By Priscilla J. Dunstan, McClatchy-Tribune
The upcoming holiday season can create mixed feelings for many, especially those children still coming to terms with their parents’ divorce. This can bring up a multitude of emotions, and in turn, behaviors. Each child is different, but there are ways to connect with your child during this time.
When tactile children are feeling stressed they are more likely to be physically aggressive. For little children, this can mean more pushing and grabbing and less sharing. They will fluctuate between pushing away their caregivers to demanding constant hugs and affection. Try to have special time with your tactile child: throwing a ball, going for a walk, or cuddling on the sofa watching a DVD. Use the time to connect and when they feel secure physically, start to talk about their concerns and worries. You will find that often these concerns will be around which parent they will be doing things with, whose place they will be staying at, and what group of people will be there to play with.
The silence from an auditory child may seem like bliss to a parent who usually feels bombarded with questions day in and day out, but it often signifies a problem. When auditory children feel worried or stressed, and don’t feel supported, they will withdraw their voice. It’s the equivalent of a tactile child holding onto a ball when they refuse to play. It’s important that you create a place where they can talk. Often starting an activity like Play-Doh, or threading beads, or just making something together, is a good way to start a conversation. Talk about the everyday things and let them open up about their concerns at their own pace. Auditory children need to know the pattern of how things will work moving forward. A clear schedule is a good start. Be careful how you talk about the other parent, and remember that the conversations between adults may be overheard by your child.
Visual children will become more obsessive about their outfits and generally how things look. They may be worried that Thanksgiving will include only with one side of the family. They may become upset about other people knowing that their family is separated and try to bring you all back together. If possible, try to keep the family events friendly and inclusive. Create a photo album that has headings such as Thanksgiving 2011, which include both events at each parent’s home.
Taste and smell children become overly sensitive during uncertain times. Tears, over-reactions and extreme behavior are all normal for this sense when they feel stressed. They will be very concerned about others’ feelings, and the more concerned they are, the more their own feelings are hurting. It is natural for the taste and smell child to internalize outside events and feel they are responsible. They will feel empathy toward the parent they feel is being left out, so it’s important to have both parents show that life is fine and things will be OK. Rather than saying “Dad can’t come trick or treating,” try “Daddy is trick or treating in his neighborhood and saving candy for you.”
Often we are dealing with our own loss during separation and divorce, and concerns that may seem trivial to you, can mean a lot to your child. Even though you may be stressed, it’s important to remember the festive season is a memory building time for your child, and we want to build happy memories.
Priscilla J. Dunstan is a child and parenting behavior expert and consultant and the author of “Child Sense.” Learn more about Priscilla and her parenting discoveries at www.childsense.com.