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TRAUMA INFORMED CARE

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“Trauma-informed approaches suggests clinicians, organizations and whole systems of care are in an active and reflective process of engaging consumers with histories of trauma. Trauma-informed transcends the isolated, “in session,” application of specific clinical interventions that are designed to “treat” the symptoms and sequelae of trauma.

Rather, trauma–informed care implies individual and collective systems recognize that trauma can have broad and penetrating effects on a client’s personhood. These effects can range from sensory sensitivities, (to harsh noise, light for example) stemming from a sensitized nervous system, to more existential challenges, like distrust of others, despair, a damaged sense self or powerlessness.

In the active acknowledgment of these broad and varied effects, clinicians, organizations and systems of care actively work to cultivate physical environments that are healing and soothing. Also, we are working to create a “behavioral environment,” where staff (clinical and non-clinical) convey dignity, respect, hopefulness, the opportunity for choices and empowerment among consumers. This seems to be a never ending, ongoing process, involving exchange and dialogue with those we serve.”

-Bharati Acharya, MA, LPCC, Diplomat Narrative Therapy, Trauma Informed Therapist/Mental Health Professional


PTSD AND TRAUMA

Worried Young Man

Trauma can take a huge emotional toll, whether it stems from a personal tragedy, a natural disaster, or violence.

There is no right or wrong way to feel after traumatic events. But there are many strategies that can help you work through feelings of pain, fear, and grief and regain your emotional equilibrium. Whether the traumatic event happened years ago or yesterday, you can heal and move on.

 
 

Articles

Coping with PTSD and trauma

Helping others cope

Related issues

 
 

What is PTSD?

PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric condition that can occur following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless and hopeless. The event could be military combat, a natural disaster, terrorist attack, serious accident, kidnapping, physical or sexual assault, or any shattering event that leaves you stuck and feeling emotionally stuck.

PTSD can affect those who personally experience the event, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.

 
 

Featured articles

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): It can seem like you'll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But by seeking treatment, reaching out for support, and developing new coping skills, you can overcome PTSD and move on with your life. MORE »

PTSD in Veterans: It’s hard living with untreated PTSD and, with long V.A. wait times, it’s easy to get discouraged. But you can feel better, and you can start today, even while you’re waiting for professional treatment. MORE »

Helping Someone with PTSD: Your support can make a huge difference in your partner, friend, or family member’s recovery. But as you do your best to care for someone with PTSD, you also need to take care of yourself. MORE »

 
 

Related topics

Suicide Prevention

The feelings of hopelessness that accompany PTSD may lead to suicidal thoughts or impulses. Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it doesn't mean that a person is crazy, or weak, or flawed. It only means that the person has more pain than they feel capable of coping with. But help is out there.

Suicide is one of those subjects that many of us feel uncomfortable discussing, but the risk of suicide is not increased by talking about it. So if you’re feeling suicidal, reach out. And if you think a loved one is at risk, talk to them. You could save a life. MORE »

Addiction

It can be tempting to turn to drugs, alcohol, and nicotine to numb painful feelings and memories and get to sleep. But substance abuse can make the symptoms of PTSD worse and compound your problems.

It takes courage and strength to face up to any type of addiction, but help is available. You can overcome your addiction by learning how to cope in ways that are constructive rather than destructive to yourself and others. MORE »


STRESS RELIEF IN THE MOMENT

Ever wish a stress superhero could save you from traffic jams, chaotic meetings, or a toddler’s tantrums? Well, you can be your own stress-busting superhero. Everybody has the power to reduce the impact of stress as it’s happening in the moment. With practice, you can learn to spot stressors and stay in control when the pressure builds. Learning quick stress relief won't happen overnight. Like any skill, it takes time, self-exploration and above all, practice. But think of it as an education with a huge payoff.

Learn to recognize stress

Recognizing stress is the first step in lessening its impact. Many of us spend so much time in a stressed state, we have forgotten what it feels like to be fully relaxed and alert. Being stressed out feels normal.

What does it feel like to be calm and stress-free? You can see that “just right” inner balance in the smile of a happy baby—a face so full of joy it reminds adults of the balanced emotional state that most of us have misplaced. In adulthood, being balanced means maintaining a calm state of energy, alertness, and focus. Calmness is more than just feeling relaxed; being alert is an equally important aspect of finding the balance needed to withstand stress.

If you don’t feel calm, alert, productive, and focused most of the time in your daily life, then too much stress may be a problem for you.

Tips for recognizing when you're stressed

Hush the voice that’s telling you, "Oh, I’m fine." Notice how you’re breathing has changed. Are your muscles tense? Awareness of your physical response to stress will help regulate the tension when it occurs.

When you're tired, your eyes feel heavy and you might rest your head on your hand. When you're happy, you laugh easily. And when you are stressed, your body lets you know that too. Try to get in the habit of paying attention to your body's clues.

  • Observe your muscles and insides. Are your muscles tight/sore? Is your stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched?
  • Observe your breath. Is your breath shallow? Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you "forget" to breathe.

Identify your body's stress response

Internally, we all respond to the “fight-or-flight” stress response the same: blood pressure rises, the heart pumps faster, and muscles constrict. When stressed, our bodies work hard and drain our immune system. Externally, however, people tend to respond to stress in different ways: some become angry and agitated, others space out or withdraw.

The best way to quickly relieve stress may relate to your specific stress response.

How do you act when stressed?

When it comes to managing and reducing stress quickly in the middle of a heated situation, it's important to be familiar with your specific fight-or-flight stress response.

  • Overexcited stress response – If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down.
  • Underexcited stress response – If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system.

The immobilization or “frozen” stress response

Immobilization is associated with people who have experienced trauma and find themselves “stuck”—in a reflexively enraged, panic-stricken or otherwise dysfunctional state—and unable to do anything to move on. Your challenge is to find safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system and rouse you from a “frozen” to “fight-or-flight” stress response so you can employ additional stress management techniques. To do this, choose a form of exercise or movement that engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, swimming, running, dancing, climbing, or tai chi. As you move, instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts, focus on your body and the sensations you feel in your limbs. Adding this mindfulness element can help your nervous system become “unstuck” and move on.

The basics of quick stress relief

There are countless techniques for preventing stress. Yoga and mindfulness meditation work wonders for improving coping skills. But who can take a moment to chant or meditate during a job interview or a disagreement with your spouse? For these situations, you need something more immediate and accessible. That’s when quick stress relief comes to the rescue.

The speediest way to stamp out stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—your sense of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement—to rapidly calm and energize yourself.

The key to practicing quick stress relief is learning what kind of sensory input helps your particular nervous system find calm and focus quickly. Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so it’s essential to discover your personal preferences.

Talking to someone who listens attentively: a rapid stress reducer

Social engagement is our most evolved strategy for regulating the nervous system—and putting the brakes on the fight-or-flight stress response. Since the inner ear, face, heart, and stomach are wired together in the brain, talking face-to-face with a relaxed and balanced listener can help quickly calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Although it’s not always realistic to have a pal close by to lean on, building and maintaining a network of close friends is important for your mental health. Between quick stress relief techniques and good listeners, you’ll have your bases covered.

Bring your senses to the rescue

Here comes the fun part. Remember exploring your senses in elementary school? Grownups can take a tip from grade school lessons by revisiting the senses and learning how they can help us prevent stress overload. Use the following exercises to identify the sensory experiences that work quickly and effectively to reduce stress for you.

As you experiment, be as precise as possible. What is the most perfect image, the specific kind of sound, or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you.

The examples listed below are intended to be a jumping-off point. It’s up to you to hone in on them and come up with additional things to try.

Sights

Sights

If you’re a visual person, try to manage and relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. You can also try closing your eyes and imagining the soothing images. Here are a few visually based activities that may work as quick stress relievers:

  • Look at a cherished photo or a favorite memento.
  • Bring the outside indoors; buy a plant or some flowers to enliven your space.
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature—a garden, the beach, a park, or your own backyard.
  • Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits.
  • Close your eyes and picture a situation or place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.

Sound

Sound

Are you sensitive to sounds and noises? Are you a music lover? If so, stress-relieving exercises that focus on your auditory sense may work particularly well. Experiment with the following sounds, noting how quickly your stress levels drop as you listen:

  • Sing or hum a favorite tune. Listen to uplifting music.
  • Tune in to the soundtrack of nature—crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, birds singing.
  • Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office.
  • Hang wind chimes near an open window.

Vocal toning

Vocal toning can be a speedy way to use your breath and voice to relieve stress—even if you can’t sing or consider yourself “tone-deaf.” Try sitting up straight and simply making “mmmm” sounds with your lips together and teeth slightly apart, listening intently. Experiment by changing the pitch and volume until you experience a pleasant vibration in your face and, eventually, your heart and stomach.

Vocal toning can have two interesting effects. Firstly, it can help reduce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, making it an effective means of stress relief. Try sneaking off to a quiet place to spend a few minutes toning before a meeting with your boss and see how much more relaxed and focused you feel.

Secondly, vocal toning exercises the tiny muscles of the inner ear (the smallest in the body). While this might not seem like a big deal, these muscles help you detect the higher frequencies of human speech that impart emotion and tell you what someone is really trying to say. So not only will you feel more relaxed in that meeting with your boss, you’ll also be better able to understand what he’s trying to communicate.

Smell and scents

Smell & Scents

If you tend to zone out or freeze when stressed, surround yourself with smells that are energizing and invigorating. If you tend to become overly agitated under stress, look for scents that are comforting and calming.

  • Light a scented candle or burn some incense.
  • Lie down in sheets scented with lavender.
  • Smell the roses—or another type of flower.
  • Enjoy the clean, fresh air in the great outdoors.
  • Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.

Touch

Touch

Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations. Focus on things you can feel that are relaxing and renewing. Use the following suggestions as a jumping-off point:

  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • Pet a dog or cat.
  • Hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento).
  • Soak in a hot bath.
  • Give yourself a hand or neck massage.
  • Wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.

Taste

Taste

Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation. Eat slowly, focusing on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue:

  • Chew a piece of sugarless gum.
  • Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
  • Sip a steaming cup of coffee or tea or a refreshing cold drink.
  • Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
  • Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).

Movement

Movement

If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress or have experienced trauma, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful. Anything that engages the muscles or gets you up and active can work. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Run in place or jump up and down.
  • Dance around.
  • Stretch or roll your head in circles.
  • Go for a short walk.
  • Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.

The power of imagination

Sensory-rich memories can also quickly reduce stress. After drawing upon your sensory toolbox becomes habit, try simply imagining vivid sensations when stress strikes. Believe it or not, the sheer memory of your baby’s face will have the same calming or energizing effects on your brain as seeing her photo. So if you can recall a strong sensation, you’ll never be without access to quick stress relief tools.

Tips for finding sensory inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere, from sights you see on your way to work to smells and objects around your home. Explore a variety of sensations so that no matter where you are you’ll always have something you can do to relax yourself. Here a few ideas to get you started:

  • Memories. Think back to what you did as a child to calm down. If you had a blanket or stuffed toy, you might benefit from tactile stimulation. Try tying a textured scarf around your neck before an appointment or keeping a piece of soft suede in your pocket.
  • Watch others. Observing how others deal with stress can give you valuable insight. Baseball players often pop gum in their mouth before going up to bat. Singers often chat up the crowd before performing. Ask around about what people you know do to stay focused under pressure—it could work for you too.
  • Parents. Think back to what your parents did to blow off steam. Did your mother feel more relaxed after a long walk? Did your father do yard work after a hard day? Try some of the things they did to unwind; they might work for you too.

Take a break from technology

Taking a short hiatus from the television, computer, and cell phone will give you insight on what your senses respond to best. Here are some "unplugging" tips:

  • Try tuning into relaxing music instead of talk radio during your commute. Or try riding in silence for 10 minutes.
  • Stuck in a long line at the grocery store? Instead of talking on your cell phone, take a moment to people watch. Pay attention to what you hear and see.
  • Instead of checking e-mail while waiting for a meeting to begin, take a few deep breaths, look out the window, or sip some aromatic tea.
  • While waiting for an appointment, resist the urge to text and give yourself a hand massage instead.

Make quick stress relief a habit

Let’s get real. It’s not easy to remember to use our senses in the middle of a mini—or not so mini—crisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. The truth is, quick stress relief takes practice, practice, and more practice. But with time, calling upon your senses will become second nature. Here’s how to make it habit:

Learning to use your senses to quickly manage stress is a little like learning to drive or to play golf. You don’t master the skill in one lesson; you have to practice until it becomes second nature. Once you have a variety of sensory tools you can depend on, you’ll be able to handle even the toughest of situations.

  • Start small. Instead of testing your quick stress relief tools on a source of major stress, start with a predictable low-level source of stress, like cooking dinner at the end of the day or sitting down to balance your checkbook.
  • Identify and target. Think of just one low-level stressor that you know will occur several times a week, such as commuting. Vow to target that particular stressor with quick stress relief every time. After a few weeks, target a second stressor. After a few weeks more, target a third stressor and so on.
  • Test-drive sensory input. Experiment with as much sensory input as possible. If you are practicing quick stress relief on your commute to work, bring a scented handkerchief with you one day, try music another day, and try a movement the next day.
  • Make “have fun” your motto. If something doesn’t work, don’t force it. Move on until you find your best fit.
  • Talk about it. Verbalizing your quick stress relief work will help integrate it into your life. It’s bound to start a fascinating conversation—everyone relates to the topic of stress.

Quick acting stress-busting tips

The best part of quick stress relief is the awareness that you have control over your surroundings. Even if you share a work area, you can personalize your space to serve as a “stress prevention zone” or to put quick stress relief within arm's reach. We all have our stress hotspots. Where are yours?

Quick stress relief at home

  • Entertaining. Prevent pre-party jitters by playing lively music. Light candles. The flicker and scent will stimulate your senses. Wear clothes that make you feel relaxed and confident instead of stiff and uncomfortable.
  • Kitchen. Cool the kitchen commotion by breathing in the scent of every ingredient you use—even if you’re just opening cans. Delight in the delicate texture of an eggshell. Appreciate the weight of an onion.
  • Children and relationships. Prevent losing your cool during a spousal spat by breathing and squeezing the tips of your thumb and forefinger together. When your toddler has a tantrum, rub lotion into your hands then breathe in the scent.
  • Sleep. Too stressed to snooze? Try using a white noise machine for background sound or a humidifier with a diffuser for a light scent in the air.
  • Creating a sanctuary. If clutter is upsetting, spend 10 minutes each day to tidy and organize. Paint the walls with a fresh coat of your favorite calming color. Display photos and images that make you feel happy. Throw open the curtains and let in natural light whenever possible.

Quick stress relief at work

  • Meetings. During stressful sessions, stay connected to your breath. Massage the tips of your fingers. Wiggle your toes. Sip coffee.
  • On the phone. Inhale something energizing, like lemon, ginger, peppermint or coffee beans. While talking, stand up or pace back and forth to burn off excess energy. Conduct phone business outside when possible.
  • On the computer. Work standing up. Do knee-bends in 10-minute intervals. Wrap a soft scarf around your neck. Suck on a peppermint.
  • Lunch breaks. Take a walk around the block or in the parking lot. Listen to soothing music while eating. Have a quick chat with someone you love.
  • Your workspace. Place family photos on your desk and display images and mementos that remind you of your life outside the office.

More help for stress relief

Stress Help Center: Protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress overload and take steps to reduce its harmful effects.

Resources and references

General information about managing and coping with stress

Managing Stress: A Guide for College Students – Offers a total wellness lifestyle plan for managing, reducing, and coping with stress. (University Health Center, University of Georgia)

Stress Management: How Do You React During Stressful Situations? – Evaluate the way you react to stress and learn how to transform your negative responses. (Mayo Clinic)

The Road to Resilience – Learn how to increase your resilience, the trait that allows you to bounce back from adversity and stress. (American Psychological Association)

Managing Stress for a Healthy Family – Tips for dealing with stress in the family better and modeling healthy behavior to your kids. (American Psychological Association)

Stress management strategies

Assert Yourself – Self-help modules designed to help you reduce stress, depression, and anxiety by improving your assertiveness. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)

Put Off Procrastinating – Work your way through a self-help series on how to stop procrastination problems. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)

Stress – Learn all about stress, including stress reduction suggestions, including diet, exercise, herbal remedies, and cognitive-behavioral techniques. (University of Maryland Medical Center)

Download Meditations – Download or stream a dozen free meditation recordings to help you cope with life's inevitable hurdles. Comes with handouts. (Sitting Together)

Exercise Fuels the Brain's Stress Buffers – Explains how regular exercise helps reduce and manage stress levels. (American Psychological Association)

What other readers are saying

“Your guide to stress relief is outstanding . . . I’ve read newspaper, magazine, and online articles, pamphlets, trusted scholarly journals, and books…no advice has been as to the point and helpful as yours. Thank you, for suggesting realistic solutions that can cross-relate with anything and anyone.” ~ Kansas

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson. Last updated: September 2015.


Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced Parents

Making Joint Custody Work After a Separation or Divorce

Tips for Divorced Parents In This Article

Co-parenting amicably with your ex can give your children stability and close relationships with both parents—but it's rarely easy. Putting aside relationship issues to co-parent agreeably can be fraught with stress. Despite the many challenges, though, it is possible to develop a cordial working relationship with your ex for the sake of your children. With these tips, you can remain calm, stay consistent, and avoid or resolve conflict with your ex and make joint custody work.

Co-parenting after a separation or divorce

Joint custody arrangements, especially after an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and infuriating. It can be extremely difficult to get past the painful history you may have with your ex and overcome any built-up resentment. Making shared decisions, interacting with each another at drop-offs, or just speaking to a person you’d rather forget all about can seem like impossible tasks. But while it’s true that co-parenting isn’t an easy solution, it is the best way to ensure your children’s needs are met and they are able to retain close relationships with both parents.

It may be helpful to start thinking of your relationship with your ex as a completely new one—one that is entirely about the well-being of your children, and not about either of you. Your marriage may be over, but your family is not; doing what is best for your kids is your most important priority. The first step to being a mature, responsible co-parent is to always put your children's needs ahead of your own. 

Co-parenting is the best option for your children

Through your parenting partnership, your kids should recognize that they are more important than the conflict that ended the marriage—and understand that your love for them will prevail despite changing circumstances. Kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship:

  • Feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and have better self-esteem.
  • Benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them.
  • Better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
  • Have a healthy example to follow. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future.

Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: Setting hurt and anger aside

The key to co-parenting is to focus on your children—and your children only. Yes, this can be very difficult. It means that your own emotions—any anger, resentment, or hurt—must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Admittedly, setting aside such strong feelings may be the hardest part of learning to work cooperatively with your ex, but it’s also perhaps the most vital. Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your child’s happiness, stability, and future well-being.

Separating feelings from behavior

It’s okay to be hurt and angry, but your feelings don’t have to dictate your behavior. Instead, let what’s best for your kids—you working cooperatively with the other parent—motivate your actions.

  • Get your feelings out somewhere else. Never vent to your child. Friends, therapists, or even a loving pet can all make good listeners when you need to get negative feelings off your chest. Exercise can also be a healthy outlet for letting off steam.
  • Stay kid-focused. If you feel angry or resentful, try to remember why you need to act with purpose and grace: your child’s best interests are at stake. If your anger feels overwhelming, looking at a photograph of your child may help you calm down.
  • Use your body. Consciously putting your shoulders down, breathing evenly and deeply, and standing erect can keep you distracted from your anger, and can have a relaxing effect.

Children in the middle

You may never completely lose all of your resentment or bitterness about your break up, but what you can do is compartmentalize those feelings and remind yourself that they are your issues, not your child's. Resolve to keep your issues with your ex away from your children.

  • Never use kids as messengers. When you have your child tell the other parent something for you, it puts him or her in the center of your conflict. The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship issues, so call or email your ex yourself.
  • Keep your issues to yourself. Never say negative things about your ex to your children, or make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with his or her other parent that is free of your influence.

Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: Communicating with your ex

Keeping stress in check—no matter what life bringsRelieving stress in the moment—no matter who you’re dealing with

It may seem impossible to stay calm when dealing with a difficult ex-spouse who’s hurt you in the past or has a real knack for pushing your buttons. But by practicing quick stress relief techniques, you can learn to stay in control when the pressure builds.

Peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting—even though it may seem absolutely impossible. It all begins with your mindset. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child’s well-being. Before contact with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself with dignity. Make your child the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.

Communication with your ex is likely to be a tough task. Remember that it isn’t always necessary to meet your ex in person—speaking over the phone or exchanging texts or emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The goal is to establish conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. Whether talking via email, phone, or in person, the following methods can help you initiate and maintain effective communication:

  • Set a business-like tone. Approach the relationship with your ex as a business partnership where your “business” is your children’s well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague—with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.
  • Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as requests. Requests can begin "Would you be willing to…?" or “Can we try…?”
  • Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to your ex that you’ve understood his or her point of view. And listening does not signify approval, so you won’t lose anything by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.
  • Show restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to be necessary for the length of your children's entire childhood—if not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become numb to the buttons he or she tries to push.
  • Commit to meeting/talking consistently. Frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and their other parent are a united front. This may be extremely difficult in the early stages of your divorce or separation.
  • Keep conversations kid-focused. You can control the content of your communication. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner digress into a conversation about your needs or his/her needs; it should always be about your child's needs only.

Improving the relationship with your ex

If you are truly ready to rebuild trust after a separation or divorce, be sincere about your efforts. Remember your children’s best interests as you move forward to improve your relationship.

  • Ask his or her opinion. This fairly simple technique can effectively jump-start positive communications between you and your ex. Take an issue that you don't feel strongly about, and ask for your ex's input, showing that you value his or her input.
  • Apologize. When you’re sorry about something, take the time to apologize sincerely—even if the incident happened a long time ago. Apologizing can be very powerful in moving your relationship away from being adversaries.
  • Chill out. If a special outing with your ex is going to cut into your time with your child by an hour, graciously let it be. Remember that it’s all about what is best for your child; plus, when you show flexibility, your ex is more likely to be flexible with you.

Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: Parenting as a team

Parenting is full of decisions you’ll have to make with your ex, whether you like each another or not. Cooperating and communicating without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making far easier on everybody. If you shoot for consistency, geniality, and teamwork with your ex, the details of child-rearing decisions tend to fall into place.

Aim for consistency

It’s healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and to learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for your children.

  • Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.
  • Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.
  • Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to having two homes.

Important issues

Major decisions need to be made by both you and your ex. Being open, honest, and straightforward about important issues is crucial to both your relationship with your ex and your children’s well-being.

  • Medical needs. Effective co-parenting can help parents focus on the best medical care for the child, and can help reduce anxiety for everyone. Whether you decide to designate one parent to communicate primarily with health care professionals or attend medical appointments together, keep one another in the loop.
  • Education. School plays a major role in maintaining a stable environment for your kids, so be sure to let them know about changes in your child’s living situation. Speak with your ex ahead of time about class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and parent-teacher conferences, and be polite to him or her at school or sports events.
  • Financial issues. The cost of maintaining two separate households can strain your attempts to be effective co-parents. Set a realistic budget and keep accurate records for shared expenses. Be gracious if your ex provides opportunities for your children that you cannot provide.

Disagreements

As you co-parent, you and your ex are bound to disagree over certain issues. Keep the following in mind as you try to come to consensus with your ex.

  • Respect can go a long way. Simple manners are often neglected between co-parents, even though they should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being considerate and respectful includes letting your ex know about school events, being flexible about your schedule when possible, and taking his or her opinion seriously.
  • Keep talking. It might sound tedious, but if you disagree about something important, you will need to continue to communicate about the topic. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child. If you still can’t agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or mediator.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you disagree about important issues like a medical surgery or choice of school for your child, by all means keep the discussion going. But if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and your ex says 8:00, try to let it go and save your energy for the bigger issues.
  • Compromise. Yes, you will need to come around to your ex spouse’s point of view as often as he or she comes around to yours. It may not always be your first choice, but compromise allows you both to “win” and makes both of you more likely to be flexible in the future.

Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: Making transitions easier

The actual move from one household to another, whether it happens every few days or just on weekends, can be a very hard time for children. Transitions represent a major change in your children's reality. Every reunion with one parent is also a separation with the other; each “hello” is also a “goodbye.” In joint custody arrangements, transition time is inevitable, but there are many things you can do to help make exchanges and transitions easier, both when your children leave and return.

When your child leaves

As kids prepare to leave your house for your ex’s, try to stay positive and deliver them on time. You can use the following strategies to help make transitions easier:

  • Help children anticipate change. Remind kids they’ll be leaving for the other parent’s house a day or two before the visit.
  • Pack in advance. Depending on their age, help children pack their bags well before they leave so that they don’t forget anything they’ll miss. Encourage packing familiar reminders like a special stuffed toy or photograph.
  • Always drop off—never pick up the child on "switch day." It’s a good idea to avoid "taking" your child from the other parent so that you don’t risk interrupting or curtailing a special moment. Drop off your child at the other parent’s house instead.

When your child returns

The beginning of your children’s return to your home can be awkward or even rocky. You can try the following to help your child adjust:

  • Keep things low-key. When children first enter your home, try to have some down time together—read a book or do some other quiet activity.
  • Double up. To make packing simpler and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent's house, have kids keep certain basics—toothbrush, hairbrush, pajamas—at both houses.
  • Allow the child space. Children often need a little time to adjust to the transition. If they seem to need some space, do something else nearby. In time, things will get back to normal.
  • Establish a special routine. Play a game or serve the same special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine—if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it can help the transition.

Dealing with visitation refusal

Sometimes kids refuse to leave one parent to be with the other. Although this can be a difficult situation, it is also common for children in joint custody.

  • Find the cause. The problem may be one that is easy to resolve, like paying more attention to your child, making a change in discipline style, or having more toys or other entertainment. Or it may be that an emotional reason is at hand, such as conflict or misunderstanding. Talk to your child about his or her refusal.
  • Go with the flow. Whether you have detected the reason for the refusal or not, try to give your child the space and time that he or she obviously needs. It may have nothing to do with you at all. And take heart: most cases of visitation refusal are temporary.
  • Talk to your ex. A heart-to-heart with your ex about the refusal may be challenging and emotional, but can help you figure out what the problem is. Try to be sensitive and understanding to your ex as you discuss this touchy subject.

More help for co-parenting

Family and Divorce Help Center: Learn what you can do to meet these challenges by better understanding your own needs and those of your children at this difficult time.

Resources and references

Co-Parenting After Divorce – A four-page booklet that includes a checklist of what to include in a co-parenting plan and descriptions of different types of custody arrangements. (Montana State University).

Non-Residential Parenting After Divorce – Tips for the parent who does not have custody or who lives a long distance away, and can’t be involved with the children every day. (Montana State University)

Authors: Jocelyn Block, M.A. and Melinda Smith, M.A. Last updated: September 2015.


IF YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE, READ THIS FIRST

If you are feeling suicidal now, please stop long enough to read this. It will only take about five minutes. I do not want to talk you out of your bad feelings. I am not a therapist or other mental health professional - only someone who knows what it is like to be in pain.

I don't know who you are, or why you are reading this page. I only know that for the moment, you're reading it, and that is good. I can assume that you are here because you are troubled and considering ending your life. If it were possible, I would prefer to be there with you at this moment, to sit with you and talk, face to face and heart to heart. But since that is not possible, we will have to make do with this.

I have known a lot of people who have wanted to kill themselves, so I have some small idea of what you might be feeling. I know that you might not be up to reading a long book, so I am going to keep this short. While we are together here for the next five minutes, I have five simple, practical things I would like to share with you. I won't argue with you about whether you should kill yourself. But I assume that if you are thinking about it, you feel pretty bad.

Well, you're still reading, and that's very good. I'd like to ask you to stay with me for the rest of this page. I hope it means that you're at least a tiny bit unsure, somewhere deep inside, about whether or not you really will end your life. Often people feel that, even in the deepest darkness of despair. Being unsure about dying is okay and normal. The fact that you are still alive at this minute means you are still a little bit unsure. It means that even while you want to die, at the same time some part of you still wants to live. So let's hang on to that, and keep going for a few more minutes.


Start by considering this statement:

Suicide is not chosen; it happens
when pain exceeds
resources for coping with pain.

That's all it's about. You are not a bad person, or crazy, or weak, or flawed, because you feel suicidal. It doesn't even mean that you really want to die - it only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now. If I start piling weights on your shoulders, you will eventually collapse if I add enough weights... no matter how much you want to remain standing. Willpower has nothing to do with it. Of course you would cheer yourself up, if you could.

Don't accept it if someone tells you, "That's not enough to be suicidal about." There are many kinds of pain that may lead to suicide. Whether or not the pain is bearable may differ from person to person. What might be bearable to someone else, may not be bearable to you. The point at which the pain becomes unbearable depends on what kinds of coping resources you have. Individuals vary greatly in their capacity to withstand pain.

When pain exceeds pain-coping resources, suicidal feelings are the result. Suicide is neither wrong nor right; it is not a defect of character; it is morally neutral. It is simply an imbalance of pain versus coping resources.

You can survive suicidal feelings if you do either of two things: (1) find a way to reduce your pain, or (2) find a way to increase your coping resources. Both are possible.


Now I want to tell you five things to think about.

1

You need to hear that people do get through this -- even people who feel as badly as you are feeling now. Statistically, there is a very good chance that you are going to live. I hope that this information gives you some sense of hope.

2

Give yourself some distance. Say to yourself, "I will wait 24 hours before I do anything." Or a week. Remember that feelings and actions are two different things - just because you feel like killing yourself, doesn't mean that you have to actually do it right this minute. Put some distance between your suicidal feelings and suicidal action. Even if it's just 24 hours. You have already done it for 5 minutes, just by reading this page. You can do it for another 5 minutes by continuing to read this page. Keep going, and realize that while you still feel suicidal, you are not, at this moment, acting on it. That is very encouraging to me, and I hope it is to you.

3

People often turn to suicide because they are seeking relief from pain. Remember that relief is a feeling. And you have to be alive to feel it. You will not feel the relief you so desperately seek, if you are dead.

4

Some people will react badly to your suicidal feelings, either because they are frightened, or angry; they may actually increase your pain instead of helping you, despite their intentions, by saying or doing thoughtless things. You have to understand that their bad reactions are about their fears, not about you.

But there are people out there who can be with you in this horrible time, and will not judge you, or argue with you, or send you to a hospital, or try to talk you out of how badly you feel. They will simply care for you. Find one of them. Now. Use your 24 hours, or your week, and tell someone what's going on with you. It is okay to ask for help. Try:

  • Send an anonymous e-mail to The Samaritans
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY:1-800-799-4TTY)
  • (In Australia, call Lifeline Australia at telephone: 13 11 14
  • Teenagers, call Covenant House NineLine, 1-800-999-9999
  • Look in the front of your phone book for a crisis line
  • Call a psychotherapist
  • Carefully choose a friend or a minister or rabbi, someone who is likely to listen

But don't give yourself the additional burden of trying to deal with this alone. Just talking about how you got to where you are, releases an awful lot of the pressure, and it might be just the additional coping resource you need to regain your balance.

5

Suicidal feelings are, in and of themselves, traumatic. After they subside, you need to continue caring for yourself. Therapy is a really good idea. So are the various self-help groups available both in your community and on the Internet.

 

Well, it's been a few minutes and you're still with me. I'm really glad.

Since you have made it this far, you deserve a reward. I think you should reward yourself by giving yourself a gift. The gift you will give yourself is a coping resource. Remember, back up near the top of the page, I said that the idea is to make sure you have more coping resources than you have pain. So let's give you another coping resource, or two, or ten...! until they outnumber your sources of pain.

Now, while this page may have given you some small relief, the best coping resource we can give you is another human being to talk with. If you find someone who wants to listen, and tell them how you are feeling and how you got to this point, you will have increased your coping resources by one. Hopefully the first person you choose won't be the last. There are a lot of people out there who really want to hear from you. It's time to start looking around for one of them.

Now: I'd like you to call someone.

And while you're at it, you can still stay with me for a bit. Check out these sources of online help.

Additional things to read at this site:

  • How serious is our condition? ..."He only took 15 pills, he wasn't really serious..." if others are making you feel like you're just trying to get attention... read this.

  • Why is it so hard for us to recover from being suicidal? ...while most suicidal people recover and go on, others struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings for months or even years. Suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Recovery from grief and loss ...has anyone significant in your life recently died? You would be in good company... many suicidal people have recently suffered a loss.

  • The stigma of suicide that prevents suicidal people from recovering: we are not only fighting our own pain, but the pain that others inflict on us... and that we ourselves add to. Stigma is a huge complicating factor in suicidal feelings.

  • Resources about depression ...if you are suicidal, you are most likely experiencing some form of depression. This is good news, because depression can be treated, helping you feel better.

  • A 4 minute depression quiz ...maybe you have depression and want to find out right now, scientifically, at no cost.

  • Symptoms of depression ...the specific symptoms of a full blown episode of clinical depression

Do you know someone who is suicidal... or would you like to be able to help, if the situation arises? Learn what to do, so that you can make the situation better, not worse.

Other online sources of help:
  • The Samaritans - trained volunteers are available 24 hours a day to listen and provide emotional support. You can call a volunteer on the phone, or e-mail them. Confidential and non-judgmental. Short of writing to a psychotherapist, the best source of online help.

  • Talk to a therapist online - Read this page to find out how.

  • Depression support group online: Psych Central Depression Support Group - Please note: this is a very big group, but amidst all the chatter, it is possible to find someone who will hear you and offer support.

  • Psych Central has a good listing of online resources for suicide - and other mental health needs.

  • Still feel bad? These jokes might relieve the pressure for a minute or two.

  • If you want help finding a human being to talk with in person, who can help you live through this, try reading this article about how to Choose a Competent Counselor.

 

Sometimes people need additional private help before they are ready to talk with someone in person. Here are a few books you could read on your own in private. I know from personal experience that each one has helped someone like you.

  • Suicide: The Forever Decision by Paul G. Quinnett, PhD (Continuum, ISBN 0-8264-0391-3). Frank and helpful conversation with a therapist who cares.

  • Choosing to Live: how to defeat suicide through cognitive therapy by Thomas E. Ellis PsyD and Cory F. Newman PhD (New Harbinger Publications, ISBN 1-57224-056-3). Another conversational book with practical help for suicidal persons.

  • How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention by Susan Rose Blauner (William Morrow, ISBN 0066211212). A very practical survival guide by an actual survivor.

  • Out of the Nightmare: Recovery From Depression And Suicidal Pain, by David L. Conroy, PhD (Authors Choice Press, ISBN 0595414974). As if suicidal persons weren't feeling bad enough already, our thoughtless attitudes can cause them to feel guilt and shame, and keep them from getting help in time. Dr. Conroy blasts apart the myths of suicide, and looks at suicidal feelings from the inside, in a down to earth, non-judgmental way. This is a book that will save lives by washing away the stigma of suicide and opening the door to a real way out of the nightmare.

 

Suicide: The Forever Decision, Paul G. Quinnett, PhD Choosing to Live, Thomas E. Ellis PsyD How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me Out of the Nightmare, David L. Conroy, PhD

 

 

  • I make no money whatsoever on recommending these books... they are simply recommendations.

 

 

Want to share your suicide story?
Please visit the Suicide Project and leave your story


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