Why I Built This Kit:
Full disclosure. I recently went through a divorce. As a mother of two school-aged kids, I was terrified that I was damaging them beyond repair. What do I say? How do I handle their inevitable meltdowns? How can I heal as a person while still being present for my children? Even though I do not claim to have all the answers, I did find solace within various resources, many of which are listed here. There was a time when my children talked about being ashamed of having parents who were divorced, so I spoke to my local librarian and asked for book recommendations. That night, my children and I read The Great Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and discussed all the different types of families in the world. Did it completely quell their mixed-feelings about divorce? No. But it did reassure my children that our situation is not unique and gave us an opportunity to discuss our fears.
Life is interesting. Sometimes all we need is a catalyst (in the form of a book, video, or activity) to let us know that everything will be okay. I hope that this kit will provide you and your child with the gift of connectivity, communication, and boundless support.
General Information for Parents
National statistics assert that about 50% of marriages end in divorce. Despite its prevalence, divorce is a personal challenge that often leaves children feeling like they are the only ones going through it. Parents are in a difficult position; they not only have to go through the grieving process themselves but they also have to be emotionally and physically present for their children. It is crucial to acknowledge that children will feel their own emotions at varying stages. Let your child express his/her thoughts freely without judgment. He/she should know that even though you and your significant other have decided to divorce, that does not mean that you are divorcing your child. Your child will need tons of reassurance, constant love, and lots of hugs.
It also helps to have a personal toolkit during every step of the divorce process. Here are some resources that may be useful to parents:
- The Truth About Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions So You and Your Children Can Thrive by Robert Emery
- Building a Parenting Agreement That Works: Child Custody Agreements Step by Step by Mimi Lyster Zemmelman
- Huffington Post has notable articles and videos for divorcing/divorced parents and the impact divorce has on children.
General Information for Children
It is often said that children are resilient. Although this may be true, it is important to keep in mind that children will be greatly affected by divorce one way or another. Please reassure your child that the divorce is not his/her fault. You may wish to tell your child that you and your ex-spouse realize that you two could be better friends and parents by not being married anymore. Try to keep your own personal feelings about your ex-spouse to yourself; your child should not feel that he/she needs to choose one parent over the other.
One of the biggest things you could do to support your child is to let him/her go through his/her own grieving process. Encourage your child to express him/herself and remind him/her that there isn’t a right or wrong way to feel. Your child may be happy one day but sad the next. Be sure to tell your child to go to a trustworthy person to talk about how he/she is feeling. This could be a brother/sister, best friend, teacher, or therapist. You may also want to allow your child to draw a picture or write a poem about how he/she is feeling. Being able to express one’s emotions in words, pictures, or hugs can do wonders in making your child feel better. You child may not be able to change your family’s situation, but he/she can find healthy ways to handle feelings about divorce.
Was it the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story for Little Kids About Divorce by Sandra Levins
One common misconception that kids often have is that they did something to cause the divorce. In Was it the Chocolate Pudding, a child worries that his parents got divorced because of a mess he made with chocolate pudding. This book goes on to debunk that notion and, most importantly, opens up an opportunity for parents to talk to their child about divorce. One thing we really like about this book is the Afterword, which offers tips for parents on how to help their child deal with the emotions of divorce.
My Family’s Changing by Pat Thomas
My Family’s Changing tells the story of divorce from a child’s point of view. It explores such issues as what happens when parents get divorced, adjusting to living with just one parent, and remembering that the child is not to blame. We love the child-friendly questions sprinkled throughout the text because they allow kids to express their own thoughts about divorce. Written by a trained psychotherapist and mother, this book reassures children that in time, things will get better.
The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman
Why not see divorce in a positive light? The Great Big Book of Families celebrates the diversity seen in contemporary families by highlighting families in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Here, a family could consist of a father and a daughter, two mothers, or a child and grandparents. This is a great book for showing that there isn’t any shame in being from a divorced family. As a matter of face, this book could be a terrific opener for discussing the family structures of close friends or classmates!
Mini Monet – Creative Studio and Art Club for Kids
4-6-year-olds love to express themselves through art. Let you child explore his/her feelings with the Mini Monet app. One option is to let your child decide what to draw. The idea here is to give your child a forum to express him/herself in any way he/she wants. If your child is having trouble thinking of what to draw, try asking your child to:
- illustrate how he/she is feeling on any given day
- draw what divorce looks like to him/her
- draw scenes from both homes
- create a picture of what’s the same after the divorce and what’s different
Save the artwork and let it serve as a visual journal and vehicle for communication.
- Kids Talk About: Marriage and Divorce
- There’s something about kids hearing other kids talk about their own emotions. This video from kidshealth.org is good for 7-8 year-old kids, as it spotlights various children (whose parents are married or divorced) discussing their family situations, feelings, and hopes.
- Brain Pop Jr.
- *Note: This site requires a subscription. Many children have access to Brain Pop Jr. through an account provided by their local school. Check with your child’s teacher for more information.
- Brain Pop Jr. is an excellent, child-centered site full of wonderful videos for 6-8-year-old kids. This video on divorce is no exception. Told in a simple yet respectful way, this video explores the idea of divorce and how it can change the structure of a family. It encourages children to accept their feelings, even if they feel sad or scared.
- Sesame Street - Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce
- Sesame Street’s newest muppet, Abby, lives in two houses after her parents’ divorce. Abby is here to support kids facing a similar situation. Even though some people may associate Sesame Street with preschoolers, this page provides kids of all ages the comfort and safety of discussing a complex topic with familiar characters like Elmo and Gordon. There is a treasure of printable guides and videos here including, “What is Divorce?”, “It’s Not Your Fault”, and “Adjusting to a New Place”.
Go Fish...With Feelings
Although kids can easily express anger, frustration, or sadness related to the divorce, they often have trouble identifying the feeling. To help your little one identify his/her feelings about the divorce, play a game of Go Fish…With Feelings. Start off by talking to your child about how s/he will probably feel a range of emotions about divorce and that’s okay. Come up with a list of feelings: happy, sad, scared, shy, surprised, angry, embarrassed, stressed, confused, bored, etc. Then ask your child to act out each emotion as you photograph it, explaining that humans often express themselves through facial expressions. Once you have a good amount completed (it has to be an even number, with a minimum of ten emotions), print out the pictures, turning them into a small deck of “cards”. Now it’s time to play Go Fish…with Feelings! Following the traditional rules of Go Fish, go back and forth asking if the other player has a certain card. When a pair is found, describe a time when you felt that feeling!
Suggested Family Experience
To encourage the idea of change, create a time capsule with your child. This activity will teach your child that even though he/she may have certain emotions now, those feelings may be different in the future. If possible, have everyone participate in this activity, including you!
Find a cylinder tube or old shoe box and ask your child to put things into it that represents his/her life at this moment in time: photographs, books, drawings, pictures of a favorite food, etc. Encourage your child to think of these questions and draw/write responses on a paper to include in the time capsule:
- Who is in your family? Where do they all live?
- What is your favorite thing to do at your one parent's house? Your other parent's house?
- What about divorce scares you?
- How are you being brave about the divorce?
After the time capsule is complete, seal it and choose a date when it will be opened again. Your child may decide to open it in five years, when he/she starts middle school, or on his/her 10th birthday! Bury the time capsule in your yard or put it high up on a shelf. Just be sure to remember where the time capsule is hidden!
About Sheila F.
Sheila is a Jersey girl (or should we say "mom"), with a passion for teaching and literacy. She is Jersey bred, currently living in Montclair. Sheila has 16+ years working as a teacher and reading specialist and recently completed her dissertation on children's literature and technology. We "met" Sheila through her blog, teachingliteracy.tumblr.com.