Uncertainty, loss and confusion are emotions that children may experience while coping with divorcing parents. Parents who provide opportunities for their children to safely explore these feelings can help their children begin the process of developing coping behaviors. With a little creativity, parents can use games children already play and introduce new games to help their children deal with divorce. Games are so important to the coping process that the state of Tennessee mandates that divorcing couples attend a parent education seminar that teaches -- among other skills -- games parents can play with their children.
Talking about worries, concerns or other problems relieves stress and increases positive coping behaviors. However, it’s a delicate balance between encouraging children to talk and shutting them down with a constant stream of prying questions. Ohio State University offers several starter questions designed to engage children in fun conversations. Some questions encourage imaginative thinking: “If you found $5.00 what would you do with it?” Others encourage reflective thinking: “What do you do when your stomach churns because you are nervous?”
Young children often have difficulty verbalizing emotions such as anger, guilt and sadness. The University of Missouri Extension recommends that children draw pictures of how divorce makes them feel and of emotions they are experiencing such as sadness and loneliness. Parents should ask -- in the most positive way possible -- what the pictures represent and how the child feels about the drawings. In a nonthreatening environment, children will slowly feel secure enough to express their feelings.
One of the most important ways parents can play with their children is to let the child to dictate the structure of playtime. When parents relinquish control, children will naturally incorporate their feelings into their play; parents can encourage their children in activities such as making sandcastles, puppet shows, working with paint or clay and reading books. With careful listening and gentle questioning, parents can provide a safe environment for children to relay feelings within the context of their play and can help their children learn how to manage their emotions.
Arizona State University offers a free online program designed to teach positive coping skills to children dealing with divorce. Five interactive modules relay evidence-based skills through videos, games, activities and animations. The program’s creators state the ideal audience is children between 11 and 15 years of age. Teenagers are the age group most affected by divorcing parents because they are old enough to understand the process but too young to exert control.
- Roane State Community College: Parent, Children and Divorce Workshop
- Ohio State University Extension: Positive Family Communication
- University of Missouri Extension: Activities for Helping Children Deal with Divorce
- Purdue University: The Effect of Divorce on Children: What Makes a Difference
- Arizona State University: Children of Divorce - Coping with Divorce: Virtual Counseling Center
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