When parents split it’s often the children who suffer the most.
Jancy King is a psychological associate at Toronto Psychological Services who provides counselling and other psychological services to children and their families. She frequently provides therapy to children who go through a parental split and says a family break-up is often just as devastating to them as it is to their parents.
“Children grieve a lost relationship just as much as adults do. Jealously, angst and hurt feelings can run deep,” King said.
Unlike parents who often just want to make a clean break and get on with their lives after a split, kids can’t be expected to just sever ties and move on.
“The child hasn’t got a car to jump into and race away in anger — he or she is stuck,” King said.
The hardest part of King’s job is often dealing with parents who don’t realize the importance of letting their child maintain a healthy relationship with their former spouse or significant other.
“Even if mom hates dad’s guts, it helps if she says, ‘Here, let me help you pack to see daddy.’ It’s important to realize your child is not getting divorced — you are,” King said.
Since children aren’t always capable of expressing themselves as fully as adults, King often uses play therapy to create a non-threatening setting where kids of all ages can feel comfortable and express themselves more openly than they could through talking alone.
King’s play therapy room is packed full of toys and games meant to inspire constructive thought as well as puppets representing a large variety of ethnic backgrounds to encourage kids to confront their anxieties with role-play.
Now in her 50s and with more than 30 years of experience counselling kids and families, King says she still feels for kids hurt by parental break-ups and other tough family problems.
“My heart goes out to these children. It’s hard to watch a child who is four throw themselves on the floor and cry and cry and cry,” King said.
To ease the process, parents need to be mature and put their children first.
“Think carefully before the split and have serious discussions with one another on how you’re going to support one another so that the children are okay,” she said.
King says helping kids conquer their pain is still the greatest part of her job.
“Seeing a child leaving us feeling confident and happy — that’s still the reward.”