Helpful Hints For Parents


Family Matters

Separation and Divorce

    Children are greatly affected by their parents' decisions and actions.  This is true in every day life and especially so in a situation as life-altering as divorce.

     Here are a few suggestions for helping a child through the trauma of separation or divorce.

  • Speak to them about the separation or divorce as honestly as possible.
  • Assure them that the divorce is a result of parental problems and that they did not cause the separation.
  • Answer their questions to help satisfy curiosity and ease confusion and frustration.
  • Listen attentively as kids share their feelings and concerns about the situation.
  • Encourage expression of feelings in a variety of ways--through writing, talking, dancing, or drawing.
  • Read stories together about divorce and divorced families.  Ask a children's librarian to recommend books that are appropriate for your child's age and situation.
  • Try to maintain family routines and continuity as much as possible, making sure that the child sees both parents on frequent and regular basis.

Divorce is a time of difficult transition for everyone.  But by being open and honest, by continuing family life as normally as possible, and by placing the best interests of their children first, parents can help kids adjust during this difficult time.

Minimizing Power Struggles

    No matter how compliant a child, there will be times when he does not want to put on his socks or when she refuses to pick up her toys.  As young children develop, they begin to understand that they can make their own decisions.  And occasionally they make a power play at an inconvenient time.  

    While a power play can be frustrating for the adult who is trying to get the child to do something, it is a healthy part of children's social/emotional development.  These incidents help children develop a stronger sense of self and the capability to set their own limits.

    We adults need to react appropriately.  In many instances, trying to force the child to do what he has said he will not escalates the situation into a full-blown power struggle.

    Try offering assistance instead.  For example, you might say, " You can put on your socks by yourself or I can help you this morning." Or, "I could help you put away your toys.  Would you like that?"

Or offer choices.  "OK, you don't want to wear these socks today.  Would you rather wear blue ones or green ones?"  "Let's see.  Which would it be easier  to start with: putting the blocks in this tub or putting the cars back in their case?"

Power plays are simply a part of growing up.  When handled by adults in a calm manner, they offer opportunities for children to develop self-esteem and self-control.

Social- Emotional Development

Helping Children Cope with Stress

Any major change in a child's life can cause stress.  Common sources of stress are the birth of a new sibling or the divorce of parents.  Stress also can be caused by the death of a relative or a beloved pet, a family move, separation from parents for extended periods, pressure to succeed, overly strict discipline, and natural disasters (even when the child has only seen them on television).

Not all stress, can or should, be avoided.  Young children do not view the world as adults do.  Misunderstandings or feelings of confusion can build up and leave children with stress they cannot handle alone.  Young children cannot easily verbalize these feelings, so we adults must be aware of physical or behavioral changes:  loss of appetite, sleep troubles, nightmares, headaches, stomach aches, or regressive behaviors such as thumb-sucking.

Children often deal with stress through their play.  They may act out events they find disturbing.  One child may re-create an airplane crash after hearing about a real airline accident. Another may use dolls to have a conversation about divorce.  This type of play helps children cope with events and feelings that might otherwise be overwhelming.

Adults play an important role in helping children cope with stress by providing a supportive atmosphere in which to talk about or play out concerns.  We need to acknowledge and accept the feelings children express and give them our support, at home and at school.  An attitude of love, understanding, and acceptance helps children get through difficult times.

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