Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Best if Taken in Small Doses

Cover art copyright Simon & Schuster
Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids
By Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.
Simon & Schuster, New York

Reviewed by Laura Harting

            Dr. Ricci wrote the book Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child for parents first and then came out with this book filled with ideas and advice for kids.  The publisher states that it was written for children between the ages of 10 and 14, but the 10-year-old would need to be an excellent reader to tackle this book. I think it is most appropriate for 12- to 15-year-olds. 
            Dr. Ricci writes with a kid-friendly, positive tone and gives a lot of information on all aspects of parental separation and divorce. She places a special focus on teaching coping skills for the different experiences divorce presents to a child.  She emphasizes coping with feelings and managing the stress that divorce causes for children.  Dr. Ricci uses terms that I have used over and over in my practice with kids, like “the miserable middle,” “train your brain,” “solution finder,” and "big questions.”  She offers tips for how to talk with your parents about difficult topics, and even gives ideas for how and what to write to parents when kids are too afraid to ask a question in person. 
            I enjoyed this book and recommend it to the kids I see who are good readers. At almost 250 pages, with lots of words on each page, this book can appear overwhelming to kids.  As one middle schooler asked me incredulously,  “I have to read all those words about divorce?”
This book may be easiest to digest in small doses. Perhaps photocopying a few pages at a time to give to your child to read may be the best way to convey this helpful information.

Laura Harting,  LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

If You Only Read One Book . . .

Cover art copyright Little, Brown and Company
Dinosaurs Divorce

A Guide for Changing Families

By Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown 

Little, Brown and Company

New York
1986, 2009

Reviewed by Laura Harting

            This is one of my all-time favorite books about divorce.  Written for the elementary school age child, it gives the child needed and helpful information about divorce in practical, easy-to-understand language.  The illustrations are funny and cute. The dinosaur characters give the child reading the book the emotional distance that allows him or her to better integrate the information. 

            This book covers all the bases, from the time of separation to the time of remarriage. It includes a discussion of topics that matter most to kids: why parents divorce, how to handle moving, adjusting to living in separate residences, expressing feelings, continuing to love both parents, becoming accustomed to dating, step-parents, step-siblings, and half siblings. The authors write simply and offer just enough information – not too little and not too much.

            The children I counsel who have read this book like it and find it very helpful. It often answers their questions, clears up their misunderstandings, and encourages them to ask more questions.  A third grader can read this book alone. A child younger than third grade can read this book with some adult help.  A glossary of terms near the beginning helps children learn the new vocabulary of divorce.

            The authors of this book got it just right. If you only read one book with your elementary school child about divorce, read this one. However, I don’t recommend reading only one book. Every child is different and different books will resonate with each child differently. Your goal is to give your child information and a voice to talk with you about divorce.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Before A Child Visits Family Court

Cover art copyright 2012 by Picture Window Books.
Used with permission
Weekends with Dad
What to Expect When Your Parents Divorce

By Melissa Higgins
Illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan

Picture Window Books, Mankato, MN

Reviewed by Laura Harting

This book for elementary school children tells a story about parental separation and divorce. The story is told and illustrated from the perspective of a young fox in a small family of foxes.  Like other books of this genre, Weekends with Dad addresses the issue of child custody, family court appearances, and child support. This book is unusual, however, because it also makes mention of a school-based support group for children of divorced parents.

Children of divorcing parents often overhear adult conversations using strange new words related to court appearances, so this book is especially useful to help children understand what those words mean.  In this book, illustrated using very human-looking foxes, the school-aged fox has a meeting with a court-appointed advocate who looks like a kindly old bear who kneels down to make eye contact with the child and who asks lots of questions, including asking with whom the youngster wants to live.  My experience as a child and family therapist tells me that interviews like this can be a reality for children of divorcing parents. It is good to have an elementary school age book that talks about court appearances and how children can have input into the child custody issue. 

Like other books reviewed previously on this blog, this is another good selection to read along with a child. It seems very geared towards reading with a counselor.  However, it would also be a good book to read with a parent, especially if your child will be talking with a court advocate or attorney. The end of the book offers other resources, such as books, websites, an index, and a short glossary, which would also help adults explain difficult concepts to children.

In general, I like animal illustrations like those found in Weekends with Dad, because they provide a comforting distance for the child when reading about emotionally charged issues.  However, because the divorce is happening to the parents of the young fox in the book, and the young fox is speaking as if it is happening to him, that distance does not seem to exist here.

If you are a parent, I recommend reading this book with your child, but only if your child will be involved in a court proceeding.  I do not recommend a parent reading this book with a child who will not be interviewed by anyone in the family court system.  Introducing the concept of court involvement in situations where that will not happen could only increase the anxiety or stress your child feels about the already stressful situation of divorcing parents.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Good Book to Read With Your Child

Cover art copyright (c) Annick Press. Used with permission.

Mom and Dad Don’t Live Together Anymore

Text by Kathy Stinson

Art by Vian Oelofsen
Annick Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(c) 1984, 2007 

Reviewed by Laura Harting

           This is a colorfully and realistically illustrated book for young children (pre-school and early elementary) about parents who are separated.  The young girl in the book shares her thoughts about her parents living apart and what she likes and does not like about it.  This book is  written simply, from the child's perspective, and shares what is going on in this child’s mind about her parents’ separation.

            This book could be a good conversation starter for parents who are separated and want to know what their young children think about them living apart. I would recommend a parent reading this book with his or her child and then asking what the child thinks about Mommy and Daddy living in two separate places.  It would be a great help for a child to think about and articulate what they like about Mommy’s house and what they like about Daddy’s house

            On one page in the book the child wonders if Daddy wants to marry someone else and on another page the child wonders if she will get married and "get apart" when she grows up. These pages open up the possibility for parents to talk about other partners in their lives and to ask their child what they wonder about

            I like Mom and Dad Don't Live Together Anymore as a “read with your child” book because of the opportunity it creates to ask about your child’s thoughts and hear what your child is thinking. It is always good to take time and open up opportunities to listen to what your child is thinking about your divorce.  

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.