Today there are many helpful resources for children during a divorce. This was not always the case. In years past, when divorce was not as common, children of divorcing parents often found themselves isolated and unable to connect with others who could understand. The stigma of their parents’ divorce was often humiliating, especially since most of their friends’ parents were still together.
In recent times, however, as divorce has become more widespread and accepted socially, children have been able to identify more readily with other peers going through similar circumstance. They are also able to tap into numerous resources to help them through this difficult time. Below are some examples of Resources for Children During a Divorce.
While the job description of school teachers does not require them to reach out to students experiencing trouble at home, many of them do. Teachers are typically with children as many, if not more, hours than their parents in the course of a week. As such, they are in a unique position to detect and alert parents of any unusual behavioral or emotional issues. If students have a good relationship with their teacher(s), they are even likely to go to them privately to ask for advice or a listening ear. Parents should alert teachers to a change in the home situation so the teachers can be watchful and let parents know if action is required. Again, this goes beyond the job description, so parents should not try to use the teachers to vent or expect them to listen to all the details. A simple “heads up” is all that is required. If the teacher does contact the parents with concerns, the parents should follow up with private counselors or other resources. Do not expect the teacher to take sides (except the child’s side!) or provide additional services.
Since many of today’s families experience issues like divorce, separation or related situations most school counselors are well-equipped to address these topics as they manifest in students’ lives. They may reach out to students individually, or hold group sessions where students can blend in with others facing a similar scenario at home. Some schools have groups that meet at lunch or after school for kids whose parents are going through (or have gone through) a divorce.
There is a greater likelihood in today’s world that children have peers or friends who have undergone or are in the midst of a similar experience. This allows children of divorces to form a unique bond. Whether one on one or in informal groups, they are able to talk about pain, confusion, guilt, or any other emotion they may be experiencing. It is helpful for children to know they are not alone, and that they are not thought of any differently because their parents are divorcing.
Books and Other Materials
Some excellent materials have been developed specifically for children of divorcing parents, and for their parents. Sesame Street has produced a packet containing a DVD and booklet for younger children. I have free copies available in my office. An Ellen Bruno documentary called “Split”, which interviews kids who give candid insights about the difficulties they experienced during their parents’ divorce, helps parents understand what their children are going through. This excellent film can be viewed online for a small charge. Visit my Resources page for other helpful materials.
Kids need to feel safe before they can open up emotionally. When their parents are divorcing, they often feel like they cannot be honest at home because they will either hurt their parents or get in trouble. They may even be feeling like the divorce is their fault; if they had only done their chores or not talked back, for example, their parents would still be together. This is when a therapist can be tremendously helpful.
After building a healthy relationship with their therapist and creating a “safe space”, children are able to vent, process their emotions, and get ideas about how to handle the situation at home. Children may even want to continue seeing their therapist long after their parents’ divorce is finalized. Many therapists offer complete confidentiality to their minor clients. That is, if children open up to them about their feelings or questions, these comments will not get back to their parents unless there is a safety issue. This allows for children to be open and address their situations with the help of qualified professionals while giving the parents peace of mind that safety issues will be addressed. Children’s therapists can also encourage parents to see therapists for their own problems.
Coaches, Tutors, and Instructors
Coaches, tutors, and instructors can be calm, inspirational role models in children’s lives. Regardless of which activity they’re involved with, these individuals see children interacting with their peers regularly and can keep an eye out for any unhealthy behavior or attitudes. They can also encourage children dealing with divorce to channel their emotions and energy constructively by pursuing interests such as dance, music, art, or sports.
Priests, Sunday School teachers, rabbis, or other religious figures not only serve as good role models, but can also help children to stay emotionally strong by aiming for a healthy perspective on the situation. They may encourage kids to get involved in wholesome projects that can help take their minds off problems at home.
It can be difficult for relatives to stay neutral during a divorce, but it is critical for the sake of the children that they try not to take sides – or at least that they refrain from voicing their opinions. If they can remember that their love for the kids should supersede their own emotions, they can play an important role of “being there”. Relatives can be tremendously helpful as youngsters process the implications of the divorce.
Good family friends and other influential adults in children’s lives can also be aware of how the children are doing and encourage them during tough times. It truly does take a village to raise a child. An informal conversation with a “safe” adult can make a world of difference in a child’s outlook.
While divorce is not easy on anyone, it can be especially devastating on kids who are in an impressionable and vulnerable stage of life. If your children or those you know and love are being affected by divorce, let them know about these helpful resources.