The Story of Sandy’s Sandcastle

Little curly, blond-haired,Sandy, was 5 years old. The late afternoon sun was finally starting to subside, as Sandy sat in her favorite spot on the whole wide earth, her sandbox.  She’d been working hard on a 5-part sandcastle.

She was putting the final touches on her masterpiece and about to get a bucket of water to pour around the outside as a mote. She was as blissful as a little girl could be on a hot June day, when suddenly she was ripped away from her homemade heaven. Her twelve-year-old brother, James, yelled loudly in her face, “Sandy, you’re a fat hog! Get out of there!”

In two seconds, James proceeded to demolish the handcrafted castle by angrily kicking it over with his bare feet, grabbing Sandy’s long golden locks and pulling her out of her safe space, “This is MY sandbox! You act like it’s all yours.  It’s mine now! Go cry yourself to sleep somewhere, you disgusting pig! And if you tell mom about this, I’ll slit your throat!”

And cry Sandy did. She was so shocked by James’ out-of-the-blue behavior that she stood staring at him with her mouth open in disbelief. She was frozen. James picked up a handful of sand and flung it at her, the gritty sand invading her mouth, eyes and ears, “GET…OUT…OF…HERE!!!” he screamed.

Finally, Sandy was able to find her feet and ran as fast as she could to tell her mom. Apparently she’d forgotten his threat. She found her mom making a grilled cheese sandwich, placing pickles between the melty cheese slices. Mom cooking in the kitchen would have normally made her smile, but instead, she pleaded through hyper-ventilating sobs, tugging on her mom’s blouse, “Mommy…mommy!  James just kicked over my sandcastle! He was terrible and SO mean! I didn’t do ANYTHING to him! I hate him so much!”

Mom looked irritated and very annoyed that Sandy had interrupted her quiet time. After all, mom worked 50-hour weeks as a administrative assistant, and was a newly divorced, single mom trying to support her 3 kids. This was her only day off.

She was looking forward to sitting down and eating her treat with a glass of Diet Coke and watching Outlander, “For crying out loud, Sandy, can’t I have a moment to myself without you damn kids ruining it for me?! I was just about to sit down and relax for a few minutes. Is that too much to ask?! Go figure it out with James. I’m sure it isn’t as bad as you’re saying!”

Sandy shuffled away, feeling utterly defeated. She didn’t know how to feel or what to do with her feelings. She escaped into her bedroom closet, closing the door tightly and crying herself to sleep.

We Know Not What We Do

Sandy’s mom had no idea how traumatic this experience was for her, how much effort she’d put into the creation of the sandbox, to have it destroyed within seconds by a bullying, angry, brother. Is Mom bad? Of course not. She’s just stretched thin and unaware of the inner life of her daughter and that she is highly sensitive.

Is James bad? No–he doesn’t ordinarily act this way. He’s not been taught good boundaries, and he has poor manners. Who knows what triggered him to be so mean that day? Maybe his brother bullied him.  If left uncheck, he could develop some very damaging relationship habits.

Did You Have a “James” Event in Your Past?

Imagine yourself as a child again.  Did you have a happy childhood with little or no significant traumatic events, like divorcing parents, the loss of a loved one or pet that meant a lot to you, abuse, alcoholic parent, etc? Even if you had an idealic childhood, you probably had a “James” event in your past.  Many might consider this little t trauma to not be a big deal, but for Sandy it had long-reaching consequences.

Sandy grew into an adult who didn’t trust other adults. She learned to isolate and go it alone, not to ask for support or her needs to be met. Sandy perpetuates the cycle of fear and anxiety with her kids by being overwhelmed, overworked and impatient with them. She’s teaching her kids to hold onto fear, just as she learned, and just as her parents learned. This is generational trauma.

Fear Can Create Connection

Thomas Hübl, spiritual teacher and author of Healing Collective Trauma, explores the impact of our ancestral and collective trauma on anxiety, and how we can learn to heal.

According to Hubl, fear and anxiety have the potential to create connection because it can bring children back to their parents for soothing, to feel safe. If that doesn’t work well, kids learn to hold their fear.

If as children we instinctually reached for holding/comfort because we felt fear, but we were met with an intellectualization or rejection of what we were feeling, we learned habits to push others away and not ask for the support and holding we needed, as in the case of Sandy.

The awareness of this pattern isn’t enough. We need to move the fear and anxiety through our body and nervous system. To do this, we need help from someone who feels safe. Here’s the rub though. Looking for support is scary. So we avoid the fear that will come up when we reach out.
We learned to hold onto our fear because no one helped us to process it.  It was the same for me as a kid.  I had all these big emotions around living in a household where I felt unsafe with my dad’s temper, but no one spoke to me about it or helped me to understand my fear. Instead, I turned to food to calm me and watching TV to escape. I turned to being in my head and making straight A’s, being intellectual and task-driven. I learned to numb my vulnerble feelings.

What is Co-Regulation?

What does Sandy’s story have to do with helping kids through divorce? When you divorce, it’s an emotionally intense time, very unsettling for you, your spouse, and your kids. Kids (like our beloved pets) pick up on our feelings more than what we say. Everyone in the household needs to learn to feel what they feel, to receive nurturing, to be co-regulated.
At, co-regulation is defined as “The process through which children develop the ability to soothe and manage distressing emotions and sensations from the beginning of life through connection with nurturing and reliable primary caregivers.  Co-regulation involves various types of responses, including but not limited to: a warm, calming presence and tone of voice, verbal acknowledgement of distress, modeling of behaviors that can modulate arousal, and the provision of a structured environment that supports emotional and physical safety. 
Responsive caregivers pay close attention to the shifting emotional and physiological cues of their children, while also regulating their own emotional state.  When caregivers are able to demonstrate attunement and provide supportive, consistent responses in the midst of arousal, children develop a growing capacity for self-regulation.  The human need for co-regulation evolves throughout childhood and adolescence and remains throughout the lifespan, although for those with healthy early development it decreases incrementally as youth internalize the skills supported in relationship and learn to self-soothe.”

What Can Happen if We Aren’t Acknowledged

Are you beginning to see how important it is for kids to find a safe place to land when it comes to discussing their feelings, especially during such an emotioanlly triggering event like a divorce?

We all have an inner child who needs nurturing. To reject our feelings, like Sandy’s mom unknowingly did, or to intellectualize our feelings (“Oh honey, don’t be upset.  Think about it. It’s no big deal to rebuild another sandcastle. What’s 2 hours anyway?”) is ineffective and teaches kids to dismiss their own feelings.

What is the big deal about having our feelings validated or acknowledged by a responsive caregiver? I think the bigger question is what happens if we don’t have this co-regulation?

If we didn’t have another human mirror back that what we’re feeling makes sense, we won’t likely do it for others.  And this inability to validate others leads to power struggles in relationship, how we interact at work and in all of our relationships. Generally speaking, our life doesn’t flow because happy relationships = happy life. We may have success in one area, like being an achieving, task master, but our happiness and success is not consistent across all areas of our lives.

We live with this low grade level of anxiety that the “other shoe is going to drop.” Ironically, the anxiety begins to feel like a familar, comfortable-fitting old shoe that we don’t want to drop.  In order to escape this generational pattern of neglect, we need another way of thinking, of feeling and reacting to life. See below for your next step.


  1. Validate your own feelings (you deserve support). YOU make sense. It helps calm your nervous system, and puts your prefrontal cortex back online so you can think rationally and make good decisions.
  2. Validate your children’s (and others) feelings. Don’t reject or intellectualize others’ feelings because their feelings make you feel uncomfortable. This will invite connection because you’re inviting curiosity rather than judgment; you’re creating a safe place for them to land.
  3. Ask for help and break the cycle of hiding, suppression, and holding onto fear. The stronger you become as a container for your own feelings, the more you’ll be there for your kids and those you love because their emotions won’t frighten you.

This type of emotional intelligence practice will help ground you and enable you to be a stable, solid role model for your kids.  What a wonderful gift to give yourself to heal from divorce and to minimize the negative effect of divorce on your kids.

Angie Monko

Holistic Divorce Coach for Women

PS: Need help with navigating the tricky terrain of feelings and how to get through this divorce, stronger and happier? Check out our next free upcoming event, Women’s Empowerment Through Divorce – Register Here!

I can’t wait to support you. In the mean time, leave a comment on how this content lands for you.