCSES and A levels are tying themselves up in knots and even physically sick before writing their exams. Their self-esteem as it at an all time low and the stress can trigger an onset of depression. This happens when their cortisol levels have been relentlessly triggered to a point where they just can’t muster a healthy amount of energy to work.
As an alternative, SATS have been offered. But this means children as young as 7 years old undergoing tests, albeit in order to free teachers up to teach more and avoid the 11+ exams. But would SATS not simply result in putting younger children under excessive scrutiny? The 11+ exams were already putting plenty of pressure on children with mountains of revision and extra tutoring for many. Parents are also getting more and more stressed worrying whether their child will get into a ‘good enough’ school.
The pressures of schooling are now seeping down to ages where children are really struggling to cope. They don’t have the emotional tools and strategies, or are given them at a stage that is likely too late. Academia is the benchmark for success and the emotional support needed only starts when matters have reached a crisis point.
A balanced amount of self-growth and discovery is important for every child but no child can work successfully if not emotionally stable. How can understanding Maths timetables be more important than self-esteem? Without a good grounding of self-esteem no amount of learning practice will ‘stick’ in your child’s brain.
As babies, it is our emotional brain – the right hemisphere brain – that develops first. The right brain is the foundation that is built upon first. The left brain, which is in charge of sequential and verbal processing, is the second part of the brain puzzle which begins to engage after the first year of development.So it’s our emotional brain that needs support and building up before we can process learning. In order for us to get the best possible chance of processing and give the best basis for our sequential brain to work, we need a solid emotional brain.
The very nature of schools and teaching is to invest in the processing brain and it is only when at crisis point that the vital emotional brain gets a look in. Unfortunately, it’s like our learning life skills are programmed back to front and nature is indicating how we are to invest in ourselves. A happy mind is primed to create a learning and curious mind. It could be said that the emotional self is the “key hardware to our learning software.”
Riding the Cortisol Roller Coaster: anxiety & depression in children
Concerned about your child who seems fatigued, frazzled and lacking in motivation? This could be linked to their cortisol levels and over exposure to stress when younger.
Research has discovered a link between child behavioural issues, high cortisol levels and poor performance at school. Cortisol is the steroid hormone produced by the cortex of the adrenal gland that helps in responding to and coping with stress, trauma and environmental extremes. It regulates our blood glucose, the immune system and helps to increase energy and metabolism and regulate blood pressure. But when cortisol is over-secreted during our ‘fight or flight’ panic response, it can cause physical and mental health issues and over time can become considerably diluted.It would seem that the body adapts to long-term exposure to stress by diluting or shutting down the cortisol system – which affects our overall health if not functioning well and helping regulate our hormonal responses.
Children demonstrating either ‘internalising’ behaviours, such as depression and anxiety or ‘externalising’ behaviours, such as aggression or attention deficit are on the cortisol ‘roller coaster’. Over time, too much internalising or externalising can create a blunting affect to cortisol levels. It’s like shaking up a cola bottle. The bottle once containing a normal amount of bubbles, becomes so full of energetic bubbles that it either explodes or erupts in short, sharp bursts until there is virtually no fizz left or it’s all gone flat.
Teenagers who deal with prolonged stress issues may become disengaged and less reactive to normal stresses. They often don’t seem to ‘step up’ academically or get busy studying for their exams as quickly as their peers. A frazzled seemingly ‘not bothered’ attitude can become the norm. Fatigue can ensue and this impaired stress response can lead to further anxiety and depression.
Mood disorders, as well as ongoing anxiety and depression can manifest and lead to physical changes in the brain. The brain shifts into less functional patterns, altering mood and affecting short-term memory function.
So what are contributory factors to high cortisol levels? Over-worked at school; separated or divorced parents and exposure to their conflict; bullying; long-term friendship issues; poverty; family loss and abandonment are just a few indicators.
How can we tackle the issue? By seeking help from nutritionists and therapists; trying to avoid stressful situations and keeping the channels of communication open. Following a healthy diet, regular exercise, reducing caffeine, ensuring more rest and better care of oneself is key. Don’t let it get to a state of crisis! If young children are showing signs of stress then seek help as soon as possible.