Last Updated: Jan 10th, 2011 - 11:11:15
| Activities for Helping Children Deal with Divorce
By Sharon Leigh, Extension Associate
May 2, 2008, 16:32 PST
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Activities for Helping
Children Deal with Divorce
Sharon Leigh, Extension Associate
and Janet A. Clark, Associate State Specialist Human Development and Family Studies
Going through the process
of divorce is a challenging life transition for both parents and children. During
their parents' divorce, children often feel a wide variety of conflicting emotions.
It is very important for parents to provide their children with understanding
and support. This guide provides ideas for many activities parents can do to support
their children and help them work through their feelings, concerns and frustrations
regarding the divorce.
Anger, sadness, worry, relief,
confusion, guilt, embarrassment, loneliness, nervousness these are all
common emotions that children experience when their parents divorce. Many children
have difficulty expressing these emotions in words. Drawing pictures of feelings
can be an easier way for children to express how they truly feel inside. This
process helps children express themselves in a positive manner and aids parents
in knowing what their children are thinking and feeling concerning the divorce.
After your child has drawn a picture, ask specific questions about the drawing.
Encourage him or her to explain what he or she has drawn and why. Be positive
Things to draw pictures
- What does divorce look
- How does divorce make
- Draw pictures of various
feelings, such as anger, sadness or loneliness.
- Draw a picture of your
family, including anyone you feel is part of your family. Write each person's
name by his or her picture.
- Draw a picture of the
homes you live in.
- If a genie could grant
you one wish related to your family, what would you wish for? Draw a picture
of your wish.
Following divorce, it is important
for parents and children to keep the lines of communication open. Often, children
have many fears, worries and questions about the divorce. If they feel comfortable
talking with their parents about these issues, they will likely have an easier
adjustment to the changes divorce brings. However, children may not always know
how to express their feelings or put their questions into words. Discuss the following
questions with your children to help them talk through their feelings about the
divorce. Good conversations can occur in a wide variety of settings: during dinner,
in the car, at bedtime or on walks.
- How has your life changed
since the divorce?
- Why do you think people
- Why do you think people
- What is a happy family
- Who do you talk with
about the divorce?
- What good has come from
- What do you worry about?
- What do you think your
life will be like in five years?
- What good qualities does
your dad have? Your mom?
- If you could change anything
about your life, what would you make different?
Communicating from a distance
When one parent moves a considerable
distance away, coping with the divorce often becomes more difficult for children
because, in addition to the effects of the divorce, they must also adjust to not
seeing that parent very often. The following tips can help parents and children
maintain strong relationships from long distances.
See MU Extension guide GH6123,
Communicating Effectively with Children, for more information about family
- E-mail each other. E-mail
is a fast, convenient way to keep in touch.
- Start a postcard club.
Everyone likes to receive mail! It only takes a few minutes to fill out a
postcard. Give some stamped cards to your child, and take turns sending a
card each week.
- Have weekly or monthly
phone dates. Set a specific time when you will talk on the phone (e.g. Wednesday
evenings at 7 p.m. or the first Sunday of each month at noon). This will give
both of you something to look forward to!
- Create a shared journal.
Buy an inexpensive notebook and write your thoughts and feelings in it. Exchange
the notebook when you see each other.
- Create a family Web site.
This is a great way to post information and pictures to each other.
- Make audio or video tape
recordings. Hearing or seeing each other, whether for special occasions or
just during daily activities, will keep the bond between you strong!
Writing letters is a constructive
way to deal with confusing feelings and to blow off steam. Encourage your child
to write a letter to one or both parents, expressing her feelings about the divorce.
Tell her she can write whatever she feels like. Assure her that she does not have
to send the letters if she does not want to. The act of putting feelings and ideas
in writing often helps to put the situation in perspective.
Parent information cards
Make information cards for
you, your child and the other parent. Write information about yourself on one
side of a large index card, and put information about your child's other parent
on the other side. With this card, you, your child and your child's other parent
will always know how to contact each other.
Items to include:
- Addresses (home and work)
- Phone numbers (home and
- Days I live with this
- Things we like to do
The power of stories
Reading children's books
Many children's books address
the topic of divorce. Reading such books with your child can be a valuable way
to help him work through the feelings and concerns he is facing regarding the
divorce in his own life. Children often identify with characters in books. Discussing
how characters work through their challenges can give your child insight into
his own situation. For a list of recommended books, refer to MU Extension guide
GH6600, Helping Children
Many children write and illustrate
stories. If your child enjoys this kind of activity, suggest that he write a story
about divorce. Encourage your child to be as creative as possible and to draw
pictures that help illustrate the story. If your child is willing, have him share
his story with you. Be sure to be positive and supportive of his work.
Personal history time line
One common feeling children
experience after the divorce is worry about the future. They may be concerned
about what is going to happen to them and if their lives will ever be normal again.
Creating a time line can help children put the current events of their lives in
perspective. It can help them see that they have experienced many good things
in the past, and that they have many years ahead of them to have fun and happy
times with their families. Younger children will need help with this activity
but will enjoy thinking of events for their parent to put on their time line.
Discuss your child's time line with him when he is finished. Point out that he
has experienced many different events throughout life, some good and some bad.
Help him to understand that he can get through the difficult time of divorce and
that there are happiness and good times ahead.
Directions for a personal
history time line
- Draw a long horizontal
line on a sheet of paper.
- Label your birth at one
end with a star.
- Label the present time
somewhere in the middle.
- Mark significant events
that have occurred in your life between the "birth" star and the "present"
mark. Possible ideas include births of siblings, getting pets, starting school,
moving, learning to read, learning to ride a bike, divorce, remarriage, joining
a team or club, death of relatives and special holidays and vacations.
- Mark events that you
hope will happen in the future.
As with drawing pictures, play
is often a good way to help children express their feelings when it is difficult
to talk about them. The following are some ideas of effective play activities:
- Make puppets.
Create finger puppets or puppets out of brown paper sacks. Have the puppets
talk about their feelings.
- Play games.
Sometimes when people are occupied in another activity, it is easier to talk
about feelings than if they just sit down to have a talk. There are even some
games on the market that specifically address divorce.
- Role play.
Practice dealing with difficult situations that come about during divorce
by acting out scenarios and discussing ways these situations can be handled
Engaging in physical activities
together helps parents and children spend time with one another and reap the health
benefits of exercise!
Exercising is a good way to get rid of tension or angry feelings in a positive
Good activities for
parents and children to enjoy together:
Refer to MU Extension guide
GH1800, Children's Activity
Pyramid, for many more examples of physical activities that parents and children
can enjoy together.
- flying kites
- roller blading
Creating two comfortable
Your child should feel comfortable
both in your home and in the home of your former spouse. Making sure that each
home contains familiar items will help your child feel secure and at home in both
places. If possible, work with your child's other parent and include the following
items in both households:
- Favorite toys and games
- Basic school supplies
(paper, pencils, scissors, etc.)
- Clothing (underwear,
socks, pajamas, jeans, etc.)
- Toiletries (toothbrush,
hair brush, deodorant, etc.)
- Favorite foods
- Photos of all family
Making a time capsule is another
way of helping children recognize that the troublesome feelings surrounding the
divorce won't last forever and that there are many things to look forward to in
the future. Have your child put things in the capsule that represent his life:
stories, drawings, photographs, and other special treasures and reminders. Encourage
your child to answer the following questions and include them in the time capsule:
Time capsule questions
There are many different kinds
of containers that make good time capsules large glass jars with tight
lids, large manila envelopes, shoe boxes, or drawstring bags. After your child
has finished making the time capsule, help her seal it. Let her decide when she
will open it. For example, it might be opened in one year, on a certain birthday,
or five years from the divorce. When the time comes to open the capsule, your
child will undoubtedly have fun looking at the things she put in it, noticing
how her handwriting has changed, and reading the things she wrote.
- Who are your friends?
- Who is part of your family
- Who will be part of your
family in the future?
- Where will you be living
in one year? Five years?
- What kinds of things
do you like to do?
- What would you like to
learn how to do in the future?
- What do you want to be
when you grow up?
Divorce is a difficult adjustment
for children and parents. All family members must deal with a wide variety of
emotions and make changes in the way they live. However, despite their own struggles
in the divorce process, parents still have an obligation to provide their children
with love, nurturing and a sense of stability. Relationship-building activities,
such as those discussed in this guide, can help parents connect with their children
and better understand their children's feelings and concerns. With time, patience
and creativity, children and parents can successfully work through the effects
of divorce together.
Bonkowski, S. (1987). Kids
are nondivorceable: A workbook for divorced parents and their children. Chicago:
Brett, D. (1988). Annie
stories: A special kind of storytelling. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Davenport, M. A., Gordy,
P. L., & Miranda, N. A. (1993). Children of divorce. Milwaukee, WI: Families
Garigan, E., & Urbanski,
M. (1991). Living with divorce: Activities to help children cope with difficult
situations. Carthage, IL: Good Apple.
Hickey, E., & Dalton, E.
(1994). Healing hearts: Helping children and adults recover from divorce. Carson
City, NV: Gold Leaf Press.
Margolin, S. (1996). Complete
group counseling program for children of divorce. West Nyack, NY: The Center
for Applied Research in Education.
2000 University of Missouri. Published by University
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