The Cost of High Conflict on Children - Collaborative law

The Cost of High Conflict on Children - Collaborative law

Understanding Conflict and How to Protect Children From Divorce Fallout IACP( International Association of Collaborative Professionals) Forum October 25-28 2018 Seattle Washington Samar Shata, MCP, RCC

Child & Family Therapist, Alyson Jones & Associates Salley-Ann Ross, MACC, RCC, Child & Family Therapist AJA, West Vancouver, Canada Ida Forsat, MCP (Candidate), Child and Family Therapist, AJA Alyson Jones MA, RCC

Clinical Director AJA And What about you? How many lawyers? How many mental health professionals?

Mediators? Judges? How many of you have worked on high conflict cases? How many practice exclusively collaborative? Lets get right into the bad news Children and Divorce

Children who have experienced a parental separation and divorce are at higher risk for: Depression Anxiety Self-harming behaviors Suicide Academic issues Promiscuity Teenage pregnancy Alcohol and drug misuse

Addictions Problematic relationships Divorce for themselves Aggression & violence Heart disease We see this played out through Externalized issues:

Disobedience Delinquency Aggression Anti Social Behaviours Internalized Issues

Depression and Self Harm Anxiety Lack of self-identity and personal boundaries Eating Disorders Increased somatic symptoms

Problems in Learning The higher the conflict, the more academic problems Lower cognitive and educational performance Less engagement in school Decreased attendance Less respect for educational institutions This applies to all the different ages and stages

Why? Stress associated with a divorce. Parents are more distracted during a divorce and do not parent as effectively. Moves and major changes that the children do not get an opportunity to process appropriately. Diminished economic resources. Children caught in a high conflict situation. NonDivorced

Divorced The likelihood of negative outcomes for children of divorce is fifty percent higher. Non-Divorce Divorce with resolution HCD

And now for the good news There is no denying that divorce does have an impact on children. If the divorce is handled well, children can adjust and develop resiliency. With appropriate responses, negative impacts can be mitigated. It is within the power of the parents to decrease the statistical probability of these negative

outcomes. It is within the scope of the professionals working with transitioning families to reduce the negative outcomes of parental conflict. The Wound of Divorce Divorce is a wound that needs to be tended properly. With proper treatment and care a wound becomes a scar. These scars become part of us and our character

actually part of our interesting life story. If the wound does not heal and continues to fester, it will become infected. It is the toxic wounds that hinder our lives and can potentially be life-threatening. Divorce Adjustment Adjustment to divorce takes longer than expected and requires proper treatment. It is very difficult for children to adjust when their parents do not adjust.

Parental behaviors during divorce have a great impact on future expectations in relationships of children regarding issues of closeness, trust, having children etc. The vicious cycle Poor parental behavior during divorce Childrens expectations of

relationships Issues within their own parenting Issues of closeness/trust as adults The positive cycle Cooperative parenting

Their own cooperative parenting Childrens expectations of relationships Closeness/ trust as adults

Factors elevating risk creating High Conflict Divorces Episodes of violence between parents, ongoing conflict and hostility between parents Court actions by parents Psychological maladjustment of parent Sudden or frequent changes of residence and school, interruption of peer relationships Disruption of parenting routine, loss of relationship with a parent

Economic hardship, loss of security and stability, negative family reinforcement 21 CONFLICT CHANGES CHILDREN What is Conflict? An active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or

principles (Cambridge dictionary) A Few Facts about Conflict Conflict is a reality in every Brief, moderate, and family. predictable conflict is not problematic, but rather this The people we are closest to can actually prepare a child

evoke the biggest emotional for the real world. reactions. Our survival is dependent on Not all conflict is bad. our ability to deal with stress and manage conflict. Each family has its own threshold as to when conflict becomes destructive.

The Real Story About Conflict It is not the divorce itself that causes significant problems for children. It is the level of conflict and the quality of parenting afterwards that determines the impact. Parental conflict is the predictor of child maladjustment rather than divorce itself (Kelly, 2000)

The important message is: How conflict is managed, rather than if conflict occurs, will determine childrens adjustment and whether the conflict is destructive or not. What Makes Conflict Destructive for Children?

Conflict is a part of life. It is the style of conflict that determines if it is destructive or constructive. Conflict is Destructive When: Highly hostile (physical or verbal). The intensity of the conflict is high (stress significantly increases in children). The frequency of the conflict is often, or occurs at unpredictable times (this leads to a prolonged fear reaction). There is no resolution (this leads to feelings of

insecurity). There are no buffers for the children (this results in lack of protection from the conflict). If the Conflict Centers on the Child, it is More Destructive to the Child Custody and access issues Differences in parenting styles and values Children react to child-centered conflict by:

Self-blame Shame Withdrawal Feelings of inadequacy Feelings of responsibility Fear

Conflict Can be Constructive

Can help us understand and appreciate differences Resolved conflict builds empathy Can lead to effective patterns of resolution Can provide insight Can aid us in anticipating and resolving future conflicts Can bring us closer together as we isten, understand and validate each other Can provide a source of information Can increase unified parenting if conflict is managed well

Can decrease anxiety as constructive conflict helps us face issues instead of denying or avoiding them Brings problems to light, and thus offers us the opportunity to brainstorm solutions and make progress. CONFLICT AFFECTS BRAIN DEVELOPMENT A Few Facts about Child and Brain Development Brain development is

more pronounced at various developmental stages. During the first few years of life, there are high levels of brain development. Brain cells develop their primary connections over the first 2 years and then

they are sculpted throughout the rest of Ages 5-6, the prefrontal cortex develops. During adolescence, there is also a growth spurt in brain development. Primary Factors for Healthy

Brain Development Safe environment Nutrition Exercise and activity Health care Secure attachments Attention and attunement from the caregivers

Affection Lack of injury Stimulation of all 5 senses Opportunities for daily learning Repetition of stimuli The Adolescent Brain

Yes, they do have one and it is firing on all cylinders! The emotional brain (limbic system) is often in charge. The frontal cortex is going through great growth. They need guidance for using their thinking brain (planning, organizing, problem solving, decision making). If experiencing a HCD, parents often let go of the lead and this can impact the development of a teens higher functions.

Developmental Psychology and Brain Development Healthy brain development results in: An effective network of pathways Appropriate movement through each developmental stage Increased opportunities for potential and mastery

Epigenetics Epigenetics is the emerging science that explores how our brain development is impacted by genetics and environment. Nature and nurture are not independent factors. The environment in which the organism grows and develops will directly impact the genetic material of the organism.

The brain is not just a product of genetics; it is a product of the environment in which it grows. Our neuron pathways are formed by our experience and our environment. Neurological Pathways Directly Affect: The ability to process information

Language and the ability to express emotions and thoughts Health and well being Behaviors Cognitive reasoning Higher functioning Children Experiencing HCD Become Wired to be: Anxious Agitated

Distractible Highly aroused Impulsive Aggressive Underdeveloped empathy and compassion What are ACEs? (Adverse Childhood Experiences) ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that

harm childrens developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence. Center for Disease control and prevention Aces study What is Stress?

A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. (Oxford Dictionary) Stress and the Brain Some stress is helpful as it can help protect us when there is danger, it can make us more alert, and it can assist us in accomplishing our goals. When stress is chronic, it throws our balance off and sends confusing signals to our brain, thus

affecting brain chemistry. There are many hormones in action when we experience stress but Cortisol is our primary stress hormone. Cortisol Cortisol is released from our adrenal glands. Simply put, the main function of cortisol is to restore balance in our system after a heightened experience. Too much or too little cortisol becomes problematic (too much can cause cell death and attentional deficits, and

too little can impair our ability to regulate and respond). Our immune system becomes highly compromised when our cortisol is unbalanced and we are suffering from chronic stress. A high conflict divorce (HCD) often results in chronic stress for children, during very important stages in brain development. Chronic Stress Associated with a HCD is Destructive to Children Because: A persistent fear response alters neurochemistry.

Hyper-arousal will alter the ongoing baseline for appropriate arousal. It may result in dissociation (mentally and emotionally removing the self from the situation). It disrupts attachments (the child becomes focused on surviving rather than growing, maturity is impaired). Managing HCD situations is important, as the associated stress impairs the immune system of youth, and high

conflict impairs brain development. Brain Potential Brain growth and plasticity are directly affected by emotional interactions with our caregivers. Many brain capacities were originally thought to be fixed at birth, but we are now discovering that they are actually dependent on a sequence of experiences combined with heredity. The more brain cells are activated, the more potential.

The Brain & Memory The more repetition, the stronger the memory (this can be both beneficial and harmful). With HCD, the repetition of conflict can embed negative memories and disrupt healthy brain development. Pruning the Pathways High conflict can disrupt the sensitive periods of

brain growth in children and this can result in a disruption of potential. If certain synapses and pathways are not being activated, they may be discarded. This loss of pathways is often referred to as pruning. A developing brains capacity can be diminished by destructive conflict. The younger the child of a HCD, the more difficult it is to reverse the negative impact on the brain development of children.

(Weinstein et al., 2000) Thank Goodness for the Plastic Brain! The brain is more plastic than we originally thought. Plasticity is the brains ability to change in response to repeated stimulation. A quick look at the research

There is a direct link between parental conflict and the childs cognitive and intellectual development. This link also applies to parental conflict and the childs ability to regulate attention and the stress response. (El-Sheikh, 2008) Trauma is not limited to children witnessing violent conflict between

their parents, but non-violent discordant conflict between parents also has significant effects on the brain development in children. (Cummings & Dawes, 2010) Children from divorced families are two times as likely to be prescribed medication for ADD/ADHD than children from intact families. (University of Alberta Study)

Long Term Effects of High Conflict: Changes in the nature of the child-parent relationship Creates significant anxiety and distress Impacts brain development and limits potential Overstimulates and frightens children Compromises identity development Creates feelings of helplessness and hopelessness

HIGH CONFLICT AFFECTS ATTACHMENT It all begins with Attachment Attachment is a strong emotional connection, such as the bond between a child and caregiver Attachment joins people together emotionally In psychology, the concept of attachment helps explain development and personality Essential for human survival and development; we need each other and we protect each other. Parent-child

attachment is normal and needed For the parent to protect and the child to be drawn to the protector is natural, and it is what has kept us alive and thriving As Divorce Professionals it is best to do whatever we can to support the secure attachment to both parents. Attachment wounds Attachment issues can occur when there is an insecure attachment to the caregiver, or when the security of the attachment is undermined by

the actions of another through alienating behaviours. HCD can lead to Attachment Disruptions or Disorders An Attachment Disruption occurs when the natural attachment between a child and caregiver is disrupted as a result of circumstances causing separation from a caregiver. Can be due to death, or to estrangement or alienation An attachment disorder is a disorder of mood, behaviour

and social relationships which results from a failure of the child to form a normal attachment (bonding) with their primary caregiver(s). These issues can result when parents are highly distracted, negligent, aggressive or engaged in alienating behaviours. Parental Alienation and Estrangement Although not all cases of HCD lead to parental alienation, there is no doubt that high conflict is a part of the cause for parental

alienation. Alienation occurs when one parent is undermining the attachment of the other parent with the child(ren). When the child rejects the parent without concrete reasons (or as an act of allegiance with the favoured parent), then we may have an alienation situation. Parental estrangement occurs when there are legitimate reasons for the child withdrawing from the parent. This can be an outcome of abuse, neglect, addiction or complicated relationship issues. HCD often play a part in this dynamic as well. Sometimes there is a hybrid of both alienation and estrangement.

Parental Alienation (PA) is one of the most difficult and complex family issues to deal with in family therapy and family law cases. What Helps Children in these HC Situations?

Relationship with a reliable adult Buffers from the conflict Siblings Warmth Affection

Counselling Appropriate peer support Activities in which they can find mastery What Parents Can Do What Parents Can Do Communicate with the children and explain the divorce in an age appropriate manner. Give children a voice but do not burden them with

the choice. Lead the children through the process in a respectful manner. Endorse and support the attachment between the children and both parents. Allow children to grieve and express their emotions. Set up effective co-parenting communication that takes the children out of the middle. What can the Professionals do?

Address the family system, not just the parents or the children in isolation. Operate from the guiding principle of the best interests of the children. Educate parents on the high cost of conflict to their children Build resiliency in children. Build resiliency in parents (if possible). Help build healthy social connections and community engagement. Provide buffers from the conflict.

Assist in setting up boundaries that minimize negative parental interaction in front of the children. Professional Interventions Set up conflict management structures and containment strategies Parent Coordination (PC) Collaborative Divorce Divorce Coaching Mediation Custody and access evaluations

Coordinated counselling and team treatment approaches Intervention programs that are family focused Child advocacy in divorce process Building resiliency ( 1. Make sure the basic needs of the child are being met. 2. Build resiliency in the parents (as much as possible).

3. Parent education for parents (educate on developmental psychology, parenting skills and educate on the cost of conflict and how this effects the developing brain). 4. Attachment training for parents (aka attachment boot camp). 5. Build alternate social connections for the child. 6. Build social and emotional skills in the child to the best of your ability. Guide the Adults in Dealing

with the Adult Issues Creating a space in which the adults can deal with the adult issues is one of the most effective ways of reducing the collateral damage of adult conflict on children. Containment Respect Boundaries Accountability Education Compassion

Direction Why Professionals are Important They implement strategies to contain conflict. Parents have often lost perspective- professions can provide perspective again. Some parents will continue the fight no matter the costs. By managing the conflict, we can make a difference in the development and well being of a

child. As professionals involved with these families we can make a direct difference to the child by assisting with conflict management and containment. The Level of Conflict, and the parents ability to manage that conflict, directly effects the mental health and well being of their

children. Crisis is an opportunity. How we respond to it can bring out the worst case scenario (destruction) or the best case scenario (growth). - Alyson Jones Lets keep looking for ways to move this in the right direction!

Contact Alyson Jones & Associates Alyson Jones, MA, RCC

113-2419 Bellevue Avenue, West Vancouver, V7V 4T4 (604)926-6665 [email protected] References and Resources

L.M. Baker, L.M. Williams, M.S. Korgaonkar, R.A. Cohen, J.M. Heaps, R.H. Paul Impact of early vs. late childhood early life stress on brain morphometrics Brain Imaging Behav., 7 (2013), pp. 196203 Strauch, Barbara, What the new discoveries about the teenage brain tell us about our kids, New York Anchor Books (2003) Anita Thapar, Gordon Harold, Frances Rice, Kate Langley, Michael O'Donovan. The contribution of geneenvironment interaction to psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 2007; 19 (04) DOI: Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (1994). Children and marital conflict: The impact of family dispute and resolution. Guilford series on social and emotional development. NewYork, NY, US: Guilford Press.

Cummings, E., & Davies, P. T. (2010). Marital conflict and children: An emotional security perspective. New York: Guilford. Cummings, E. M., Ballard, M., El-Sheikh, M., & Lake, M. (1991). Resolution and children's responses to interadult anger. Developmental Psychology, 27, 462 470. Davies, P. T., & Cummings, E. M. (1994). Marital conflict and child adjustment: An emotional security hypothesis. Katz, L.F., & Gottman, J.M. (1993). Patterns of marital conflict predict childrens internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 29, 940-950. Kelly, J. B. (1982). Divorce: The adult experience. In B. Wolman and G.

Stricker(Eds.),Handbook of developmental psychology. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Kelly, J. B. (2000). Childrens adjustment in conflicted marriage and divorce: A

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