A child who is affected by parental relationship distress (CAPRD) is a child whose parents are experiencing intimate partner distress, violence, acrimonious divorce, unfair disparagement of one partner by another, or parental alienation. Any type of conflict between parents can be damaging to children, even if it does not involve violence.
Parents going through a divorce, or who are caught in a vicious battle, often have no idea how to shield their children from the resulting emotional distress. Unfortunately, the children of these parents often suffer in silence. This can have long-term consequences for them as they grow into adulthood.
In this blog post, I will explore what CAPRD is, and offer some tips on how to help children who are struggling with this condition.
Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress – what is the impact?
There are many ways in which children can be affected by their parents’ relationship distress. They may witness the conflict between their parents, overhear negative things said about the other parent, or feel caught in the middle of their parents’ disagreements. They may also worry about their own safety or the safety of their siblings or other family members.
A child affected by parental relationship distress will often feel scared, confused, and helpless. They may have trouble sleeping, lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, or have trouble concentrating in school. They may also act out in angry or aggressive ways, or withdraw from friends and family.
The effects of CAPRD can be devastating for children. They may experience anxiety, depression, anger, and a range of other emotions. They may also have difficulty forming relationships themselves as adults. It is therefore important that parents take steps to protect their children from the negative consequences of parental relationship distress.
Tips To Help A Child Affected By Parental Relationship Distress
Be understanding and supportive. Let the child know that they can come to you with any worries or concerns they may have.
Encourage open communication. Talk to the child in a way that builds trust and helps them express their feelings freely and honestly.
Don’t put pressure on them to “fix” their situation or take sides in the conflict between parents. The goal is to help them navigate challenging circumstances in a healthy manner and build strong relationships with both parents, if possible.
Listen carefully and without judgement when the child shares their doubts and fears about the instability of their home life. Reassure them that these feelings are valid even if they cannot be immediately resolved.
Demonstrate empathy towards both parents but remember that it is important for children to feel like they have a safe space where they do not have to worry about “taking sides” or appearing disloyal towards either parent if they share their feelings with you.
Spend quality time with the child regularly doing activities that involve physical affection, such as hugs, cuddling, or hand-holding- this simple act can communicate comfort and acceptance during uncomfortable times of uncertainty at home.
Encourage the child to engage in healthy activities such as exercise, art, music, gaming, or anything else which gives them an outlet for their emotions outside of the home environment
Spend time familiarizing yourself with available support services. This includes counselling that helps children in situations of parental relationship distress cope with emotion regulation or find ways to resolve conflicts peacefully rather than through force or aggression
Model healthy communication skills yourself, especially during conversations involving other adults who may be witnessing parental distress first-hand (for example grandparents). Even small gestures of kindness and understanding between adults can go a long way when it comes to helping children feel safe in difficult environments
Ensure that your behavior is consistent. Kids need routine stability more than anything else during times of familial upheaval
Ways To Protect Yourself If You Are A Child Affected By Parental Relationship Distress
If you are a child or teenager who is affected by parental relationship distress, there are also things you can do to help yourself.
Talk to someone you trust and feel safe with, who can be a listening ear and provide guidance when needed.
Don’t take sides between your parents. Stay neutral and don’t get involved in their conflicts.
Avoid blame-shifting or getting drawn into arguments that do not concern you.
Establish boundaries around how far you are willing to go in terms of offering advice or opinions when it comes to matters between adults – however difficult the situation may be, recognize that those adults must manage their own relationships alone.
Spend time engaging in activities which help maintain your mental health, such as exercise, reading, art, music, etc.
Remember that it is important for children to have access to responsible adults outside of the family home if necessary – prioritize attending school regularly and reaching out to teachers or school counselors if you need extra support during this period of uncertainly at home
Find ways to express yourself without engaging in aggressive behavior towards other family members; for example through journaling about your thoughts + feelings or even seeking counseling services if necessary
Take regular breaks from the stressful environment at home – make sure there is someone responsible looking after you while away from the house such as an aunt/uncle/grandparent/close friend etc., but also recognize that these people cannot replace your parents
Remain mindful of language used by both parents when discussing each other – try not to repeat negative comments made by either parent as this will only reinforce a hurtful atmosphere in the household
Be conscious of any physical displays of aggression between adults – remove yourself from any potentially harmful situations and talk to someone who can offer assistance if needed
When To Consider Therapy For Your Child Struggling With Parental Relationship Distress
- If your child is withdrawing from activities or people which used to bring them joy.
- If your child’s behavior is drastically changing and becoming increasingly difficult to manage.
- If you’re noticing changes in your child’s academic performance and/or mood swings that don’t subside after a reasonable amount of time on their own.
- If your child displays signs of anxiety, depression, or chronic stress due to the situation at home.
- If conflicts at home are causing your child to act out in various ways, such as fighting with siblings or getting into trouble at school or in public spaces.
- If verbal conversations between family members are becoming increasingly tense, aggressive, or abusive – even if physical violence is not taking place in the home, it is important to recognize when verbal aggression can still cause distress for all involved parties, including children.
Therapy Options For Children Affected By Parental Relationship Distress
Family Therapy. This type of therapy involves both parents and the child meeting with a trained therapist to discuss their issues in a safe and neutral space, while learning tools to help improve communication within the family unit.
Play Therapy. This approach uses techniques such as sand tray play and storytelling to help children process emotions related to parental distress, as well as understand their own behaviors better.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative patterns of thought that may be contributing to feelings or behavior which are unhealthy for the child’s development.
Individual Counseling. This option allows the child one-on-one time with a qualified professional to talk about their fears, worries, and concerns in a nonjudgmental space where they feel heard and accepted.
In conclusion, children affected by parental relationship distress can feel overwhelmed and misunderstood.
Seeking counselling is a great way to provide both emotional and practical support for children. It will help them explore and understand their emotions in a safe environment. In addition they will gain insight and receive the guidance they need to work on interpersonal conflicts.
E. Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016 Jul;55(7):571-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2016.04.018. Epub 2016 May 13. PMID: 27343884. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27343884/
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