Divorce, regardless of the situation, is difficult for all individuals involved. Today, approximately 40 percent of U.S. children have divorced parents. Of this percentage, 20 to 25 percent display signs of not dealing well with the change in their family structure and are at risk for negative outcomes that can extend into adolescence, such as substance abuse, dropping out of school, risky sexual behavior, and depression (Children Living in Stressful Environments) (PDF | 78KB).
However, research results indicate that while most children of divorce experience some difficulties in adjustment during the first 2 to 3 years following a divorce, they do not experience serious, long-term difficulties. Young children’s sense of security rests with their ability to rely on their family. Help your students recognize themselves as part of a family structure, regardless of how many people are in it and where they live.
Purpose: To help children define what makes up a family and recognize and accept their family structure.
- Markers, crayons, paste/glue, and scissors.
- Construction paper, enough for each student.
- One copy of the handout “In My Family” (DOC | 28KB) for each student.
- One copy of “Ff: Frog family floats for fun”(PDF | 729KB) from the Building Blocks ABC Coloring Book for each student.
- Either a printout of each Friend’s information from “Meet the Friends” or a computer and projector to project the Friends’ information to share with the students.
- Gather students in a circle. Read the stories from “Meet the Friends,” either from printouts or from the projector. Ask the students to talk about the people in each of the Friend’s families: Are they all the same? How are they different? How many people are in each family? Then ask them to talk about their own family: Who is in their family? (Answers will vary, but may include mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, sister, brother, stepsister, stepbrother, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, pets.) Then ask: Who lives in your home? Do you have to live in the same home to be family?
- Have the students talk about the words and pictures on the “Ff: Frog family floats for fun” (PDF | 729KB) page from the Building Blocks ABC Coloring Book. Then ask the children to share things they like to do with their family all together. What is one fun thing they like to do with one of their family members? For example: “I have fun with my grandma. We bake cookies together.” What do they wish they could do with their family?
- Next, group the students and distribute the markers, crayons, scissors, and paste or glue to each table. Give each child a copy of the handout “In My Family.”
- Have the children color the family members that match the ones in their family. When they finish coloring, help the children cut out and paste the portraits on a sheet of construction paper to create a family scene that illustrates what they like to do as a family.
- Encourage each child to share with the group something about their Family Picture. Send the pictures home with the children to share with their families.
Going Further With Older Students
Help the students write stories using their family members as the main characters. They can use the silhouettes from the handout to help illustrate their stories.
ldquo;Facts for Families: Children & Divorce” (PDF | 156KB), from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, describes the signs of distress in children of divorcing parents and provides tips on how to talk to children.
“Prevention Works! Children Living in Stressful Environments” (PDF | 78KB), from SAMHSA research findings, summarizes the effects divorce can have on children.
“The Effects of Divorce on Children,” from Parenting 24/7, discusses research findings on children of divorce: Who it affects and why.
“Divorce Matters: A Child’s View,” from the National Network for Child Care, explains how children of different ages see and react to their parents’ divorce and offers tips on how to reduce the impact.
“Children and Divorce: Helping Kids After a Breakup,” from the Mayo Clinic, suggests ways parents can help their children adjust to a divorce.
“Coping With Separation and Divorce,” from Mental Health America, offers tips for talking to children about divorce.
Selected Reading List About Divorce
3- to 6-year-olds
- It’s Not Your Fault, KoKo Bear, by Vickie Lansky, illustrated by Jane Prince
MaMa and PaPa Bear walk their child, KoKo, through the logistics of getting divorced.
Was It the Chocolate Pudding? A Story for Little Kids About Divorce, by Sandra Levins, illustrated by Brian Langdo
A boy believes his parents are getting a divorce because he fed chocolate pudding to his younger brother very early one morning.
- Two Homes, by Claire Masurel, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
One home with mom, one home with dad, and loved in both.
5- to 6-year-olds
- Boundless Grace, by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Grace, who lives in New York City with her mother and grandmother, thinks she has no father. Her parents split up when she was very young, and her father returned to his country, The Gambia, Africa.
- Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families, by Marc and Laurie Krasny Brown
Information for children about divorce encourages them to express their feelings.
- Why Are We Getting a Divorce?, by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins
Parents fall in love, then fall out of love with each other but not with the kids.
- Daddy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Betty Boegehold, illustrated by Deborah Bargo
A young child has a difficult time when her parents divorce. She withdraws, fakes illness, and looks for comfort.
- My Mother's House, My Father's House, by C. B. Christiansen and Irene Trivas
Main character learns to deal with joint custody.
- My Family’s Changing, by Pat Thomas
Coping with a divorce told from a child’s point of view.