by Edward Teyber

One out of three children in America today has divorced parents. The breakup makes parents feel guilty and worried about how their children will be affected. They want to do the best they can for their children but are often insecure about handling the complex emotional problems aroused by divorce.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce provides specific guidelines to help parents deal with the issues that emerge at each stage of the divorce process. Teyber clearly and compassionately details how parents can minimize the distress for children during the initial breakup, explain the divorce to the children, tailor custody and visitation plans to accommodate children's needs, shield children from parental conflict, discipline children effectively in the aftermath of divorce, and form successful new stepfamilies. The book draws on basic child development principles to help parents fully understand what their children are experiencing in the wake of marital disruption. Parents are then shown how to apply this understanding when responding to potential concerns of their children such as "If Dad has moved out, will Mom go away too?" "Maybe if I had been good, Mom and Dad wouldn't have divorced," or "Do I have to love my new stepparents?"

Helping Children Cope with Divorce offers a number of realistic family scenarios and sample parent-child dialogues for handling issues. Drawing on a wealth of case studies, recent research findings on children's responses to divorce, and his extensive experience counseling divorced families, Teyber offers a specific plan of action in a reassuring, engaging manner, to help ensure children's successful adjustment.

[from the inside cover]

Teyber - Helping Children Cope with Divorce

About the Author

Edward Teyber, Ph.D. is a child-clinical psychologist. He is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Community Counseling Center at California State University, San Bernardino. He is the author of numerous research articles on the effects of marital and family relations on child adjustment as well as articles on parenting and post-divorce family relations for the popular press. His textbook for therapists is entitled Interpersonal Process in Psychotherapy. In private practice, Dr. Teyber specializes in post-divorce family relations. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.

[from the hardbound edition]

Table of Contents

Part One


You Can Help Your Children Successfully Adjust to Divorce

    The Changing American Family     4
    The Effects of Divorce on Children    10
    Divorce Is Painful for Parents    15

Part Two
Children's Concerns During the Breakup


Divorce Causes Separation Anxieties: "If Dad Left, Won't Mom Go Away Too?"

    The Causes of Children's Separation Anxieties    27
    How Marital Separation Threatens Children's
     Attachments    33
    Explaining the Divorce to Your Children    36
    Explaining a Trial Separation    41
    When Abuse Has Occurred    43


Children Want to Reunite Their Parents: "If I'm Really Good, Maybe Mom and Dad Will Get Back Together Again."

    Three Sources of Reunification Fantasies    48
    Explaining the Permanence of Divorce
     to Children    58


Children Feel Responsible for the Divorce: "Maybe If I Had Been Good, Mom and Dad Wouldn't Have Gotten a Divorce."

    Why Children Feel Responsible    61
    Guidelines for Talking with Children About
     the Divorce    64
    Responding to Sadness    68

Part Three
Guidelines for Parents


Parental Conflict and Cooperation

    Protecting Children from Parental Hostilities    80
    Expressing Parental Conflicts Through
     the Children    87
    Ending the Marriage    93


Children Need Their Mothers and Fathers

    Children Often Lose Both Parents
     Through Divorce    95
    The Adverse Consequences When Father is
     Unavailable   102
    Gender Differences in the Effects of Divorce   108
    Fathering After Divorce   111


Custody, Mediation, and the Court

    The History of Custody Determinations   118
    Joint Custody and Other Alternatives   120
    Resolving Disputes Through Mediation   138

Part Four
Child-Rearing After Divorce


Loyalty Conflicts

    Loyalty Conflicts Tear Children Apart   149
    Why Parents Make Their Children Choose   152
    Understanding Family Coalitions and Alliances   158
    An Agreement for Parental Cooperation   160


Parentification: Turning Children into Adults

    Three Types of Parentification   164
    The Adverse Consequences of Parentifying
     Children   169
    Why Parentifications Occurs   173
    Assessing Parentification in Your Family   176


Child-Rearing Practices

    Three Approaches to Discipline   179
    Discipline After Divorce   184
    Child-Rearing Guidelines for Divorced Parents   186


Step-Families: Forming New Family Relationships

    The Bias Against Step-Families   202
    Children's Reactions to Step-Family Formation   203
    Three Styles of Stepparenting   205
    Forming a Successful Step-Family   211

Index   219

About the Author   223

[from the hardbound edition]


"Dr. Teyber has an excellent reputation both as an evaluator and a therapist. This book should be recommended reading for any parent going through a divorce. Teyber's down-to-earth style and clear examples of problem-solving methods will be welcomed...his 'scripts' for dealing with specific behaviors provides parents with solid guidelines...this book will help many parents to begin easing the pain of divorce and start devoting their energies to positive matters rather than dissipating them on negative feelings. Teachers, counselors, therapists, family law judges, and attorneys also will find Teyber's book a valuable adjunct to their work."

--Benson Schaffer, L.A. County Superior Court (retired)
Family Law Mediator

"This important book underscores our society's desperate need for a better way to deal with a major social issue. It highlights the innocent victims of divorce and clearly demonstrates how to minimize or eliminate the trauma they suffer. A careful reading will reveal how children can keep both parents after divorce. Dr. Teyber covers the importance of parenting skills [in offering] stability and continuity in critical stages of child development following a divorce."

--Louis Welch, Director
Child Custody Reform Project

"Helping Children Cope with Divorce is an outstanding book. It reinforces the value of putting children first and acknowledges children's need for both parents during and after the divorce. Teyber clearly describes the stress and pain children experience and explains how best to shield them from the parents' own conflicts. This is essential reading for anyone helping children of divorce."

--David L. Levy, Esq., President
Children's Rights Council

[from the back cover]

Read more reviews of this book on the website:
Helping Children Cope with Divorce

Helping Children Cope with Divorce on


Children are far more likely to develop abandonment fears and separation anxieties if they are not prepared for the parental separation. The entire divorce process will be much easier for children to cope with if they are told in advance what to expect. All too often children awaken one morning to find that their father is no longer living with them. With limited or no explanation, he is simply gone. Children are told only that their father moved out last night and that their parents are going to "get a divorce."

When a parent leaves a child suddenly and without warning, this shocking and traumatic event can generate frantic anxiety, even if the child has not been especially close to or involved with the departing parent. These children are going to experience strong separation anxieties; they do not know why their father has gone, what their future contact with him will be, or who else will leave.

Parents should tell children about the divorce when it is a firm decision. The best approach is for both parents to jointly talk with the children whenever such unity is possible, and it is usually better to tell children together, rather than separately, so that children can begin to comfort each other. It is critical that parents tell children a week or so in advance. If one parent moves out before they have been informed, the shock will always be highly distressing for children. When parents move apart, they should provide the child with frequent and predictable contact that begins immediately upon the parent's departure. If possible, the absent parent should try to visit or telephone the child every day for the first week or so. It is essential for children to know in advance specifically when and where they will visit their parent again. Visitation schedules should never be random, and parents must carefully follow through and strictly adhere to whatever schedule has been established. This predictability is vital.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce
pages 36-37

Parental cooperation, or at least the absence of overt conflict, is essential for children's secure adjustment. Parents must acknowledge that children will not adjust successfully as long as intense parental hostilities continue. Why are children so affected by hatred between their parents? Children are frightened when they see their parents shout at, berate, and threaten each other. Although some older children may try to distance themselves and affect aloof disinterest, they are terrified that harm will befall both their parents and themselves. Children are intensely concerned about the safety and well-being of their all-important attachment figures and rightly know that they are not secure as long as their parents are threatened. Because they are focused on the former spouse, however, combative parents cannot see the worry in their children's faces or recognize the intense anxiety that create the sleep disturbances and hypervigilance that their children usually suffer from.

Whenever I am talking with children of embattled parents I ask them, "If I had a magic wand and could grant you any three wishes you wanted, what would you most like to have?" Without exception, their first wish is always, "I wish my parents would stop fighting." Many children go on to ask the same things with their second and third wishes as well. In other words, children cannot imagine wanting anything other than to have their parents stop fighting. Children are frightened when their parents fight and, poignantly, often secretly pray that they will stop.

Children's intense worries about their parents and anxiety about their own safety and well-being are exacerbated by problems that arise as interparental conflict stresses parents and reduces their ability to comfort and parent their children. And, as if insecurity and loss of effective parenting were not enough, these children also feel responsible for parental hostilities...children believe they are responsible for all the major occurrences in their lives--including parental fighting. This egocentric tendency is exacerbated by the issues that parents often fight about. That is, children routinely listen to their parents fight over them. As a result, there is little doubt in children's minds that they are to blame for this unhappiness, even though they do not want it and feel helpless to stop it.

Finally, although chronic marital conflict is destructive for all children, it seems to be especially harmful to boys. Researchers have found that, on average, boys are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of family conflict and cannot cope with it as effectively as girls. One reason is that in most families girls are more protected from family conflict than boys, both before the divorce and afterwards. Researchers have found that parents fight more and that their fights continue longer in the presence of sons than daughters.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce
pages 81-82

The inadequacies of traditional child-rearing roles are more evident in post-divorce family relationships, in which most divorced fathers are too distant and mothers are burdened by the overwhelming demands of single parenting. What can be done to provide children with the fathering and mothering they continue to need?

Parents' answers to this question usually cast blame. If you ask divorced mothers why fathers are uninvolved in parenting, a typical reply is, "I've done everything I can to keep him involved with the kids, but he doesn't want anything to do with them. He never has. The kids don't really want to visit him either. They only go because I tell them they must. Actually, they would rather be home with their friends."

In sharp contrast, if you ask divorced fathers why they are disengaged, they predictably respond, "She makes it really hard for me to be with the children. It's little things, like being late whenever I go to pick them up or having them doing something 'more important' than being with me--like going to a birthday party. I don't think she's ever wanted me to have my own relationship with the kids. She believes, like she told the judge, that children just ought to be with their mothers. Even when I tried to do something with the kids when we were married, she would criticize me and tell me the 'right' way to do it. And now I get squeezed the other way, too. My new wife resents the money I send them and tells me that I give in to my ex-wife too easily. After awhile, it just all starts to feel impossible."

Both sides have legitimate concerns, but these radically differing viewpoints mainly reflect poor communication between angry former spouses and the inevitable polarization caused by mutally exclusive and competing child-rearing roles. Such arguments over mothers' and fathers' rights must cease so that their children can have a dependable relationship with both parents that includes frequent, regularly scheduled, and conflict-free access to both their mother and their father. There are many practical ways to achieve this.

Divorcing parents must realize that the most loving gift they can give to their children is permission to be as close to the other parent as to themselves. Parents need to disentangle their own lingering hostility toward the former spouse from the child's need for a continuing relationship with the other parent. Grandparents can help by not taking sides against their former son- or daughter-in-law and, instead, by discouraging both parents from embroiling children in parental battles and painful loyalty conflicts. Friends can support the father's identity as a parent by emphasizing the importance of his contribution to his children's lives and the importance of his children to the quality of his life. A new woman in a man's life needs to support his efforts to remain involved with his children and not interpret this commitment as a threatening tie to his former wife.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce
pages 115-116

[from the hardbound edition]

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Interpersonal Process in Psychotherapy:
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