In my clinical practice, I often see children whose parents are either separated, in the process of divorcing, or divorced (and sometimes for many years). In some cases, the conflict between the parents can be very intense and heated, and the children feel they have to choose sides. Unfortunately, these are the children who suffer the most and have a hard time coping with all the changes that occur as a result of their parents’ decision to divorce. In contrast, when the fighting between the parents subsides after the separation, the majority of children adjust to their new reality within two years. Of course, every situation is different.
Some time ago, I met with an 8-year old girl who was was feeling very sad about her parents’ divorce. She was exhibiting extreme rages, destructive behaviour, and temper tantrums daily when she was with her mother, but behaved like an angel at her father’s house on weekends. This little girl knew her mother asked for the divorce and was clearly angry with her for taking that decision. In contrast, she felt badly for her father, who shared with her that he still loved her mother. She tried to take care of him by being very helpful around his place when they were together. Her recollection was that she learned her parents were getting divorced through a family friend the day her parents went to court. She also thought it was her fault and blamed herself for “opening up my big mouth.” She fantasized about a plan to help her parents reconcile. It was clear that she was having difficulty coping with the divorce.
DOs and DON’Ts
The decision to divorce is certainly not an easy one but once that path has been chosen, it is very important that you take the time to think about what and how to tell your child or children.
DOs to consider:
DON’Ts to follow:
Divorce involves major adjustments, emotional upheaval, and new challenges for everyone in the family. You may want to consider consulting with a child psychologist, physician, or mental health professional for specific guidance in this difficult process. In addition, there are some highly recommended books available for you and your child.
Recommended Books For Parents and Children About Divorce
|Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way||M. Gary Neuman||Parents||An excellent and practical resource that guides parents step-by-step on how to help their child of any age cope with the changes and issues that arise following a divorce. Topics covered include how children experience divorce; understanding children's play and art; when parents fight; how to tell your child about the divorce; custody and visitation; parenting the child of divorce; and introducing your new significant other.|
|Dinosaurs Divorce ||Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown||Ages 4 to 8||This highly recommended book for young children uses cartoon dinosaur pictures to help kids understand why parents divorce, the different feelings this evokes, what happens after the divorce, visiting one parent, living in two homes, how to tell friends, and much more. It is a valuable tool for promoting discussion with parents.|
|My Mom and Dad Don't Live Together Anymore ||Judith Rubin, Ph.D.||Ages 6 to 10||This strongly recommended journal and drawing book is very helpful for children to help process their feelings, thoughts, and experiences related to their parents' divorce. This workbook can be used as a tool to promote discussion of various topics related to life before and after a separation and divorce.|
|Two Homes||Claire Masurel;|
Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
|Ages 2 to 5||This lovely story reassures young children whose parents are divorced that whether they are with their mother or with their father, they are loved at all times.|
As always, I welcome your feedback, comments, and questions.
Top image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net
Image at right courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net