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Information from

FAMILY RELATIONS
Human
Environmental Activities for
Sciences
Extension 
Helping Children
 Deal with Divorce
 Sharon Leigh, Extension Associate
Janet A. Clark, Associate State Specialist
Human Development and Family Studies Extension

oing through the process of tions about the drawing. Encourage him Conversation
G divorce is a challenging life
transition for both parents and
children. During their parents’ divorce,
or her to explain what he or she has
drawn and why. Be positive and sup-
portive.
starters
Following divorce, it is important for
children often feel a wide variety of Things to draw pictures of: parents and children to keep the lines
conflicting emotions. It is very important ■ What does divorce look like? of communication open. Often, children
for parents to provide their children with ■ How does divorce make you feel? have many fears, worries and ques-
understanding and support. This guide ■ Draw pictures of various feelings, tions about the divorce. If they feel
provides ideas for many activities par- such as anger, sadness or loneli- comfortable talking with their parents
ents can do to support their children ness. about these issues, they will likely have
and help them work through their feel- ■ Draw a picture of your family, an easier adjustment to the changes
ings, concerns and frustrations regard- including anyone you feel is part of divorce brings. However, children may
ing the divorce. your family. Write each person’s not always know how to express their
name by his or her picture. feelings or put their questions into
Drawing pictures ■ Draw a picture of the homes you words. Discuss the following questions
Anger, sadness, worry, relief, confu- live in. with your children to help them talk
sion, guilt, embarrassment, loneliness, ■ If a genie could grant you one wish through their feelings about the divorce.
nervousness — these are all common related to your family, what would Good conversations can occur in a
emotions that children experience you wish for? Draw a picture of wide variety of settings: during dinner,
when their parents divorce. Many your wish. in the car, at bedtime or on walks.
children have difficulty expressing Possible questions:
these emotions in words. Drawing ■ How has your life changed since
pictures of feelings can be the divorce?
an easier way for children ■ Why do you think people get mar-
to express how they truly ried?
feel inside. This process ■ Why do you think people get
helps children express divorced?
themselves in a posi- ■ What is a happy family like?
tive manner and aids ■ Who do you talk with about the
parents in knowing what divorce?
their children are thinking and ■ What good has come from the
feeling concerning the divorce. divorce?
After your child has drawn a ■ What do you worry about?
picture, ask specific ques- ■ What do you think your life will be

Published by MU Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia GH 6602 


dren, for more information about family
Letter writing communication.

Writing letters is a constructive way to deal with confusing feelings and to The power of stories
blow off steam. Encourage your child to write a letter to one or both parents,
Reading children’s books
expressing her feelings about the divorce. Tell her she can write whatever
Many children’s books address the
she feels like. Assure her that she does not have to send the letters if she topic of divorce. Reading such books
does not want to. The act of putting feelings and ideas in writing often helps with your child can be a valuable way
to help him work through the feelings
to put the situation in perspective. and concerns he is facing regarding the
divorce in his own life. Children often
identify with characters in books. Dis-
like in five years? This will give both of you something cussing how characters work through
■ What good qualities does your dad to look forward to! their challenges can give your child
have? Your mom? ■ Create a shared journal. Buy an insight into his own situation. For a list
■ If you could change anything about inexpensive notebook and write of recommended books, refer to MU
your life, what would you make dif- your thoughts and feelings in it. Extension guide GH 6600, Helping
ferent? Exchange the notebook when you Children Understand Divorce.
see each other.
■ Create a family Web site. This is a Writing stories
great way to post information and Many children write and illustrate
pictures to each other. stories. If your child enjoys this kind of
■ Make audio or video tape record- activity, suggest that he write a story
Communicating ings. Hearing or seeing each other, about divorce. Encourage your child to
whether for special occasions or be as creative as possible and to draw
from a distance
just during daily activities, will keep pictures that help illustrate the story. If
When one parent moves a consider- the bond between you strong! your child is willing, have him share his
able distance away, coping with the See MU Extension guide GH 6123, story with you. Be sure to be positive
divorce often becomes more difficult for Communicating Effectively with Chil- and supportive of his work.
children because, in addition to the
effects of the divorce, they must also
adjust to not seeing that parent very Parent information cards
often. The following tips can help par- Make information cards for you, your child and the other parent. Write
ents and children maintain strong rela-
information about yourself on one side of a large index card, and put infor-
tionships from long distances.
■ E-mail each other. E-mail is a fast, mation about your child’s other parent on the other side. With this card, you,
convenient way to keep in touch.
your child and your child’s other parent will always know how to contact
■ Start a postcard club. Everyone
likes to receive mail! It only takes a each other.
few minutes to fill out a postcard. Items to include:
Give some stamped cards to your
child, and take turns sending a card ✔ Name
each week. ✔ Addresses (home and work)
■ Have weekly or monthly phone
✔ Phone numbers (home and work)
dates. Set a specific time when you
will talk on the phone (e.g. Wednes- ✔ Days I live with this parent
day evenings at 7 p.m. or the first
✔ Things we like to do together
Sunday of each month at noon).

2 Human Environmental Sciences Extension


Play together
As with drawing pictures, play is
Directions for a personal history
often a good way to help children
time line
express their feelings when it is difficult ■ Draw a long horizontal line on a sheet of paper.
to talk about them. The following are ■ Label your birth at one end with a star ().
some ideas of effective play activities: ■ Label the present time somewhere in the middle.
■ Make puppets. ■ Mark significant events that have occurred in your life between the "birth"
Create finger puppets or puppets star and the "present" mark. Possible ideas include births of siblings,
out of brown paper sacks. Have the getting pets, starting school, moving, learning to read, learning to ride a
puppets talk about their feelings. bike, divorce, remarriage, joining a team or club, death of relatives and
■ Play games. special holidays and vacations.
Sometimes when people are occu- ■ Mark events that you hope will happen in the future.
pied 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 mar-
ket that specifically address
divorce.
■ Role play.
Practice dealing with difficult situa-
tions that come about during about what is going to happen to them with this activity but will enjoy thinking
divorce by acting out scenarios and and if their lives will ever be normal of events for their parent to put on their
discussing ways these situations again. Creating a time line can help time line. Discuss your child’s time line
can be handled positively. children put the current events of their with him when he is finished. Point out
lives in perspective. It can help them that he has experienced many different
Personal history see that they have experienced many events throughout life, some good and
time line good things in the past, and that they some bad. Help him to understand that
One common feeling children expe- have many years ahead of them to he can get through the difficult time of
rience after the divorce is worry about have fun and happy times with their divorce and that there are happiness
the future. They may be concerned families. Younger children will need help and good times ahead.

Let’s exercise!!
Creating two comfortable homes Engaging in physical activities
together helps parents and children
Your child should feel comfortable both in your home and in the home of spend time with one another and reap
the health benefits of exercise!
your former spouse. Making sure that each home contains familiar items will
Exercising is a good way to get rid
help your child feel secure and at home in both places. If possible, work with of tension or angry feelings in a posi-
tive way.
your child’s other parent and include the following items in both households:
Good activities for parents and chil-
✔ Favorite toys and games dren to enjoy together:
✔ Basic school supplies (paper, pencils, scissors, etc.) ■ swimming
■ biking
✔ Clothing (underwear, socks, pajamas, jeans, etc.) ■ hiking
✔ Toiletries (toothbrush, hair brush, deodorant, etc.) ■ walking
■ camping
✔ Favorite foods
■ flying kites
✔ Photos of all family members ■ roller blading
Refer to MU Extension guide

University of Missouri-Columbia 3
sense of stability. Relationship-building
Time capsule activities, such as those discussed in
Making a time capsule is another way of helping children recognize that this guide, can help parents connect
the troublesome feelings surrounding the divorce won’t last forever and that with their children and better under-
there are many things to look forward to in the future. Have your child put stand their children’s feelings and con-
things in the capsule that represent his life: stories, drawings, photographs, cerns. With time, patience and
and other special treasures and reminders. Encourage your child to answer creativity, children and parents can suc-
the following questions and include them in the time capsule: cessfully work through the effects of

Time capsule questions divorce together.

■ Who are your friends?


References
■ Who is part of your family now?
Bonkowski, S. (1987). Kids are non-
■ Who will be part of your family in the future? divorceable: A workbook for divorced
■ Where will you be living in one year? Five years? parents and their children. Chicago:
■ What kinds of things do you like to do? ACTA Publications.
Brett, D. (1988). Annie stories: A
■ What would you like to learn how to do in the future?
special kind of storytelling. New York:
■ What do you want to be when you grow up?
Workman Publishing Company.
There are many different kinds of containers that make good time cap- Davenport, M. A., Gordy, P. L., &
sules — large glass jars with tight lids, large manila envelopes, shoe boxes, Miranda, N. A. (1993). Children of
or drawstring bags. After your child has finished making the time capsule, divorce. Milwaukee, WI: Families Inter-
help her seal it. Let her decide when she will open it. For example, it might national, Inc.
be opened in one year, on a certain birthday, or five years from the divorce. Garigan, E., & Urbanski, M. (1991).
When the time comes to open the capsule, your child will undoubtedly have Living with divorce: Activities to help
fun looking at the things she put in it, noticing how her handwriting has children cope with difficult situations.
changed, and reading the things she wrote. Carthage, IL: Good Apple.
Hickey, E., & Dalton, E. (1994).
Healing hearts: Helping children and
GH 1800, Children’s Activity Pyramid, children and parents. All family mem- adults recover from divorce. Carson
for many more examples of physical bers must deal with a wide variety of City, NV: Gold Leaf Press.
activities that parents and children can emotions and make changes in the way Margolin, S. (1996). Complete group
enjoy together. they live. However, despite their own counseling program for children of
struggles in the divorce process, par- divorce. West Nyack, NY: The Center
Conclusion ents still have an obligation to provide for Applied Research in Education.
Divorce is a difficult adjustment for their children with love, nurturing and a

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