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Help children see hope after divorce

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 11:34 a.m. MDT

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PROVO — Shortly after Diane A. Price was divorced, she took a bus trip with her two young sons.

One of them, concerned about his mother and her struggles, walked up to a stranger on the bus and asked him if he would marry his mom.

Later on, the same child wanted to know if a nice man in their ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could sleep over. When Price told him that only married people sleep over, he said, "Well, Brother Hessler is married. He could sleep over."

Price, speaking at the 2014 Women's Conference at Brigham Young University on May 2, is now remarried and serving as a stake Young Women president. She used her humorous examples to illustrate the fact that children perceive all kinds of situations in different ways than adults.

That's why it's so important to listen well to children during traumatic and difficult times, she said.

A child ignored or dismissed may not come back a second time, she said.

"It is so important to explain things but give appropriate explanations," Price said. "Leave out the R-rated factors."

Price said children need to realize divorce is permanent and that the break-up is not their fault.

"Imagine the pressure on a child who feels it's his job to fix things," she said.

Brian J. Higgenbotham, a professor, therapist and associate vice-president for Utah State University Extension, said children who have divorced parents can successfully transition, but they need resources, understanding and comfort.

"Children don't understand this so what can we do?" he asked. "First, talk with them. Listen to understand, not necessarily to agree. Ask lots of questions and provide resources to them. Reassure the child. Tell them they are loved, many times over."

Higgenbotham, who suggested books written about divorce like "Was it the Chocolate Pudding?" and "Divorce is Not the End of the World," said parents parting ways should take care not to criticize the other parent or argue in front of the child.

"When elephants fight, the grass dies," he said.

Don't make the child choose sides or use him or her to spy or carry messages. Don't expect too much too soon and be careful about putting too much burden on a child.

Higgenbotham suggested keeping routines and schedules as familiar and similar as possible and encouraging supportive relationships to go forward.

"Minimize disruption," he said. "Spend special time with children. Utilize supportive connections. Take care of yourself.

"What I want you to take away today is hope," he said. "How parents respond to the needs of their children often influences the child's impression of Heavenly Father and his willingness to love and help them."

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com

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