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Ask Karen

 

Karen Anthony, MA, LPC, IMH-E, is a state licensed counselor with 20 years experience in the field of Early Childhood.  

She provides therapeutic services, support, and advocacy to young children and their families. Currently, Karen is the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant at Oakland Schools.

When Parents Separate

Dear Karen,

My soon to be ex husband and I are currently going through a dissolution. While it's never an easy thing to do, we both know deep down that it is what needs to happen. I will also be moving to a new state in 1.5 weeks. I will be having the kids basically 75% of the time (I'm due in 5 weeks with our second). He is only requesting every other weekend and certain holidays.

Anyways, we are very civil and I truly believe we will be better friends versus lovers/partners/etc.

We have a 3.5 year old daughter who is very smart for her age. She does not know what is going on yet and we are trying to figure out the best way to tell her what is happening. My soon to be ex will be remaining in our current home and I will be in a new home. How do we go about explaining that she now will have 2 new homes and that she's going to be seeing daddy a lot less? It breaks my heart thinking about it and I'd like to go about this in the best way possible. I start the moving process next weekend.
 

- Uncertain Parent

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Dear Uncertain Parent,

I’m so glad you wrote in with this question, because it is a common one!

According to the American Psychological Association, “about 40-50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.  The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.”

So with this in mind, many children are now faced with the fact of their parents separating.  I often talk to parents who want advice on how to tell their children when, in reality, most children already know.  Kids sense the tension, hear angry words, and feel the distance between their parents.  Most times it’s a relief to the child for parents to actually tell them what they already felt. 

As you talk to your daughter I would suggest the following:

  • Both parents tell her together.
  • Be honest and tell her the truth, at her level of understanding.
  • If possible, show her pictures of the ‘new’ home she will have.
  • Let her decide what to take to her new home and what she wants to stay in her old home (items such as her clothes, bedding, toys, etc.)
  • Listen to her.  Answer her questions honestly.
  • Acknowledge her feelings. Let her cry if she wants.  Don’t be surprised if she has no reaction at all. 

Kids’ reactions to life events can be confusing to adults.  Developmentally, children can compartmentalize their feelings.  She may be sad, then suddenly move on.  Then at other times it will hit her again.  Just be there for her.  She may regress in some ways, such as become clingier, wet her bed, etc.  With a new baby on the way, that may be the cause as well.

Some really good books that I recommend for young children on separation and divorce include:

  • Two Homes by Claire Masurel
  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  • Was It the Chocolate Pudding? By Sandra Levins
  • When Mom and Dad Separate by Marge Heegaard
  • Standing On My Own Two Feet by Tamara Schmitz
  • Sometimes People Fight, Even When They Love Each Other by Dagmar Geisler

Of course, you can always contact the Oakland Great Start Collaborative at 844.456.5437 and talk to a Care Coordinator to get more resources for your family as they adjust. 

- Karen

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Challenges with Video Games

Dear Karen,

My 6 year old loves to play video games. I try to keep it at a minimum, only for a couple of hours on the weekend and sometimes I use it if I just need some peace while I’m making dinner. I noticed that while he is playing he will completely forget about going to the bathroom and will have an accident while playing. It is as if he is too consumed with the game to go to the bathroom. When this happens, I get worried that this is turning into a horrible video game addiction and he loses privileges for about a month. And then I worry I have now created a “forbidden fruit” in my home. He will want it even more now that he can’t have it. What should I do when this happens and what boundaries should be placed when it comes to video games? I don’t want my child to become overly consumed with this form of entertainment.

- Frustrated Parent

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Dear Frustrated Parent,

I would definitely set some boundaries around screen time now. A good way to start is to construct a “family media plan”. This link is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This will help you create a plan with some limits based on your child’s age, school schedule, and after school activities, including playing outside with friends. I believe that electronics are a part of all of our lives and they are not going away.  However, with the right balance they aren’t so bad. Electronics or screen time includes television, computers, video games and phone/tablet use.  

A few tips that I like to share with parents include: 1) no use of screens at least one hour prior to bedtime. It has something to do with the blue light and how it affects children’s brains. 2) No screens in the bedroom, even the television. 3) No YouTube. I don’t mean to call them out specifically, but YouTube has videos that lead to more videos and soon your child is down the rabbit hole. 4) Supervise children’s use of screen time. Know what your child is doing on the screen at all times. And for your child in particular, make sure he uses the bathroom before he begins and you may need to remind him intermittently to go again.  When concentrating at the age of six, stopping to use the bathroom is not a high priority.

For more information on screen time use in young children visit:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx#home

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/screen-sense

For more ideas and support feel free to contact our Care Coordinators by email or at 844.456.5437.

- Karen

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Afraid of Shadows

Dear Karen,

My 2 year old daughter loves Daniel Tiger and we watched an episode where Daniel Tiger is afraid of shadows. Ever since this episode, she has been afraid of shadows. She is afraid throughout the day and even at night. She doesn't want her night light because it casts shadows and she's also afraid of the dark. As you can imagine, this makes bedtime very difficult. Any suggestions on how to handle her fears? 

- Perplexed Parent

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Dear Perplexed Parent,

This sounds very frustrating for you and your daughter.  Children are complex beings at every stage.  At the age of 2, children often have difficulty distinguishing the difference between reality and fiction.  However, shadows are real and can be scary.  Your daughter may benefit from ‘defeating her fears’ through repetition.  Although it may seem contrary, watching the episode of Daniel Tiger again might help her with overcoming her fright, and with your support she can see that shadows are really within her control. Don’t force it though. If your child responds adversely, you might try to do some shadow play at home during the day, in a darkened room, to help her gain control and feel more at ease. Reassure her that you are nearby to help her when she’s afraid and support her in feeling safe with you. 

For more ideas and support feel free to contact our Care Coordinators by email or at 844-456-5437.

- Karen