Resources to help parents to support children during a divorce
October 8, 2013 5:21 AM   Subscribe

What are some good resources for helping a parent to support a young child, while that parent is getting divorced?

The child is five, and has just started Kindergarten, and so there is a whole new world to adjust to there as well. I know that there are lots of resources out there, but recommendations from this community are particularly appreciated. Please feel free to MeMail if you want. Thanks!
posted by life moves pretty fast to Human Relations (2 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This probably goes without saying, but the most important aspect of this transition will be reassuring the child that the divorce is absolutely not their fault in any way, shape, or form.

From the perspective of someone whose parents divorced when I was young, I would also recommend giving the child something tangible that they can hang onto to provide a sense of comfort and consistency -- a stuffed animal, special trinket, or security blanket would be great. This will help the child understand that there is at least one thing in the world that will remain absolutely constant, concrete, and certain throughout the disconcerting upheaval of this transitory period. It's not clear from your post what the custody situation will be, but if it's a joint arrangement, the child will also be able to shuttle their special object between homes.

Let the child know that they are free to express their feelings as they come, as long as that expression does not hurt anyone (physical or verbal lashing out, for example). Art therapy could be very helpful since the child is too young to be able to formally journal/write it out -- each parent might set aside some time to color and draw with their child, like, "OK, show me how it feels to live with [mom/dad/other]. Now show me how it feels to live with [the other parent/guardian]." Help them develop an emotional vocabulary [PDF] in addition to a creative one.

It is equally important to help the child understand that it is perfectly OK to take some time off if they just don't feel like thinking or talking about it. Both parents need to understand that they should never, ever exert pressure on the child to talk about his/her feelings if s/he doesn't want to, as a looming sense of you-must-talk-about-this-now-right-now pressure could lead to resentment and withdrawal down the line. Definitely tell the child that they can also speak to a friendly and understanding counselor if it would be helpful, but that they will never be forced to do so against their will. There are a number of divorce recovery support groups for children like DivorceCare for Kids and Kids' Turn.

The non-custodial parent should keep any desire to partake in uncharacteristically generous gift-giving to a minimum, as the child could start to feel like that parent is trying to buy off their love and affection in lieu of taking on primary custody. At the same time, both parents should take care to never let the child labor under the illusion that the divorce will be nullified, reversed, or somehow made to disappear so things can go back to the way they were before. Be gentle but very firm; allowing any seed of hope to blossom will be much more cruel than kind in this sort of situation. To that end, it might be helpful to alert the kindergarten teacher that the child may be experiencing some frustration, confusion, and conflicting emotions, and that it might be nice to show them some extra sensitivity in classroom discussions about family, living situations, etc.

Here are some children's books that might help, too.

It's not your fault:
It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear by Vicki Lansky
On the Day His Daddy Left by Eric Adams
My Family's Changing by Pat Thomas
Was It the Chocolate Pudding? by Sandra Levins

Dealing with separation anxiety/weirdness created by custody split:
Oliver at the Window by Elizabeth Shreeve
Two Homes by Claire Masurel
Mom's House, Dad's House for Kids by Isolina Ricci
Mama and Daddy Bear's Divorce by Cornelia Maude Spelman
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Fred Stays With Me! by Nancy Coffelt

We love you no matter what:
Just Like Always by Anne Perry
Standing on My Own Two Feet by Tamara Schmitz
When Mom and Dad Divorce by Emily Menendez-Aponte
The I LOVE YOU Book by Todd Parr

It's OK to express your feelings:
The Way I Feel Books (sad, angry, scared, jealous, lonely, worried) by Cornelia Maude Spelman
When My Parents Forgot How to Be Friends (Let's Talk About It!) by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

And for the parent(s), What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During, and After Divorce by Judith Wallerstein and Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce by M. Gary Neuman. It would probably be helpful for each parent to attend counseling/therapy on their own or attend some meetings of a parental support group to seek the advice of others who have already gone down this road.
posted by divined by radio at 10:29 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of other good children's illustrated books about expressing emotions are:

Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day
When Sophie Gets Angry--Really, Really Angry...
posted by Dansaman at 10:39 AM on October 8, 2013

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