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Children attend divorce classes PDF Print E-mail
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Written by The Sunday Telegraph   

WORKSHOPS on coping with divorce, dealing with anxiety and making friends are all on the school-holiday program list for children this Christmas break.

The complexities of modern lifeĀ - including divorce, consumerism and the over-diagnosis of conditions like attention deficit disorderĀ - all take a huge toll on children, said child psychologist Kimberley O'Brien, who runs the classes at her Woollahra practice in Sydney.

"At least 70 per cent of the children who are referred to us are in families that are going through some kind of separation or divorce," Ms O'Brien said.

"That gives rise to all sorts of issues, like having difficulty with friends at school, not knowing how to tell their friends what is happening at home, and having to move houseĀ - and that can make kids regress in their development, and go back to bedwetting, for example."

Part of the goal is to help children come off medication for behavioural disorders.

"We love to have a kid off medication, especially if they're 15 and they've been medicated since they were five," Ms O'Brien said.

"It takes courage from both parent and child to let it go but a child who is not medicated will have higher self-esteem, knowing they can deal with these issues. We want to teach them those skills." At least 500 children aged from six to 13 have taken the centre's most popular course, a two-hour play-based workshop, The Best of Friends, which teaches techniques for starting conversations, asking to join in playground games and recognising the difference between nice and nasty playmates.

"Girls at that age are discovering the power of relational aggression," Ms O'Brien said.

"They can be really nice one minute and horrible the next, so we look at identifying the most consistent person in class, the one you sit next to who is always really nice. It might not necessarily be the most popular kids in the class, but the most consistent ones."

Another 400 children aged from 12 to 16 have taken a two-hour class, Doing the Splits, in which they learn about dealing with shared-custody arrangements and managing feelings of guilt and loneliness after a divorce.

"Divorce used to be something people didn't talk about so openly, but now it's no longer taboo and a majority of families are dealing with it," Ms O'Brien said.

"Kids have to deal with a lot of complicated stuff, like having to bring stuff for a school camp to dad's house seven days before the camp. That all increases kids' stress levels."

Running the classes in school holidays helps fill the gaps when children have no access to school.


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