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Behavioural issues post-separation

Behavioural issues post-separation

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Behavioural issues post-separation

I'm really struggling with knowing how to help my son at the moment..... 


I have a complex family circumstance - Mum and dad split 4 years ago, abusive relationship with a high conflict divorce. There was a unexpected death in the family, then my son started to exhibit signs that he wasn't coping with the divorce... and I started seeing increasingly concerning behavioural issues (largely aggression and defiance). My son went to live with Dad after he became aggressive towards his siblings. Dad didn't believe there was an issue and instead blamed Mum saying it was her parenting. Consequently my son has had no assistance from professionals and the issues have just progressively got worse. To add to the mix, Mum and Dad have been going through Family court to formalise care arrangements and Dad recently had supervision orders imposed then lifted due to Mental health and alcohol issues (there are still other orders in place to manage Dad's issues) My son is too familiar with court proceedings and dad's health concerns.


Court have ordered counselling, but my son doesn't want to speak with anyone. He has threatened self harm in the past and again, Dad blames mums parenting.


Over the years I have tried to help my son as best I can. I have engaged with health supports, I have attended courses and programs to educate myself around effects of seperation on children and to understand parenting strategies and child development, I am a strong believer in counselling and have attempted to engage my son with counselling supports in the past. Whilst I have a really strong connection with my son, it is heavily impacted by Dad and I often feel that Dad roadblocks any of the help or support that I try to offer my son. I was once told by a counsellor that my son saw, that if he didn't want to go to counselling, there was nothing that could be done, they could only support me and that I was probably the best person for my son to speak to. The catch is my son loves both his parents and I get a sense that he feels torn and caught in the middle of everything and understandably -  he doesn't want to talk with me or Dad.


Last night my son had an episode. Refused to leave Grandpa's because he was playing on the computer and was told to get off so we could go home and let Grandpa go to bed. He refused to leave the house. Eventually I had to call Dad and he had to come over to Grandpa's. My son made it clear, there is nothing Mum or Dad could do, and he doesn't care what consequence we give (no computer, no ipad, no TV for 1 week). Eventually Dad had to escort us home, but my son still had the attitude.


We arrived home and my son was still giving attitude, when his Dad unexpectedly gave him a hug and told him he loved him. These words really affected my son and I watched his eyes well up with tears as he wriggled from his hug and walk into my house. I noticed this and pointed it out to Dad. I asked Dad to hang around while I went in to check on my son. I said to him that Dad and I were here and he could talk to us about what was going on for him. My son told me that he would never tell us.


When I went back outside to Dad, I suggested that he go inside and have a chat with our son. Dad went inside and after talking a little bit, he again told our son that he loved him. Again, I watched as my son's eyes filled with tears. 


When we both went out the front, I suggested to Dad, that maybe there is something in our son's reaction to hearing his Dad say, 'I love you?'. He shrugged and said he wanted to see what happened at our son's counselling session.


I went back in to my son and as I was stroking his head/brow while saying goodnight, I asked him why he had such an emotional reaction to his Dad telling him that he loved him, he told me 'Dad always says that he loves me before bed, but it's just something that he says. This time when he said it, it was like he really meant it.'


My heart broke hearing those words.


I really want to help my son and I just don't know how to get him to open up and help us to understand what is going on for him??


I'm keen to hear what other peoples advice is based on their own personal experience and/or similar stories they may have.




Re: Behavioural issues post-seperation

Hey @CareBear - thanks so much for starting this conversation. I'll leave it to other parents to reply but wanted to let you know that you obviously care so much and have done a lot already to ensure the best for your kids.

About the counseling, while it's true that you can't force anyone to talk to a counselor there are definitely things you can do to help address the concerns that he has about it. And by letting him know that you'll be there to listen - without judgement - whenever he is needs he may come to you when he is finally ready. Do you think we might be more likely to chat online with a counselor that talk face-to-face? I'm thinking KHL could be an option...

How old is your son? Was just thinking about getting some resources together..
Frequent scribe

Re: Behavioural issues post-seperation

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Must be hard to hear carebear, about the I love you. Sounds like you have really been through it with your partner.

Does this help?


Re: Behavioural issues post-separation

This must be really tough to go through @CareBear. Would he consider talking to his school counsellor? I also like the idea of Kid's Helpline.


At a very basic level it sounds logical to me that the divorce is having a big impact on him. I wonder if he blames himself somehow? And he's pushing the boundaries to check if you and Dad really, really, really love him - hence the teary response when his Dad gives an "unscheduled" hug.


This is not an easy fix, all I would suggest is both you keep giving your son hugs, telling him he is loved even when he acts out, and reassuring him that if he wants to talk - you will be there to listen.


I'm sending you a virtual hug as well. 

Frequent scribe

Re: Behavioural issues post-separation

What a heart breaking story @CareBear  It sounds like you've been in a really tough situation.  Well done for looking after your boy despite the hard circumstances.


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Super frequent scribe

Re: Behavioural issues post-separation

Hi there @CareBear Smiley Happy


I definitely understand how you must feel, I too have been through very similar "complex family circumstances". I have been through a 13 year emotionally abusive relationship, a messy separation (never married), court cases, consent orders, breaches of orders, false accusations, recriminations, two sons both displaying behavioural "issues", a son that has self harmed, blame, heartache, tears, and on... and on... and on... for the last eight years!


The best advice I can give is STOP. The conflict is obviously still ongoing. There is nothing gained by going through an adversarial process (courts) in the forlorn hope that it will fix ANYTHING. You and the Dad know what is in the best interest of your son and believe me continuing the conflict is not.


I am speaking from personal experience as one caring parent to another. I know that you have concerns about your sons behaviour and the roll that Dad has to play, but I know that conflict only makes it worse. The behavioural issues started with divorce and it sounds like they have only gotten worse in line with the continuing conflict. Whether you and Dad try to keep the conflict from your son, he will pick up on it in so many ways.


Unless there are legitimate concerns for you or your children's safety I would let your son decide on how things should work moving forward. He knows you both love him and that is something that he would not be able to reconcile with the current situation. The behaviour he is displaying is a natural reaction to his world at the moment. Give him a voice but make sure he is realistic. No, you and Dad will not be getting back together! But I believe you can show him through love and understanding that he is more important than the differences you have with Dad. Nothing would show that more than stopping the conflict.


Obviously this is only my humble opinion and I am not suggesting in anyway that you disregard any legal advice or take anything I have said as legal advice. My advice is motivated purely out of concern for the mental health of you, Dad and especially your son.


Things will get better, it just takes time, patience and love. My best wishes @CareBear Smiley Happy



Active scribe

Re: Behavioural issues post-seperation

Thanks Sophie-RO, he is 12 years old - and if you had any resources that you think might assisted I'd be very grateful.


He is definately an online kid - loves everything gaming, technology etc.


Kids Help Line is a great suggestion, I have talked to him about calling them previously but I will suggest it again, because I didn't point out to him that he could also chat to someone online - maybe he will feel more comfortable with that.


Re: Behavioural issues post-seperation

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Let us know how it goes @CareBear and I will get some resources together....

If he's an online kid, something that came to mind is our wellbeing game 'ReachOut Orb' - check out here:
Super frequent scribe

Re: Behavioural issues post-seperation

How have things been this weekend @CareBear?

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