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Why Use Books With Children During Divorce?

Maridith Jackson, Human Development and Family Studies Graduate Assistant, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia

The divorce process can be a difficult time for both parents and the children involved. It is a time of many transitions. There may be changes in feelings, friends, family, and home life. Parents need to communicate with their child(ren) during and about these changes taking place. One way to encourage both communication and a strengthening of the parent-child relationship is through the use of books. Through reading and parent-child discussing the book's content, the child(ren):

1. Learn s/he is not alone. Reading about other children going through the same situations will alleviate feelings of isolation or of being an outsider.

2. Identify with characters in a way that s/he understands and be able to relate to characters, particularly those of the same gender.

3. Gain insight and knowledge and apply that knowledge to real life. This teaches the child ways of coping with the divorce.

The use of books, versus discussion only, allows the child to use imagination. Reading stories about the lives of others can be much easier on the child rather than direct conversation. The books can serve as a channel to release tension. Feelings that are very personal for the child can be discussed using characters in a book, making it easier for the child to talk about. To reap the full benefits, you must discuss the content of the books with your children. This follow-up is important. Discussing the books with your child will allow you to understand more about what your child is going through. It will also give your child a safe way to ask questions and stimulate further conversation. Not only will the use of books help the child learn ways of coping and dealing with divorce, but your child will also benefit in other ways. Your child will:

  • learn to enjoy reading, not only about self-help issues, but also become more interested in reading in general;
  • better understand human behavior through the exposure of a variety of characters;
  • increase awareness of others and their ways of living; be able to relate to others.

The age of your child will make a difference in how much he or she will understand about the divorce. You must be sure that the books you choose are appropriate for the age of your child. Libraries and publishers commonly organize books with the following classifications:

  • JE is used for picture books, up until the age a child learns to read
  • J is for new readers up until about 8th grade
  • YA is for young adults or teens


Around infancy to about six years, the child will need you to read the books to him or her. You may also need to ask the child questions about his or her feelings in order to stimulate conversation, being sure that you do not ask questions in a way that lead to a specific answer. For example, you may ask, "How does it make you feel when you know that you will be living in two different houses? instead of, "Are you sad that mommy and daddy don’t live together anymore?

Around the ages seven to twelve, the child may be able to read on his or her own. Either way, you still need to discuss the contents of the book with your child. They will be better able to communicate and describe how they are feeling at this age, so take advantage of that and allow your child to express his or her own feelings about the divorce.

At thirteen years of age and older, the child will be able to read the books alone. Even so, try to skim through the pages beforehand, and always talk to the child about the content of the book. Even if the child appears to not want to discuss issues, let him or her know that you are always available to talk.

During the various shifts in lifestyle and role responsibility that take place during the divorce process, parents must maintain open communication with their children. Appropriate books can be used as tools to ease this time of difficulty.



Frasier, M., & McCannon, C. (1981). Using bibliotherapy with gifted children. Gifted Child Quarterly, 25, 81-84.

Halsted, J. W. (1988). Guiding gifted readers. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio Psychology Publishing Company.

Kramer, P.A., & Smith, G.G. (1998). Easing the pain of divorce through children’s literature. Early Childhood Education Journal, 26, 89-94.

Neuman, G.M., & Romanowski, P. (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce the sandcastles way. Family & Conciliation Courts Review, Oct. 98, 36, 4, 511-515.

Pardeck, J.T. (1994). Using literature to help adolescents cope with problems. Adolescence, 29, 421-427.

Wallerstein, J. (1983). Children of divorce: The psychological tasks of the child. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 53, 230-243.



Last Updated 05/12/2009


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