We recently sat down with Educator and Children’s Book Author, Portia Y. Clare, to discuss the power of books when it comes to helping children process difficult emotions and changing family dynamics. Portia provided not only her insight on why books can have such a positive influence on children but also recommended some specific books for families who are looking for tools to help their kids cope with and process their divorce.
When it comes to understanding why divorce can create such a sense of upheaval and behavioral changes in children, Portia explains that it often stems from the challenge that children face in expressing the emotions that they’re feeling.
“Children crave family—they love their parents, they think the world of their parents, and they want to have that relationship with both Mommy and Daddy. But when there is a divorce, it can be very confusing for children. Over the years, I've taught children who have gone through their parents having a divorce and expressing how they feel about what has been challenging for them,” explains Portia. “Oftentimes, we will see some silence, some withdrawing from activity, sometimes we'll see some anger, or frustration that comes from something that doesn't seem appropriate at the time because they're challenged with sharing exactly how they feel. You might see something that's termed "acting out, or you may see behavior that's completely unusual for a child. And in those moments, I think they're doing the best that they can to express their confusion, their sadness, their anger, about their parents separating. They don't want to have to be different in any way, and they don't want Mommy and Daddy to be in a different space; they want things to stay the same. They want the routine that they know because they feel comfortable with that. So, it's unsettling for them. But the good news is that we do have ways to help them through that process.”
One of the tools that Portia has seen has incredible success in helping children process difficult emotions and relationships with others, is books. According to her, books provide children with the experience of seeing their emotions mirrored by someone else—often a story character of similar age, in a similar scenario—creating a space where they’re not only being taught what the emotions they’re feeling mean but that they’re not alone in their experience.
“The beauty of a book is that it actually is a safe place for children. As they're reading a story, they can become a part of that story, and if they're not comfortable with talking with anyone yet about the subject at hand, the book allows them to express themselves through thought, and maybe even out loud, as they're reading it. They can relate, make connections, and they can hear, in many instances, that things are okay. I love that authors are writing on topics that are very much relevant, and real life and that children can read independently,” explains Portia. “The other good thing about books is that they can be shared with children by their parents or any other significant person in their community. And perhaps as they're reading, there are questions that they might have, and they may feel comfortable asking those questions with that adult. So, it's an excellent opportunity to communicate and to give children a safe place to share exactly what they're going through, and they can return to it over and over again—the second time they read it they may hear something different.”
Portia was generous enough to provide our firm with a list of ten helpful books that she would recommend for children of all different ages who are navigating their parent’s divorce:
1. My Body Sends a Signal: Helping Kids Recognize Emotions and Express Feelings by Natalia Maguire and Anastasia Zababashkina
2. My Family’s Changing: A First Look At Family Break Up by Pat Thomas
3. Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide For Changing Families by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
4. Two Homes by Claire MacDonald Denton
5. I Have Two Homes by Marian De Smet
6. Divorce Is Not The End Of The World by Zoe and Evan stern with Ellen Sue Stern
7. Mom and Dad Love Me The Same by Melissa Torres
8. Two Homes Filled With Love by Steve Herman
9. When Parents Separate by Dawn Hewitt and Ximena Jeria
10. Mum and Dad Glue by Kes Gray and Lee Wildish
In Portia’s experience, the most important thing for parents to remember, and which these books will help to affirm children as well, is that the message that children need to hear when navigating a divorce is that they are not at fault and that no matter what changes may come to their daily routines, they are still wholly loved by everyone in their life.
“Having these books to read with your child opens that door for a conversation that helps them through what they're experiencing. It opens up the conversation for parents to explain to their kids: ‘This is new for all of us, but the one thing that we want you to know is that you're loved, and the love that we have for you will never change. Where you live might change, where you go to school might change, and how you go about your daily routine might change, but you have me, and you have a community of people. There is a support system in place that is here to let you know that you haven't done anything wrong, that you are precious, that you are priceless, that you are loved, and you are supported.’ And I think that's the message that all of these books share.”
If you would like to get in touch with Portia, or are interested in purchasing her award-winning children’s book, “Best Friends Forever: A Puppy’s Tale, you can visit her website: www.portiayclare.com. Additionally, to listen to Portia’s full interview, where she provides an overview of the main takeaway points from each of the books that she recommends, you can access it on our firm’s podcast, Modern Family Matters.