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Helping Manatee's children of divorce is woman's mission

MANATEE -- Divorce is keeping Bradenton resident Shaun Hoyle busy.

Hoyle is founder of Life Lessons of Manasota LLC and is a certified parent educator, coach and trainer. She is approved as a parenting program provider by the 12th Judicial Circuit, which includes Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties.

Her focus is not on divorcing couples, but on the children of divorce and helping their parents help them get through a family split.

To show how in demand her services are, during March Hoyle is teaching 21 classes, all that focus on empowering parents to empower their children. In April she is scheduled for 25 classes.

Divorce is one of the hardest things a child can go through, Hoyle said.

In a six-year period, from 2008 to 2013, a total of 6,729 dissolution of marriage petitions were filed in Manatee County, according to Manatee County court records. That's an average of 1,121 per year, many involving minor children. That figure does not include severed relationships where the subjects were not married but that involve child support.

To try to help parents help their children get through the process, the 12th Judicial Circuit requires every person with minor children and those involved in paternity action take Hoyle's four-hour "Parent Education and Family Stabilization Class," also known as "Children and Divorce." She is teaching the class five times in March at the State College of Florida campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice.

Hoyle is also a certified high-conflict diversion instructor and is teaching her, "High Conflict Diversion Program" 14 times in March at SCF Lakewood Ranch for parents who can't get the other parent to co-parent with them and who feel like their children are taking the brunt of the conflict. Such "conflict parenting," Hoyle said, is most detrimental to children.

Hoyle also is teaching a child discipline class called, "Redirecting Children's Behavior," based on the book of the same name by Kathyrn J. Kvols.

"Everything I do is about empowering parents to empower their own children because peace begins in the home," Hoyle said.

In addition to teaching classes, Hoyle sends out a free parenting newsletter weekly. Anyone interested in receiving it can sign up at LifeLessonsOfManasota.

Start with breakfast

Hoyle offers many tips in her classes.

One of her tips is for parents to make it a rule to have breakfast each morning with their children and leave time to talk.

"Treat the breakfast table like the dinner table," Hoyle said. "Turn off the technology. A hungry child is a child that won't be able to experiment, explore and discover. Talk about what they want to do later that day.

"This isn't about correcting them to close their mouths while eating breakfast," she added. "This is about connections."

Hoyle also advises parents to make sure their children get plenty of sleep during stressful times.

She also wants to make sure the children feel at home with both mom and dad, even if they live in separate homes.

She teaches parents not to say things like, "You are going to dad's house for the weekend," and instead say, "You are going to your house with dad."

If the child is very small, the language might be, "You are going to the house with yellow flowers or the house with the big tree" Hoyle

said. She also recommends parents have their children keep pictures of themselves and the other parent at each other's homes.

Robert Boxley, Director of Clinical Education at Manatee Glens and a child psychologist, said children need to be given more decision-making responsibility in a situation where they are often totally forgotten.

"In most cases, the child is not consulted about the living arrangements," Boxley said. "What you should do is give the child as much power and control over the situation as you can. Let them pick the paint in their room and how it will be arranged. Let them decide where their bed should be. It gives them ownership that they don't have in any other part of this operation."

Boxley and Hoyle teach divorcing parents to sit down together and explain that mommy and daddy have decided to live in separate homes but that they both still love their children and, "We will all get through this together."

"These kind of reassuring statements from both parents make the scary, unpredictable future less scary," said Boxley, who has been at Manatee Glens for 17 years.

Boxley and Hoyle strongly advise parents never to downgrade the other parent.

"Remember, these are children," Boxley said. "They don't have the perspective that people can argue on the phone and nothing dramatic might happen. So, when they hear it, all kinds of amazing things occur to them, awful ideas about what could happen next. It's a scary thing when the life you are anticipating is not happening and you are 6-years-old."

If one parent is talking about the other parent with the children present, the co-parent should not be referred to as "my ex," Hoyle said.

"They have to remember it took their ex to have their child," Hoyle said. "The language should be, 'This is my child's mother or my child's father.' To the child the co-parent should always be 'Mom' or 'Dad' and not called by the first name. If the child calls the other parent by a first name, the co-parent should correct them."

Boxley also warns that children can seem to be very materialistic about the divorce.

"This is one of the things that often disturbs parents," Boxley said. "They have just announced to the child that they are getting a divorce and the child's first words are, 'Can I have a Play Station at dads'?' The parents think the child has become totally mercenary and materialistic. But it's not that. It's the child's way of having life make more sense."

Most children come through divorce OK, Boxley said.

"The first year or two after a divorce starts is the rockiest part of a child's life," Boxley said. "There is a lot of grief, loss and sadness. There is likely to be some behavior problems, more difficulty in the child being cooperative, more aggressiveness. All kids manage loss and change differently. For the most part, unless those reactions do not start to fade after a year, professional help is not needed."

A new way of thinking about divorce

Hoyle is one of a growing number of parenting professionals who believe in the collaborative process of divorce to minimize the hurt a child goes through.

"It's the contested divorces, parents who can't work things out, that create such negative impacts on children," Hoyle said.

"Research now reveals that how a couple conducts themselves during a divorce has a far greater impact on children than the act of divorcing itself," said Stu Webb, founder of Collaborative Law Research.

Hoyle is an associate member of Next Generation Divorce, a collaborative divorce resource for families and couples in Manatee, Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties.

"What happens is that they work together as a team," Hoyle said of Next Generation Divorce. "Both parents are at the table along with their attorneys and, if necessary, financial and mental health professionals. "They can come up with a unique settlement and make decisions based on their family's need. They can come up with an agreement completely outside the legal guidelines and, as long as they agree, they can create stability for their family's future."

Next Generation Divorce offers resources at NextGenerationDivorce.com including finding a local collaborative divorce professional via zip code.

"I highly encourage parents to look at the collaborative process," Hoyle said. "It's an approach that will give a chance to provide stability and lessen the impact of divorce on the whole family."

Locally, there are two collaborative law groups, Next Generation Divorce, and the Sarasota Collaborative Family Law Professionals, SarasotaCollaborative.com, Hoyle said.

Call 941-807-0836 for information on Hoyle's classes or email shaun@LifeLessonsOfManasota.com. Her website is LifeLessonsOfManasota.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.

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