By Tracy McConaghie, LCSW

Many parents dread the moment they tell their children they are getting a divorce. They fear their own emotions and the reactions they imagine their children will have. However, this conversation can be held in a healthy way that provides emotional connection and security. The following guidelines will help you prepare for this important family meeting:

Consider the Timing

While there is no exact science regarding when to tell your children about your divorce, it is important to give some thought to timing. It’s best to give children some time to process the new information with both parents present in the home. For example, two weeks before one parent moves out is a good time.
On the other hand, telling children that you will divorce, and then remaining together for months increases children’s anxiety (when is it going to happen?) and prevents them from finding closure and moving on to a secure new version of your family (maybe they changed their mind!).
If your family is in turmoil or there is a high level of conflict that the children are aware of, it is best to go ahead and have a conversation with the children even if it will be an extended time before somebody moves out. In that case, talk with the children about their awareness of the arguing or difficult times in the family. Let them know you love them, the arguments are not because of them, and you are working on what to do to make things better for the family.
If your child asks you if you are going to get a divorce, you can say that you do not know for sure yet what will happen, but you do know you are going to make sure they are loved and taken care of. Invite your children to share with you anytime they feel scared or sad while you are going through this process, and check in with them regularly about their feelings.
The reasons adults get divorced are painful and often complicated. Children are not equipped developmentally or emotionally to understand those details.

Tell the Truth

The first step is to be honest about what is happening. Tell the truth, but keep it simple: “We have something important to share with you. You have noticed that we have been going through some hard times in our family and Mom and I/Dad and I have not been getting along well. We have worked hard on this problem, but have decided it is best for us not to be married anymore. We are getting a divorce.”
It is also important to explain to children that the divorce is an adult matter and an adult decision that has nothing to do with them. Explaining that it is about feelings between the two of you alone can help prevent children from assuming the problem was caused by them or their behavior.

Don’t Tell the Whole Truth

The reasons adults get divorced are painful and often complicated. Children are not equipped developmentally or emotionally to understand those details, even though they may ask you for the reasons for your divorce when you talk with them about it.
Here are some possible appropriate responses when children ask “why?”
  • “Sometimes adults have grown up problems that keep them from getting along well.”
  • “Sometimes parents do not have the same kind of married love they used to have, and find it is better for them to be just friends.”
  • “The problems we have are grown up problems that are not about you.”
It is especially important not to tell the full story if there has been an affair or betrayal. Remember that leaving information out of what you share with a child is not the same as lying. The parent who has been betrayed may feel they want to explain to their children that it is not their fault. While this is an understandable wish, it is harmful to children.
Have more questions about explaining divorce to children? Click here to contact us.
When children are aware one of their parents is against the other, or terribly hurt by the other, they cannot help but feel they must choose sides. For example, if a child’s mother hates their father, the child cannot understand how they will be able to love their father without hurting their mother. Children need both parents, especially after divorce, and choosing sides interferes with this very important need.
If your divorce is not a mutual decision, it is particularly challenging to keep what you share with children healthy and appropriate. Many parents feel they want their children to know the divorce was not their decision and they would never willingly do this to their children.
However, it is important to present the divorce as a decision that both of you are a part of. If you do not want the divorce at all, you can say something truthful such as “Even though it is sad and will take a little while to get used to, we both realize this is what has to happen.”
Children who know the details of which parent wants the divorce and which does not are burdened with overwhelming feelings of fear and anger. This prevents them from resolving their sadness about the divorce and moving forward in a positive way.
In part two of this series, we will discuss the importance of allowing your children to ask questions and the importance of reassuring them without sugar coating the details.
Tracy McConaghie and her husband Andrew McConaghie own McConaghie Counseling in Alpharetta. She specializes in helping children and families with divorce, parenting, anxiety and behavior problems. Andrew specializes in couples counseling, including divorce counseling.  Both Andrew and Tracy help divorcing couples create successful parenting plans for their divorce.  They are available for therapy or consultation in their office or via phone or video conferencing. You can also visit  McConaghie Counseling online at www.mcconaghiecounseling.com.
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By Cristiane Uchida, LAPC

The way we talk to children certainly impacts the development of self-esteem. Parents have a tendency to praise rather than encourage children, and there is a difference.


Praise has these characteristics:

  • It is External: Comes from others and reflects others’ thoughts and feelings.
  • It is Product Based: Focuses on the end result.
  • It Promotes a “Pleasing Personality”: Creates people who are motivated to get approval from others.

Examples of praise include:
“I am so proud of you!”
“Good job!”
“You are the best player on the team!”

Parents have a tendency to praise rather than encourage chidlren.


Encouragement has these characteristics:

  • It is Internal: it focuses on the person who performed, or is performing, the deed.
  • It is Process Based: Focuses on the process, rather than the result.
  • It Promotes a “Confident Personality”: Creates internal feelings of capability, responsibility and autonomy.

Examples of encouragement include:
“You worked so hard on that!”
“You accomplished what you wanted. How does that feel?”
“I appreciate your help.”

Encouragement helps children’s confidence grow by giving them the sense that they are capable of accomplishing things without worrying about pleasing other people.

Encouragement develops internal motivation for doing well. Although praise has its values, research has shown that encouragement has a stronger impact in helping a child to develop independency and self-esteem.

Cristiane Uchida, APC, NCC, works with individuals of all ages and is passionate about helping children overcome anxiety, anger issues, phobias, and low self-esteem.


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By: Cristiane Uchida, APC, NCC

There is no doubt that raising children is one of the most challenging jobs. There are times parents might feel tired, overwhelmed and discouraged when dealing with young children and the amount of patience that role requires.

Here are some tips to communicate your frustration when your child is not acting the way you wish.

1- Avoid labeling the child, so they do not internalize the message of being the mistake. The child and the behavior are two separate things.
a. Avoid: “You are slow”.
b. Instead: “You are going slowly right now”.

2- Avoid blaming your feeling on their behavior, own your feeling.
a. Avoid: “You are making me angry”.
b. Instead: “I feel angry when you don’t listen to me.”

3- Avoid using the words always and never. These words are extreme and rarely true.
a. Avoid: “You never listen to me.”
b. Instead: “You are not listening to me right now”.

     c. Avoid: “You always forget your towel on the floor”
d. Instead: “You often forget your towel on the floor.”

4- Avoid saying, “I told you so.” Children will learn from mistakes, so let them learn from their experience. When you say, “I told you so” it just makes you feel better and the child feel worse.
a. Avoid: “I told you so.”
b. Instead: Show empathy and say: “What just happened? What did you learn from it?”

5- Encourage success in the future.
a. “You are going very slowly today. I feel frustrated when I have to tell you so many times to get in the car. But I know you will do better next time”.

6- Be a good role model. The way you handle frustration will be an example to your child.

Cristiane Uchida, APC, NCC, works with individuals of all ages and is passionate about helping children overcome anxiety, anger issues, phobias, and low self-esteem.

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By  Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT/S

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is the systematic process of using play and play materials to work with and help children with emotional and behavioral concerns. It is the ideal therapeutic model for children dealing with divorce, death, anxiety, trauma, anger, difficult life transitions, and other situations that cause stress or emotional pain. Children are small; the world and life’s problems can be very big.  When using play materials, children are in charge and they are in their natural element.  This allows them to explore feelings and situations in a safe and empowering way.

In a play therapist’s office there are toys that reflect a wide range of themes and experiences:  nurture, danger, safety, aggression, family, school, emotions, etc. Play therapists create a space and provide toys that allow children to find a way to express and process emotions and experiences.  By doing so, they gain emotional mastery and develop strategies to cope with difficult situations.


What happens in a play therapy session?

Play therapy can be non-directive, directive, and a combination of the two.  In non-directive play therapy, the child freely chooses what to do with their session, and the therapist facilitates, observes, reflects or may even participate in that play.  Non-directive play therapy allows children to follow their own heart and choose what they need to mange their feelings and solve problems.  Because play is the natural language and process of children, we can trust that they will choose play activities that offer what they need in the context of an accepting relationship with their therapist.

In directive play therapy, the therapist chooses or leads a play-based activity that they believe will be useful to the child.  This may include a game, role-play, art activity, or suggestion to make a sand tray or scene about a situation in the child’s life.  This type of play therapy may also include teaching the child about anxiety, divorce, social skills, and other issues that are common challenges for children.  Although therapists lead activities when using this type of play therapy, they still make sure to meet children where they are and respect their stage of development and needs. In addition, those experiences still include play because they can be fun uses of puppet, art, games, role-play and other playful experiences.

Play therapists often use both types of play therapy, depending upon the needs of the situation and of the child.


Play Therapy and Confidentiality

Parents understandably want to know about their child’s play therapy sessions because they are concerned about their child’s progress and want to understand and help their child as best they can.  A play therapist provides feedback to parents while still respecting a child’s confidentiality.  It may be surprising to some that a child needs confidentiality for their therapy sessions, but it is needed just as it is for adolescents and adults.  In therapy, clients of all ages experience a safe and accepting relationship with their therapist – this is the essential foundation of good therapy.  This safety is created in part by knowing that the therapist cares for, respects and holds what they learn from their clients as precious material to be handled with care.  Even children need privacy and rely on the freedom that confidentiality creates in order to make the most of their sessions.

Although play therapists provide confidentiality for their child clients, they still meet regularly with parents.  At these meetings, therapists are able to provide parents with useful feedback and insights about their child.  They also rely on these meetings in order to receive parent input about the child’s emotions and behavior to assess the effectiveness of the play therapy. It is very common for parent sessions to happen frequently so that the therapist and parents can work as a team to develop parenting strategies and address family dynamics.


Do’s and Dont’s for Parents

DO accept that play is therapeutic in its own right, and that although a play therapy session may seem like “just playing” to adults, it is actually a powerful and essential therapy tool for children.

DO keep in mind that sometimes therapy sessions for children include things that at first look may not seem like therapy, such as playing card games or checkers.  These activities provide a way for therapists to develop a relationship with a child, create a comfortable background activity for talking about important issues, and address concerns such as fairness, social skills, and acceptance of winning and losing.

DON’T ask your child to explain what they did in a session.  Just as when we ask children what they did at school, they are likely to say “I don’t know” – this is in part because it is difficult for them to process verbally, in part because children sometimes feel interrogated  and defensive when asked questions, and also because they want privacy.  Instead, say something like “I hope you enjoyed your session today,” or “I am glad you have ________ to help you.”  These open-ended statements are more likely to result in input from a child than a direct question.

DO let your child’s therapist know if you need more information about the play therapy sessions or have questions about them. They want to include you and want to understand your needs regarding frequency of feedback.

DON’T assign your child a task or agenda for the session, such as “make sure you tell the therapist about___________, or don’t forget to work on _______________.” Most of the time children eagerly look forward to their time with their therapist, and hearing from their parent what they “should” do can reduce the feeling of freedom and safety they have in a session. Instead, ask for some time with the therapist to provide your input about goals for the therapy.



You can learn more about play therapy from the Association for Play Therapy’s website, www.a4pt.org and by talking with your child’s therapist about any questions or concerns you have.

Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT/S, CPDLT, works with clients of all ages, with a specialty in children, teens and parenting. Her husband Andrew is a couples counselor, and together they run McConaghie Counseling in Alpharetta. They can be reached at 770-645-8933, or tracy@mcconaghiecounseling.com.

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By Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT/S

Most of us have had the experience of playing in sand, whether it is in a childhood sandbox, on a beach vacation, or lounging by a lake. When in the presence of sand, we often feel a pull to run our fingers through it, shape it, or wiggle our toes in it. What most do not know is that playing in sand is also a powerful therapeutic technique.

Sand tray therapy is a technique used to facilitate healing, gain insight and solve problems with children, adolescents and adults. The picture below is the sand tray therapy space in my office: two specifically proportioned sand trays and a myriad of miniatures for clients to choose from as they create their sand tray. The sand tray miniatures represent the diversity of life: beauty, pain, nurture, violence, spirituality, daily life, aggression, death, fantasy, fun, nature, animals and humans.

sand therapy

Sometimes sand tray work is a free creative experience. As such it provides a window into the inner life and experience of a child or teen, which can be reflected on together or allowed to stand as it is. Children in particular often create the healing experiences they need when building a sand tray in this manner.

In addition, I often suggest sand tray work when a client is attempting to solve a problem or gain perspective on a situation they are struggling with. Examples of this include using the sand to:

  • show how things are at school with a bully
  • show the way things are and the way you want them to be
  • create the marriage you want to have
  • create a tray with your family doing something
  • show what it will look like when you are not afraid of ______

My clients and I then take our time to examine and reflect on the truths and messages in the sand, and this often leads to new possibilities. Since the sand tray is a concrete, limited space, it invites us to look at our world and experiences as a whole and in three dimensions, often offering brand new ideas. I have seen a boy re-create a situation with a bully and then discover he could let go of some of his reactions and change the whole relationship. Other children have represented their feelings about divorce in the sand in a way that gave them tremendous relief and also provided their parents and me with insights into how to support them. Children who have been paralyzed with anxiety can easily create a sand scene in which they have mastered their fear and this sets in motion the mental process they need to let go of their fears. Sometimes I ask clients to put figures that represent a problem in the center of the sand and then we surround it with figures that represent the solutions and resources available to them.

One of the reasons my career brings me such joy is the opportunities to watch my clients bravely face life and form new beliefs about themselves and their world, often with the magic of sand work.

Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT/S, CPDLT, works with clients of all ages, with a specialty in children, teens and parenting. Her husband Andrew is a couples counselor, and together they run McConaghie Counseling in Alpharetta. They can be reached at 770-645-8933, or tracy@mcconaghiecounseling.com.

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By: Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT/S

I have practiced child and family psychotherapy for 20 years. Of all the problems I help clients with, anxiety is one of the most common, and I have seen a significant increase in children with anxiety in my practice.

Childhood anxiety is particularly painful because it not only causes suffering and stress in children, it also hurts parents. As parents we are wired to feel our children’s pain and to respond to help. This is particularly true for mothers.
The challenge is to support children when they are stressed or afraid without shielding them from life’s challenges.
If your child is suffering from fears that are preventing him or her from sleeping well or engaging in the activities that are important to childhood (school, friends, activities), these tips will help you learn how to comfort them.
1. Do not try to talk your child out of his fears or tell him he has no reason to be afraid. This will never actually remove the anxiety, but it may make the child feel ashamed that he feels the way they do.
Anxiety is illogical, but it is very real.
When your child is experiencing anxiety, it is important that you be patient and try to stay calm.
2. Children benefit greatly from knowing that many children and adults struggle with worries and that there are things they can do that will help. One of the best strategies is to learn to manage thoughts.
I help my child clients make a list of what their worry is “telling” them, and then we analyze whether it is really true or not. It is empowering to learn that worry is a bully and a liar, and we can talk back when it is trying to bother us.
3. Be patient, and try to stay calm. When parents get emotional or upset, it always increases the same feelings in children.
In addition, avoid rescuing your child from the things that make him or her scared. Doing so only prevents the development of needed coping skills.
4. Some fears are temporary episodes that subside with some support and comfort. If your child’s anxiety is persisting and preventing him from taking part in activities that are important, get help.
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and is usually a temporary phase. However, more significant anxiety or anxiety disorders affect about 1 in 8 children.
Have questions about anxiety in children? Contact us today!
The good news is that this anxiety is very treatable, and usually without medication. Taking care to support and empower your child, and seeking professional help when needed, is bound to help.
Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT/S, CPDLT, works with clients of all ages, with a specialty in children, teens and parenting. Her husband Andrew is a couples counselor, and together they run McConaghie Counseling in Alpharetta. They can be reached at 770-645-8933, or tracy@mcconaghiecounseling.com.
Raising children and being married is hard, and McConaghie Counseling can help. We offer expert, solution-focused counseling for relationship problems, recovery from affairs, depression, anxiety, adolescent challenges, behavior problems and parenting.
Visit our website at www.mcconaghiefamilycounseling.com to learn more, to schedule an appointment, or to join a parenting class.
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