Divorce is a hard time for all involved, but children are sometimes hit the hardest.
Catholic Family Services of Prince Albert have created the Banana Splits program, to help children of divorce deal with feelings they may not understand, which will be held on March 8.
“Basically the idea came out of when I worked at Catholic Family Services -- we looked at case loads and we were dealing with lots of kids coming from separated and divorced situations,” said co-leader Gord Hein said. “They were struggling with how do they manage that.”
Instead of trying to help the children one-on-one, Catholic Family Services decided to form a group program, where the children could get together and share with each other.
“We looked at a group format to deal with a lot of their issues and help them to ‘normalize’ their responses or process some of their responses so they could develop some skills to deal with this roller coaster ride as well,” Hein said.
“It is sort of helping them to understand that whole thing that mom and dad are split and it is not about choosing sides or anything like that, but about how do they manage now living in two homes or living in a situation where they don’t see the one parent as much.”
During the program, the children develop some self-soothing and relaxation skills, as well as the ability to speak about their problems and issues, rather than bottle them up inside.
The program starts with relaxation exercises, to help the kids feel more comfortable in the group.
“The one I can example is the spaghetti technique,” Hein said. “You imagine yourself as a stick of spaghetti really stiff and you stiffen up and hold that for quite a while and then you imagine yourself being softened and your body relaxes.”
The transition between the two helps the children form a rhythm and understand they can take control.
“We also do deep breathing exercises quite a bit, just to help the kids,” Hein added. “We incorporate some games, just to have some fun and do things in a playful way.”
Once they are settled in, Hein and his co-leader Leah Desnoyers do exercises based around the pros and cons of their parents getting a divorce.
“They talk about the losses, the sadness, the confusion, the hurt, all of that,” Hein said, but they also talk about the positive feelings that may come from a divorce.
“I still remember one of the first groups we ran, a little nine year old said, ‘Through all of this, I felt relieved that my parents split up,’” Hein said. “The whole group stopped and listened and went, ‘What do you mean you felt relieved?’ She said, ‘You know, there is not as much fighting.’ All the kids agreed.”
He said often the children feel guilty about being relieved their parents are divorcing.
“Often times what we find when we are working with this group is they internally blame themselves somehow for their parents splitting up,” Hein said. “That is one of the issues we want to bring to the table -- this is not them, this was an adult decision and something they have to live with because they are a product of this union.”
Since they are working with children between the ages of six and 12, they incorporate a lot of activities.
“One of the activities we do is put the child in between (the leaders) and explain that we are going to pull you back and forth between us and the whole idea is what does it feel like,” Hein said. “In all cases they say, ‘I just want it to stop.’ Then it is about how do you let your parents know when that is happening, if you are feeling pulled one direction or the other?”
He said children shouldn’t ever have to make the choice between their parents, so the leaders are constantly trying to put their minds at ease.
“Quite often, I remember dealing with a few kids that individually they couldn’t talk about their situation,” Hein said. “They felt like they would either betray their mother or father.
“When you put them in a group situation, I think they felt supported by their peers, people going through the same experience and going, ‘Yeah that happened to me too,’” he added. “Then they are able to disclose more in a way to say that is a load off.”
At the end of the day camp, the children are given a manual that goes over what they learned in the class and a feel better bag, full of activities and techniques to help them better deal with the emotions they are feeling.
“At the end of it, we do actually have banana splits -- we can’t have a group with the banana splits name without having banana splits,” he laughed. “The symbolism, the kids get it right away.”
The leaders also try to get the parents involved. Not only do they join their children for the banana splits, they also have a short program to attend themselves.
“We try to have a parents’ group before the Banana Splits day,” Hein said. “They get a little information about what kids are going to be exposed to, what they can help kids through the situation and give them printed material on that as well.
“It gives them the opportunity to realize this is about putting kids in a position to choose,” he added. “Both parents have to support this idea. If one parent says no, then the child can’t come. We aren’t going to further conflict the child by saying you have to come now.”
They find the day camp format works very well for the families, since they don’t have to find transportation and a way to get the kids there one a week for eight weeks.
“It is one day, they come in the morning, we feed them for lunch and take them right through from lesson one to lesson eight,” Hein said. “It works a little bit easier.”
They also don’t have all the kids together in one big group, but split it into two age groups -- the six to eight year olds and the nine to 12 year olds.
“If we put six year olds with 12 year olds, it wouldn’t work,” he said.
Anyone interested in the program can call Catholic Family Services at 306-922-3202 for more information or to register. The program costs $25.