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Valencia Family Resource Library Guide: Separation and Divorce

Welcome

Is your family experiencing a separation or divorce? This digital Healing Library page has been designed to help you and your child heal together during this period of change. You will find a children’s e-book with companion discussion questions as well as book-themed activities designed for children experiencing a family separation or divorce and companion supplies. This combination offers you an assortment of ways to move forward in a healthy manner.

Talking to Children About Separation and Divorce

Keep things simple and informative. For example, when telling your child about a separation/divorce you might say something like: “I have something important to talk to you about. Your mom/dad and I have decided not to be married/together/ a couple, etc. anymore. What this means is that our family will be going through some changes. Most importantly, however, we love you. We will always be your parents. And we will get through this as a family.”

“Titrate” the information. Once you’ve informed your children about the separation/ divorce, they will likely have follow up questions. Answer their questions, but keep information simple and “titrate” what you tell them. Titration means you give smaller chunks of information to your child and allow them to process it at their own pace. You can do this by checking in now and then to see how they’re handling the information. While you talk to your child about separation/divorce, observe their body language — if your child is upset but still able to carry on a conversation and their body language is relatively calm, then the child is more likely to be in an okay frame of mind to continue. If your child seems distressed, defiant, “checked out,” or inconsolable, then it’s time to take a break and take care of your child’s needs. Continue the discussion at another time. Provide reassurance as needed.

Here are some common things children need and want reassurance about after they’ve been told their parents are separating:

• That they are loved.

• That this is not their fault.

• That you and the other parent will be okay.

• That you and the other parent will have your own feelings about this as well; that the child may see either parent angry, quiet, tearful etc., and that it’s okay, and normal, for parents to have these feelings.

• That there are things you and the other parent can do to get help if needed.

That even if you are upset at times, you will get through this. (This is a good time to point out the positive things you’re looking forward to as a result of the separation/ divorce, i.e. “Change can be upsetting, but I’m looking forward to …”). Also, reassure your child that you want to answer their questions, but there may be things you cannot answer if it involves grown up situations. If that occurs, you can respond with statements like:

• “That’s for the grown ups to worry about and take care of.”  

• “This is one of those things that is for grown ups to worry about—but I can hear and see that you’re worried about it too. We are working on this. You can trust that I am/we are taking your worries seriously.”

• “There are some things I cannot answer because the information is not mine to give. You can ask your mom/dad/parent about that.”

• “Sometimes parents have to keep grown up information private until kids are old enough to understand. This is one of those times. I will answer this question when you are older.”

• “I do not know the answer right now, but when I do, I’ll let you know.”

The Healing Library: Separation & Divorce: Parent Guide Inspired by the book HERE AND THERE by Tamara Ellis Smith (Barefoot Books). Image © Evelyn Daviddi

Drop-offs and Pick-ups

Part of the “new normal” for children of separated and divorced parents is the custodial exchange. This is when parents physically drop off or pick up their children from the other parent at an agreed upon location. In Here and There (Barefoot Books), Ivan’s parents do the custodial exchange at their own homes. Custodial exchanges can be challenging and tiring for children even when they love both homes and parents equally. By the time the actual exchange has occurred, the child has dealt with such issues as: packing their bags, possibly leaving behind favorite clothing or toys that must stay at that parent’s home; saying goodbye to any pets there; emotionally preparing to say goodbye to one parent, anticipating seeing the other parent; and switching gears to the routine, rules, and schedule at the other home. By the time the actual moment arrives for the child to say goodbye to one parent and hello to the other, it’s no wonder some will feel exhausted and/or emotional. In Here and There (Barefoot Books), we can see in Ivan's face and body language that the custodial exchange has an impact on him. Alternatively, some children will seem completely unaffected. Each child is unique and will respond in their own way. However, here are some ways to help your child through the custodial exchange. Talk to your child ahead of time about ways to make the transition easier. Ask your child what s/ he needs before, during, and after an exchange. Considerations include:

• Is there a stuffed animal or other “security object” that can go freely back and forth with the child?

• Does the child need or want help packing?

• If driving to the other parent’s, is there something calming you can do in the vehicle, like listen to an audio book or certain music?

• How does your child want to say goodbye to you? A hug? A funny phrase? A secret handshake? • When it’s time to pick up your child, how does your child want to be greeted?

• At pick up, is there anything the child needs for the ride home? A snack or drink? A cozy blanket? A quiet ride without questions? Or lots of discussion and catching up? Be respectful: When you are all together during the exchange, keep communication between you and the other parent respectful -- including body language. Being respectful also includes being on time. 

The Healing Library: Separation & Divorce: Parent Guide Inspired by the book HERE AND THERE by Tamara Ellis Smith (Barefoot Books). Image © Evelyn Daviddi

When/If One Parent is Moving Far Away

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When one parent moves far away there are added adjustments to consider. The parent and child may be wondering how to maintain a connection and communication when there is physical distance between them. The child will still have a “Here” and “There” as in the book Here and There (Barefoot Books), but the transition back and forth will (most likely) be different in frequency and length of time at each home.

Here are some ways a parent and child can uphold routines and rituals to foster the parent/child relationship, even when “here” and “there” are far apart:

Shared journals: A shared journal is one that is written by the child and shared with the parent and/or vice versa. These work well for children who do not have as much communication with a parent as they’d like—sometimes a parent and child live hours away or in different time zones. The child can use the journal to write whatever they want to share with the other parent. They can draw pictures about their day, write about what they are interested in, share their feelings about missing the parent, etc. Overall, the journal provides a place for the child to communicate with the parent, even in the parent’s absence. Depending on custodial agreements, the child can personally share that journal with the parent the next time they get together; the journal can be mailed to the other parent (the parent can then also write and draw in it and mail it back to the child); or it can be put aside for an appropriate time to share later in life. Shared journals can be a wonderful resource to have on hand during a separation/divorce. When your child is missing the other parent, it’s nice to have something within your control to offer the child for a way to communicate and connect with the other parent.

Read together: Even when living far apart, parents can still read to their children. Phones, FaceTime, voice recording apps, and videotaping can be ways to read to your child even when you can’t physically be together. If you do not have access to these resources, talk to your local librarian to see if your community library can be of assistance.

Regularly scheduled communication: Create a scheduled time to check in with your child each day or week (depending on the child’s age and their level of need). Phone conversations, “snail mail,” text, FaceTime, etc. can be used to stay in regular communication.

Snail mail: Here are some special ways you could stay in touch with writing and mailing:

  • Write several handwritten notes and/or drawings and put them in individual envelopes. Mail them in one larger envelope to your child and tell them they can open one of the smaller envelopes whenever they’re missing you or need a mood boost. You can also mail them to the other parent for them to add to the child’s school lunch or snack now and then.
  • Send a care package containing kid friendly items such as letters, snacks, photos, small toys or trinkets, stickers, books, and more. • If you travel for your job, send postcards from the places you go.
  • Send a letter now and then— it doesn’t need to be elaborate—a simple “I love you lots” message in your handwriting can be a nice way to let them know they are loved and cherished no matter how much distance is between you. Find new ways to play together: Here are some ways to play long distance:
  • Write letters to each other in secret code.
  • Borrow one of your child’s stuffed animals (with permission of course), and take photos of it in your home, place of employment, and/or community. See if the other parent will do the same. Your child can experience their own “Here” and/or “There” through these fun photos the parents have created.
  • If your child is reading chapter books, have a parent/child book club where you both read the same books—on your own schedule—and then discuss it or do something fun related to the book next time you’re together. Alternatively, check in now and then and ask your child which of their favorite books you should read.
  • Print out a coloring page, color half of it, then mail it to the child to finish. Brainstorm and research other ways to be playful with your child long distance.

The Healing Library: Separation & Divorce: Parent Guide Inspired by the book HERE AND THERE by Tamara Ellis Smith (Barefoot Books).

What Parents May Notice About Their Children During Their Adjustment to Separation/Divorce

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Range of emotions: Children may feel a multitude of emotions, sometimes all at once. These may include feeling sad, angry, numb, indifferent, happy, optimistic, pessimistic, rage, curious, hopeful, enveloped in grief, etc.

Change in behavior: It is normal for children to experience regression in behavior when going through a life changing experience. Regression is when a person reverts back to coping strategies and behaviors from an earlier time in life. In children this might include more clinginess, bedwetting, speaking in a younger voice, and behavioral outbursts (tantrums). A child might also seem defiant or oppositional; they might stop doing things they used to enjoy doing; and their grades may drop a little (or a lot) at school.

Change in sleep patterns: The child may have a harder time falling asleep or staying asleep. Younger children may ask to co-sleep with a parent. The child might have more vivid or upsetting dreams than usual.

Change in eating habits: You may notice your child eating more or less than usual. On the flip side, the child may exhibit positive changes in their behavior, or no change at all. Each child is unique and responds to change in their own way.  

The Healing Library: Separation & Divorce: Parent Guide Inspired by the book HERE AND THERE by Tamara Ellis Smith (Barefoot Books). Image © Evelyn Daviddi

Supporting a Child Through an Adjustment

Here are some ways to support your child through a separation or divorce adjustment period:

Reassurance: In the initial phases of a life change, children may need reassurance that this adjustment will eventually feel more “normal” and that you will all get through this together. Children may also ask the same questions over and over as a way to seek this reassurance. Consistent and patient responses such as, “Change is hard sometimes, and we will get through this as a family,” “I am here for you,” and “We will continue to be your parents no matter what,” can be comforting to a child.  

Routine: During this time it may help to stick to your usual routine as much as possible. If the child is used to dinner at 6, continue to have dinner at 6. If the child has basketball practice on Wednesday nights, continue this if possible. Once the child and parents have started to adjust to the separation/divorce, the routine can be re-negotiated if needed.

Talk about it: See “Talking to children about separation and divorce” below.

Read about it: Books like Here and There (Barefoot Books) provide an opportunity for you and your child to explore the topic of family separation and divorce through another’s experience. Ask your community librarian about other books on separation and divorce that you and your child can read together. See the “Here and There Book Discussion Guide” included in the notebook to learn how to use the book to spark discussions and to make observations about your child’s experience during this life changing time.

Community helpers: Remind your child of the trusted adults and community helpers they can turn to for help when needed. These people may be family members, family friends, a counselor, school staff (guidance counselors, social workers, teachers), a coach, a member of the child’s religious or spiritual community, or a mentor. It can be helpful to inform your child’s guidance counselor and/or teacher at school that your child is going through a divorce or separation within the family. If the school has a support group for students going through the same experience, you may want to explore if this is a good option for your child to attend.

Coping strategies: Remind your child of the coping strategies they can use when needed. Coping strategies can include talking to a trusted adult; taking a few breaths; affirmations and self talk (such as saying “I can adjust to new situations”); exercise; or spending time with a pet. You can even put together a “coping tool kit” for your child using a recycled gift bag or box, a change purse, or a cosmetics bag. Add various items to it, such as a stress ball; handwritten notes saying what you love about your child; an inspirational quote such as “We will get through this” signed by the parents and child; a small stuffed animal or figurine the child loves; a notepad and pen; and/or something to fidget with, such as a button or pebble. The “coping tool kit” can go from one parent’s home to the other, to a friend’s house, school, and anywhere else the child may need it. • Be present: Set aside time to be with your child and give them your full attention. Put the phone down, turn the TV off, and/or put away distractions. Play a game, share a special snack, go for a walk, draw/color, etc. Choose a non-screen activity and be there for them.

The Healing Library: Separation & Divorce: Parent Guide Inspired by the book HERE AND THERE by Tamara Ellis Smith (Barefoot Books). Image © Evelyn Daviddi

Get the Book - Here and There

Click on the book title and enter your VID and password to access eBook.

"Life Changing Experiences” and Adjustment

A life changing experience is one that disrupts your usual routine of life, such as moving to a new place, the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a traumatic event, or separation/ divorce. These life changing experiences may be planned or unplanned. They may be positive changes or unpleasant ones (or a mix of both). But all life changing moments have something in common — an adjustment phase. Adjustment is the process by which we adapt to a new situation. In the picture book Here and There (Barefoot Books) we meet Ivan in the early adjustment phase of his parents’ separation. 

Adjustment requires the body to do a lot of work whether you’re aware of it or not. The brain is creating new pathways that help you adapt to the “new normal." You’re processing a range of emotions that might ping back and forth between “I will get through this” to “I can’t handle this.” Your body may be firing off chemicals (e.g., adrenaline) to help you manage the new stress level. You may notice a change in your sleep cycle or eating habits. Put simply, adjustment can create various side effects. Some of the common side effects seen in children are changes in sleep, appetite, and behavior.

Here and There Book Discussion

Journal Activity

Birdseed Activity

NPR Life Kit

Other Resources

Finally, remember you can always access your local library for books and media. If using your library catalog, you can search for key words such as “divorce” and “coparenting.” Look on the internet and community bulletin boards for local support groups and services for families experiencing divorce and separation.

Librarian

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Adam Johnson
Contact:
Valencia College Winter Park Campus Library
(407) 582-6814

The Healing Library

The Healing Library: Separation & Divorce: Parent Guide Inspired by the book HERE AND THERE by Tamara Ellis Smith (Barefoot Books). Image © Evelyn Daviddi

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