Divorce therapy – Parenting preschoolers of divorce

Divorce therapy – It is easier to parent children of divorce when a parent knows what to expect and how to handle their child’s fears and feelings. Preschoolers may have nightmares, anger, and may feel that one parent is “bad”.


Divorce therapy - Parenting preschoolers of divorce
Divorce therapy experts believe preschoolers, aged 3 to 6 years old, are still not quite able to understand the concept of divorce and want their parents to stay together. They feel powerless in this situation. It is important to reassure preschoolers that mommy and daddy still love them and that they didn’t do anything wrong. Consistently remind the preschool aged child that mommy or daddy didn’t leave because they did anything wrong.

Children and Divorce Therapy

What do preschool age children understand about divorce? They usually can understand that:

One of the parents no longer lives at home
Divorce means that mommy and daddy will no longer be married
Mommy and daddy no longer love each other
Mommy and daddy will no longer live together

About Preschoolers

Preschoolers still don’t quite understand what has happened and what will happen. Children at this age would like to be able to control things. This is related to their stage of development and it’s quite normal for them to want things to go their way, adds divorce therapy experts.

Kids, around the age of 3 to 6 years old, really believe that they are responsible for mommy or daddy leaving. It is important to reassure kids that they didn’t do anything to cause the separation or divorce, even if the child does not bring the subject up directly. It is also important to let children of divorce, of any age, know that even though mom and dad are not together anymore, both parents still love them.

Preschool Feelings in Divorce Therapy

Divorce therapy

Preschool age children will normally become uncertain about the future, though they may not express this openly. They often keep their anger bottled up, though some become quite vocal about their situation.

Preschool age children

May have more nightmares
May worry about any changes in their daily lives
May become very sad
May blame one of the parents (single one out as the “bad” parent) and may express anger or become aggressive toward that parent
Will probably blame themselves for the divorce
Will have fantasies about their parents getting back together again

Helping Children in Divorce Therapy

Parents should try to exhibit calm and controlled behavior around kids at the preschool age because these children will take their cues from their parents. How to handle the situation:

Tell the children that there will always be someone to take care of them.

Talk with the kids about their feelings and fears.

Read children’s books about divorce together.

Let the child know that he or she will still see the other parent and make every attempt to make visitations go as planned.

Parents of preschoolers should reassure their children, talk with them, and read age appropriate books about divorce. This may calm nightmares and fears if you cannot stop divorce.

Children’s Books on Divorce

It is no wonder why divorce can be challenging for children to cope. Changes are thrust upon the children, and it can leave them shaken and unsure of their family. These children’s book titles are written to help parents and counselor’s bridge the gap of misunderstanding that often occurs in the child’s mind.

Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families

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Well-known children’s book authors Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny Brown provide parents and children with a sympathetic story to address divorce concerns if parents are unable to stop divorce. Though Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families [Little, Brown Young Readers, 1988] is geared toward younger children between ages 4 – 8, it is much too long to be read in one sitting. Parents or counseling adults might better read through the book and pick and choose which portions to read to the child.

The story covers many aspects of divorce that consume young children with worry. As children progress through the various stages of divorce, adults can pull the book from the shelf to help children deal with their concerns. A few of the topics covered include: why parents divorce, what will happen to the child following the divorce, how to handle living in two homes, and when parents beginning dating. Again, this book is a better tool when only the sections that apply to the child’s situation are shared. It may be overwhelming to read the book in its entirety.

It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear

This book is intended to be read with an even younger age range, from preschool to about first grade. It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear : A Read-Together Book for Parents and Young Children During Divorce [The Book Peddlers, 1997] is a book that focuses on the children’s emotions that divorce often elicits – fear, anger, sadness. Vicki Lansky seeks to reassure children that divorce is not their fault and provide them with suggestions on how to deal with their emotions. A delicate and sensitive book, parents can use it to help their child express their emotions and dissuade their fears.

Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce

This book by Cornelia Maude Spelman is better used with younger preschool children. Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce [Albert Whitman & Company, 2001] uses simple sentence structure and warm illustrations to convey the emotions common of children from divorced families. The message is that although the family does not live together, everyone is still loved.

Some families with a strong emphasis on co-parenting might prefer using a different title. The book does explain that sometimes scheduled visitations may not work out, requiring the time to be rescheduled. While the point is to explain that sometimes the parents and children will need to be flexible with visits, it could be seen as casting a negative image on the parent who does not have primary custody.

Was It the Chocolate Pudding: A Story For Little Kids About Divorce

Sandra Levins takes a common fear, the concern that the children caused the divorce, and lovingly constructs a tale that reveals that divorce cannot be blamed on them. As parents share this story, geared for 2 – 6 year olds, it also may help them see divorce through the eyes of their children. Was It the Chocolate Pudding? [American Psychological Association, 2005] is a sweetly told tale that reveals several truths about divorce.

The only caution to parents if they can’t stop divorce is that it may be a little wordy for younger children of this age bracket. Parents may wish to pre-read the story and paraphrase it to fit their children’s attention spans.

Children’s literature can be a suitable vehicle for addressing children’s fears and concerns about divorce. Parents should always read through the books first and adapt the wording to fit their families’ needs and situation. With gentle understanding, these books may be just the help that children of divorce need.

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