University of Missouri Extension

GH6602, Revised April 2016

Activities for Helping Children Deal with Divorce

Jessica Trussell
Regional Specialist, Human Development and Family Science

The process of divorce is a challenging life transition for both parents and children. During a divorce, children often feel a variety of conflicting emotions. Parents should provide their children with understanding and support. This guide aims to help parents support their children and help them work through their feelings, concerns and frustrations regarding the divorce.

Focus on Kids
This guide is part of a series aimed at helping families in which parents are separated or divorcing and who share parenting responsibilities for children. We will use the terms divorce and separation interchangeably to describe parents who are separated from each other.

Drawing pictures

Anger, sadness, worry, relief, confusion, guilt, embarrassment, loneliness and nervousness — these are all common emotions that children experience when their parents divorce. Many children have difficulty expressing such feelings in words, but drawing pictures can be an easier way for them to express how they truly feel. This process helps children express themselves in a positive manner and lets parents know what their children think and how they feel about the divorce. After your child has drawn a picture, ask specific questions about the drawing. Encourage them to explain what they have drawn and why, and be positive and supportive:

Start a conversation

Following divorce, parents and children should keep the lines of communication open. Children often 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 might not always know how to express their feelings or put their questions into words. Good conversations can occur in a wide variety of settings: during dinner, in the car, at bedtime or on walks. Discuss these questions with your children to help them talk through their feelings about the divorce:

Communicating from a distance

Coping with divorce often becomes more difficult for children when one parent moves a considerable distance away. In addition to the effects of the divorce, they must also adjust to not seeing that parent as often. These tips can help parents and children maintain strong relationships over long distances:

Letter writing

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 their feelings about the divorce. Tell them to write whatever they feel like. Assure them that they don't have to send the letters if they don't want to. The act of putting feelings and ideas in writing often helps put the situation in perspective.

Exercise

Engaging in physical activities together helps parents and children spend time with one another and reap the health benefits of exercise. Exercising is a healthy way to get rid of tension or angry feelings in a positive way. These are some activities that parents and children can enjoy together:

Play together

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 activities:

The power of stories

Many children's books address the topic of divorce. Reading such books with your child can be a valuable way to help them work through the feelings and concerns they're facing regarding the divorce. Children often identify with characters in books. Discussing how characters work through their challenges can give your child insight into his situation. For a list of recommended books, refer to MU Extension publications GH6613, Helping Preschoolers and Elementary-Age Children Adjust to Divorce, and GH6616, Helping Preteens and Adolescents Adjust to Divorce.

Writing stories

Many children write and illustrate stories. If your child enjoys this kind of activity, suggest that they 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 them share their story with you. Be sure to be positive and supportive of their work.

Personal history timeline

One common feeling children experience after a divorce is worry about the future. They might be concerned about what is going to happen to them and if their lives will ever be normal again. Creating a timeline can help children put the 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 need help with this activity but might enjoy thinking of events for their parent to put on their timeline. Discuss your child's timeline with them when they finish. Point out that they have experienced many different events in life, some good and some bad. Help them understand they can get through the difficult time of divorce and that there are good times ahead.

Timeline


Directions for a personal history timeline

Creating two comfortable homes

Your child should feel comfortable both in your home and in the home of your former spouse. Ensure each home contains familiar items to 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:

Parent information cards

Make information cards for you, your child and the other parent. With this card, you, your child and your child's other parent always know how to contact each other. 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:

Time capsule

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. Have your child put things in the capsule that represent his life, such as stories, drawings, photographs, and other special treasures and reminders. Encourage your child to answer the following questions and include them in the time capsule:

Many kinds of containers make good time capsules large glass jars with tight lids, large manila envelopes, shoeboxes or drawstring bags. After your child has finished making the time capsule, help them seal it. Let them decide when they 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 they put in it, noticing how their handwriting has changed and reading what they wrote.

Conclusion

Divorce is a difficult adjustment for children and parents. All family members must deal with a wide variety of emotions and change the way they live. Despite their own struggles in the divorce process though, parents still have an obligation to provide their children with love, nurturing and a sense of stability. Relationship-building activities 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.

References

GH6602 Activities for Helping Children Deal with Divorce | University of Missouri Extension

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