5 Ways to Help Children Deal with Divorce

It doesn’t take professional training to know that change is difficult, especially for young children. An essential ingredient in childhood development is routine. Large changes can be disruptive in a child’s mental and emotional growth. And because they haven’t yet developed vocabulary for confusing feelings or their sense of how they fit into the larger world, children can react in ways that disrupt everyone around them.

One of the biggest changes a child can face is divorce. Obviously, this event is more common in children’s lives than it was even twenty years ago, so children are able to recognize that it happens to a large percentage of others they know. In a real way to childhood development, that’s actually helpful. They have examples all around them for what will happen. And knowing what happens next makes everything feel safer.

However, because divorce is part of adult decisions and feelings that children can’t fully relate to, it’s likely to be confusing. And confusing equals scary. And, like most people, children may react to fear with anger, sadness, or guilt—sometimes all at once. Additionally, divorce often involves a lot of other big changes such as moving and financial instability.
I’ve seen a lot of divorces in the years I’ve been in school counseling. And I’ve seen a lot of healthy and unhealthy responses to the disruption in children’s lives. Here are five things educators of elementary and middle-school-aged children can do to help children navigate their “new normal.”

1.  Help children understand they are not at fault. One of the biggest feelings children experience during a divorce is fear and guilt that they are somehow responsible. It seems obvious to adults that children have nothing to do with these situations, but children haven’t developed the sense that they aren’t the cause of every effect, nor have they yet fully developed their ability to understand that others may have feelings that are different from theirs. Helping children understand that even if they’ve made mistakes, those mistakes have nothing to do with how their parents feel about each other is essential in helping them understand what’s happening.

2.  Help them visualize what their family looks like before and after a divorce, steering them to conclude that the family doesn’t disappear, and neither will they.

3.  Have them list some of their favorite memories so they know that these do not vanish.

4.  Help them picture their lives with parents in separate homes. What will it be like to have two homes, two bedrooms? What is important for them to have in both homes?

5.   Work with them to articulate their feelings to their parents and express their needs and fears.

Of course, there are so many ways to help children going through a divorce. I’ve outlined a few here, but I have created some practical activities you can share with students in grades K-5 in the activity book Mom or Dad’s House? It’s important to help children visualize in a very real way what they feel and need, and this workbook uses art and writing activities that can help children understand what they are feeling, how they are reacting, and what their role is.

Here are some ways you might use this activity book with a student:
·      Send a book home with parents when they request help (this is one of the most effective ways to use them with students).
·      After a counseling session, hand one to students and have them work in it independently.
·      Use it as part of your individual counseling sessions (do a couple pages each session).
·      Print them and select certain pages to work with students or small groups.
·      Make selected activities be a part of a whole class lesson (i.e. teach lesson about self-confidence then give each student their own book).
·      After sessions with students, have a folder where they complete five pages and then during next week’s session discuss those five. Give them another five until they complete the entire book.

To download your copy of Mom or Dad’s House, visit my TpT Store HERE.  How do help children of divorce during your counseling sessions?