University of Missouri Extension

GH6602, Reviewed September 2003

Activities for Helping Children Deal with Divorce

Sharon Leigh
Extension Associate
Janet A. Clark
Associate State Specialist

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.

Drawing pictures

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 and supportive.

Things to draw pictures of

Conversation starters

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.

Possible questions

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.

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 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

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 Understand Divorce.

Writing stories

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

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 play activities:

Let's 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 good way to get rid of tension or angry feelings in a positive way.

Good activities for parents and children to enjoy together

Creating two comfortable homes

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:

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 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.

Conclusion

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.

References

GH6602, reviewed September 2003

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

Order publications online at http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/shop/ or call toll-free 800-292-0969.

University of Missouri Extension - print indicia