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A Psychoeducational & Support Group for Children Dealing

with Divorce
Jonora K. Jones, Brian Mann, Cicely Maynard, Bianca I. Stanek
Wake Forest University

Table of Contents

Rationale for the Group


Group Objectives
Informed Consent (Parents & Children)
Plans for Six Group Sessions
o Session 1 Introduction/Group Formation & Bonding
o Session 2 Family Dynamics
o Session 3 Expressing Your Feelings
o Session 4 Dealing with Feelings of Anger/Sadness
o Session 5 Learning Coping Skills
o Session 6 Final Farewell/Group Evaluation
Outcome Evaluation Questionnaire
Resources for Group Members
Resources for Group Leaders
Issues in Application
References

Rationale for the Group


Approximately 45% of all marriages in the US end in divorce. Divorce rates are even
higher for second marriages. With over 65% of divorced people remarrying, children are
involved in most divorces (Berk, 2010). The significant impact of divorce on children has long
been supported by research and underscores the need for interventions to help children cope with
the impact of divorce.
It has been estimated that children of divorce are 50% more likely to develop health
problems than children from intact two-parent families. They are more likely to exhibit poorer
academic performance, delayed psychological development, strained relationships with family
members, and poorer mental health (Uphold-Carrier & Utz, 2012, p. 249). These effects relate
more to younger children, who are the focus of most divorce research. In their work, UpholdCarrier and Utz take a look at a lesser considered population, older and adult children of divorce.
With 20% of divorces occurring in couples married over 15 years (Coony, 1994, as cited in
Uphold-Carrier & Utz, 2012, p. 248), the impacts of parental divorce dont only impact young
children and support the notion that divorce has long-term impacts. According to Uphold-Carrier
and Utz (2012), those who experienced parental divorce exhibited a significantly higher risk for
depression as well as lower levels of family solidarity during midlife and older ages (p. 261).
An important consideration in how divorce affects children is the nature of the divorce,
how acrimonious the separation is. Particularly acrimonious divorces have a more negative
impact. Studies suggest that the effects of chronic conflict on children lead to feelings of
chronic stress, insecurity, and agitation; shame, self-blame, and guilt; a chronic sense of
helplessness; fears for their own physical safety; a sense of rejection, neglect, unresponsiveness,
and lack of interest in the well-being (Savard, 2010, p. 58-59). Further, the effect of highconflict divorce on children roughly doubles the rate of behavioral and emotional adjustment
problems (Jolivet, 2012, p. 177). Children of high-conflict divorces are two to three times more
likely to drop out of school (Esmaeili, Yaacob, Juhari, & Mansor, 2011). In contrast, most
children of divorce, who dont experience such negativity, usually fall within the average range
of psychological and social adjustment following divorce (Jolivet, 2012, p. 176).
While much of divorces impact on children relates to the parents handling of the
transition, certain secondary effects can equally impact children. In cases where custody

arrangements interrupt childrens school and social networks, educational performance can be
negatively impacted, thereby decreasing later educational attainment, which often leads to poor
occupational outcomes. These extended impacts can be attributed to feelings of loss of control
(Uphold-Carrier & Utz, 2012, p. 250).
There also may be gender-specific impacts. Some research has suggested that divorce
impacts girls and boys differently. The impact of divorce on boys appeared more immediate
and dramatic. Boys were found to be prone to aggression, disruption, acting-out behaviors, and
developmentally vulnerable. Girls tended to demonstrate the impact of divorce more
gradually with misbehavior climaxing in adolescence. They showed an increased rate of
running away, skipping school, sexual promiscuity, and acting out (Jolivet, 2012, p.177).
Sadly, the impact of divorce can last into adulthood. These impacts tend to differ based
on the childs age at divorce. For those younger at time of divorce, marital success is often
influenced by actions that increase the likelihood of divorce such as early marriage,
cohabitation, and marrying another child of divorce (Uphold-Carrier & Utz, 2012, p. 250). For
older children, including those who are adults at time of divorce, their marital success is
affected by observations or experiences of marriage saliency (Uphold-Carrier & Utz, 2012, p.
250). Research by Dr. Paul Amato at Penn State supports this, suggesting that children of
divorce were more likely to divorce than children of intact two-parent households. He
hypothesized that children either learn that divorce is a reasonable solution to an unhappy
marriage if the divorce was discordant, or they learn that marriage is an unpredictable
relationship if the divorce was not particularly contentious. With either lesson, these children
often learn to leave relationships that could still be saved (Jolivet, 2012, p. 177).
As divorce, particularly those mired in conflict, can have a negative long-lasting impact
on children, it is imperative to determine how to mitigate those influences. One way is for
parents to keep kids involved in the process. While this should be done in an age-appropriate
manner, this awareness makes children feel respected and considered (Jolivet, 2012). A reason
for this could be the notion that unhappy marriages do more damage to children than the
resulting divorce. Studies support that parents are best placed to aid their kids in coping with
divorce (Jolivet, 2012). Mechanisms available to parents include non-adversarial interventions
like mediation, educational, and psychoeducational programs geared toward parents (Rich,
Molloy, Hart, Ginsberg, & Mulvey, 2007).

In addition to parents taking a proactive role in helping their children understand divorce,
group therapy for the impacted children has also shown to be effective. A study of 240 divorce
mothers with children aged 9-12 revealed that group counseling sessions with both parents and
children helped the children on a long-term basis. Compared with the control group in which
only the parents attended group counseling, the children who attended group sessions had lower
levels of externalizing problems, reduced prevalence of diagnosed mental disorders, less highrisk sexual behavior, and lower rates of substance use (Jolivet, 2012, p. 180)
Another type of child-involved program shown to be helpful is a divorce education class.
These child-focused interventions focus on facilitating the childrens expression of feelings and
are designed to help them understand their parents divorce while developing skills for coping
with their feelings (Jolivet, 2012, p. 180). One program example, Children of Divorce
Intervention Program, a school-based program, had children share experiences with one
another, establish meaningful bonds with one another, dispel misconceptions related to divorce,
and learn and practice skills to enhance their ability to cope with stressful changes and feelings
(Jolivet, 2012, p. 180).
According to DeLucia-Waack and Gellman (2007), psychoeducational and counseling
groups for children of divorce, focus on coping with the reality of the divorce situation, as well
as the feeling elicited by it by promoting seven goals:
(a) help children gain an accurate picture of the divorce process through discussion and
information, (b) normalize common experiences and feelings around divorce, (c)
provide a safe and supporting place to talk about divorce-related concerns, (d) help label,
understand, and express feeling about the divorce, (e) develop new coping skills, (f)
assist children in reality testing, and (g) plan for the future (p. 272-273).
Particularly successful interventions in child-focused groups have included music, art, role play,
and other creative activities (Rich et al., 2007). Positive impacts of such groups include a
reduction of anxiety and an increasing in coping skills (DeLucia-Waack and Gellman, 2007).
Given the demonstrated success of group interventions with children of divorce to help
them cope and ultimately lessen long-term impacts of divorce, we propose creating a
psychoeducational and counseling group for children of divorced couples. The group will be
school-based, limited to six sessions and will include well-functioning children between the ages
of 8 and 12 years of age, both boys and girls.

Children of Divorce Group Objectives

Over six sessions, children will:

Become more aware of and able to communicate the feelings they are having.
Learn ways to express anger that are safe and dont get them in trouble.
Have a safe, neutral, and comfortable place to talk about what their parents separation

has been like for them.


Build trust and get support from other children of divorced parents.
Learn how to identify and manage triggers that evoke strong feelings.
Learn skills to handle the changes and transitions that they are experiencing.
Begin gaining understanding of their new family structure.

Informed Consent for Group Participants and Parent(s)/Guardian(s)


What to Expect from the Sessions
You are probably here for one of two reasons: you wanted to talk with a counselor or
therapist about how your parents divorce is affecting you, or your parent(s)/guardian(s) wanted
you to talk with a counselor or therapist about how their divorce is affecting you. Either way, you
are here for help. This is where I step in.
We will have 6 group sessions with a total of six children in your same age range (8-12
years old). Like you, these children are all dealing with their parents divorce. The first meeting
will include a brief introduction from me, and then a brief introduction from you. We will also
create our goals for the sessions, and get started on talking about divorce and the ways it can
impact you. Throughout the six sessions, I will be listening to your concerns, fears, and
problems, as well as asking some questions. We will be doing some engaging group activities
that will encourage you to explore your behaviors and feelings about the impact of your parents
divorce and how its affecting you. Sometimes you might want to bring something up that you
dont want your parents/guardian to know about. Most people feel comfortable with talking
about these things if they know what they are saying will be kept private and confidential.
The information you share with me and between our group will be kept private and confidential,
unless you tell me otherwise. You should know there are certain exceptions to this, whether or
not I have your permission. These exceptions are when

You disclose plans to serious harm yourself or cause death to yourself and have the intent

and ability to carry out these plans.


You disclose plans to cause serious harm or death to someone else and have the intent and

ability to carry out these plans.


You are doing things that are causing serious harm or potential death to someone when

those are not your intentions.


You disclose that you are being abused emotionally, physically, or sexually-or that you

have been abused in the past.


You are engaging in risk-taking, dangerous activities that are putting your life and/or
others in serious danger.

By law, I have to report the above to not only your parent(s)/guardian(s), but also the North
Carolina Department of Social Services.

Except for the situations such as the above-mentioned, I will not share what you tell me
and/or the group to your parent(s) or guardian(s), unless you or others are in danger.
Here are a few examples of what I wouldnt tell your parent(s) or guardian(s):

You share with the group that you tried, for whatever reason, smoking a cigarette, or

having an alcoholic drink. You ended up not liking it.


You share with the group that you stole something, but felt so guilty, you took it back.
You share with the group that you are currently involved with a group of friends that
bully kids, but you feel uncomfortable with it.

Here are a few examples of things that I would tell your parent(s) or guardian(s):

You share that you have picked up the habit of smoking and or drinking.
You share that you stole something, got away with it, and enjoyed the thrill of it.
You share that when you bully someone, you really want to hurt them.

I will always use my professional judgment on when, if at all, to share information with your
parent(s)/guardian(s).
Entering a group where you dont know anyone can be scary. However, each of you have
many things in common: you all are around the same age, have parents that have been divorced,
and care enough about yourself or have someone who cares enough about you to take a step in
the right direction when it comes to dealing with your parents divorce. Im here to help you with
this.
If, at any time, you have questions or concerns, please call, text, or email me. I will
respond to any of those means of communication. My promise is to gain your trust and provide a
warm and safe environment for you to talk openly.
I have read and understand the above information regarding the six group counseling
session that my child will be participating in with Cicely H. Maynard, LPC. (License # 491837)

(Parent(s)/Guardian(s)

(Date)

I have read and understand the above information regarding the six group counseling sessions I
will be participating in with Cicely H. Maynard, LPC. (License # 491837)
(Child/Participant)

(Date)

Plan for Six Group Sessions (each session is 1 hour long)


Session 1: Introduction/Group Formation & Bonding
Introductions/Confidentiality Explanation (10 minutes)
Sit in a circle and have the children give their name, age, family structure &
situation and greet everyone and welcome them to the group. It is important to explain
confidentiality to the group. The group members need to feel safe if they are going to
share personal information with each other. In order to help them feel comfortable and
trust each other, one ground rule should be set. Whatever is said in the group, stays in
the group. The children should know that they are welcome to talk to each other outside
the group, but not to share any information with people who were not in the group.
Ice Breaker Activity-"Sentence Stems" (30 minutes)
Using index cards, write a nonthreatening sentence such as: "When I go outdoors
I like to _______" or "The place in the world I most want to go is _______ because
____." Put these into a paper bag and pass them around the circle, so that each child pulls
one, reads it aloud, and completes it. Then ask the group each time: who agrees? what
other responses do they have? This lets the kids get to know each other while establishing
a routine of looking for commonalities and alternatives among members.
Journal handout & explanation (10 minutes)
Brief explanation to the children that this is solely for them to write their feelings
in and they can write it in as much as they want or as little, but they must use it at least
once a week. It can be a drawing, a poem, a song or just a passage about any topic they
would like. Each week at the beginning of each session, journals will be checked (not
read) and the group will have a chance to share from their journal if they so choose.
Wrap-up /Takeaways (10 minutes)

Session 2: Family Dynamics


Journal Check and Sharing (20 minutes)
Group Activity/Processing- Question/Answer Activity (30 minutes)
Have the children break up into smaller groups (2 groups of 3 or 3 groups of 2)
and come up with a list of questions they have about being in a single family home. Some
such questions are, "What do you do if you don't like the person your parent is dating?"
or "What do you do if you are in the middle of a fight?" or "Why did your parents get
divorced?" Once you have a list of questions from each group, the answer portion of the
activity can begin. Take the same sheets they wrote the questions on and hand them to
different groups to answer. These questions can be answered one question at a time by
one student, or you can ask a question and have it be the topic of conversation.
Wrap-up /Takeaways (10 minutes)
Session 3: Expressing Your Feelings
Journal Check and Sharing (20 minutes)
Group Activity/Processing-Feelings Charades (30 minutes)
To be done after some discussion of feelings. Write the names of feelings (angry,
sad, worried) on pieces of paper, fold over, and place in a bag. Children will take one and
act it out, while other kids guess which feeling they are portraying. Errors in guessing can
be used to explain that telling someone how you feel is the surest way of communicating
your feelings.
Wrap-up /Takeaways (10 minutes

Session 4: Dealing with Feelings of Anger/Sadness


Journal Check and Sharing (20 minutes)
Group Activity/Processing-Music Therapy (30 minutes)
Play the song Everybody Hurts by REM (Give out copies of the words).
Discuss lines of the song and how it relates, feelings, etc. how it relates to children of
divorce and how they felt specifically when they found out their parents were splitting
up.
Coping Skills homework instruction- (2 minutes)
Journal entry for the week is optional. Ask the kids to write down a list of things
they can do to reduce stress (due next session).
Wrap-up /Takeaways (8 minutes)
Session 5: Learning Coping Skills
Group Activity-Coping Skills List- (30 minutes)
Create a master list for the group from everyones suggestions on a large poster
board taped to the wall. Have each child come up and write their suggestion on the board.
Engage in a discussion about their findings.
Group Activity in preparation for Session 6-Time Capsule (20 minutes)
Hand out questionnaire for children to complete for session 6 group activities
Time capsule questions
Who are your friends?
Who is part of your family now?
Who will be part of your family in the future?

Where will you be living in one year? Five years?


What kinds of things do you like to do?
What would you like to learn how to do in the future?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Wrap-up /Takeaways (10 minutes)
Session 6: Final Farewell/Group Evaluation
Journal Check and Sharing, Hand out Coping Skills List from last session (20 minutes)
Group Activity- Creating a Time Capsule (15 minutes)
Hand each child a large manila envelope and have the children create a time
capsule. This will be a creative way of helping them recognize that the troublesome
feelings surrounding the divorce will not last forever and that there are many things to
look forward to in the future. Have the children put things in the capsule that represent
their life: their group journal, (stories, drawings), completed questionnaire, personal
photographs, and other items that are special to them. Let each child decide when they
will open it. They should write on the envelope, for example, open in one year or open
in five years. Have the child seal the envelope & give the envelope to their parent for
safekeeping and return to them when the time is up.
Final Farewell/Group Evaluation/Takeaway (25 minutes)

Group experience questionnaire


1. Did you get what you expected to get from your group experience?
___ Yes ___ No
If your answer was no, what didnt you get?
2. What did YOU contribute to the group?
3. List the things that you learned in group that were helpful to you:
______________________
______________________
______________________
______________________
4. Would you recommend this group to a friend?
___ Yes ___ No
Why, or why not?
5. Would you sign up for another group later this year or next year?
___ Yes ___ No

Resources for Group Members and Parents


Websites
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/children_divorce.htm
http://www.childrenanddivorce.com/
http://www.divorcecare.org/healing/foundation
Books for Parents
Hannibal, M. E. (2002). Good parenting through your divorce. New York: Marlowe & Co.
This book covers parents most commonly asked questions about raising children during
the divorce process.
Hetherington, E. M., & Kelly, J. (2002). For better or for worse: Divorce reconsidered. New
York: W.W. Norton.
This book describes a multi-year study of many divorced families and how they adjusted
over time.
Neuman, M. G. (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce the Sandcastles way. New York:
Times Books.
This is a guide to helping children on their journey through the parents divorce,
including concrete information about how to handle issues and conflicts that come up at
every stage of a childs development.
Resources for Children
McGhee, Christina.(2010) Lemons 2 lemonade, How to handle life when
things go sour between mom and dad. New York. Penguin Publishing.
This award winning DVD program is designed to address many of the concerns and
problems children of divorce face every day. Created for children between the ages of 6
to 12 years old, topics are presented in a fun, entertaining and kid friendly way. Lemons 2
Lemonade offers parents the opportunity to do something positive for their children in the
very place where things are changing most. their homes.

Brown, Marc. (1986). Dinosaurs divorce: a guide for changing families. New York. Atlantic
Monthly Press.

Sympathetic to the full range of feelings that divorce produces, the authors use evocative
cartoon dinosaur characters to convey their message. Chapters address such concerns as
why parents divorce, what will happen to "me," where will holidays be celebrated, living
in two homes, etc.... for children 4-8
Levin, Sandra. (2006.) Was it the chocolate pudding: A story for little kids
about divorce. American Psychological Association.
With childlike innocence and humor, this book explains divorce from a kid's point-ofview. Special emphasis is placed on the fact that divorce is not the child's fault, that it is a
grown-up problem. It deals with practical day-to-day matters such as single-family
homes, joint custody, child-care issues, and misunderstandings.
Reilly, Natalie June. (2002.) My stick family. Seattle, WA. New Horizon Press.
This book emphasizes and reaffirms the resilience and constancy of love for children
within the family, even after a marriage ends.
Ricci, Isolina. (2006.) Moms house, dads house for kids. New York, NY.
Touchstone Publishing Inc.
Designed for children 10 years and older this books invites children not only learn more
about how their family is changing but also gives them the opportunity to develop
important life skills.
Resources for Group Leaders
Margolin, Sylvia.(1996). Complete group counseling program for children of
divorce: Ready-to-use plans & materials for small and large groups. San
Francisco. Jossey-Bass Publishing.

Diamond, S.A. (1985.) Helping Children of Divorce: A Handbook for Parents &
Teachers. New York. Schocken Publishing. (Book)

Delucia-Waack, Janice L. (2006.) Leading psychoeducational groups for


children and adolescents. New York. Sage Publications. (Book)

Ives, S. (1985). A divorce workbook: A guide for kids and families. New York.
Waterfront Books. [Group Activities]

Cambridge Education Media. (Producer). (2002). Divorce: A survival guide


for kids. ISBN 978-0-7365-9409-7. [Video].

Beyer, R. (2005) The mom and dad pad: A divorce communication tool.
Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing. [Activity]

Issues in Application
Remedial groups, like the divorce support group, help students develop coping skills to
assist them in coming to terms with difficult personal and social issues and have been shown to
be successful in schools (Prusse, Goodnough, & Lee, 2009, p. 226). The occurrence of the
counseling in the students natural habitat, providing another reason to come there when home
may not be the most satisfying place, is a factor.
Conducting a basic support group in school is relatively straightforward in that one
simply needs a location and a counselor. The counselor in this elementary school is enthusiastic
about this program given its potential applicability to many students. The curriculum is very
student-centric and prop-light. The sessions would be held in the school library or in one of the
fifth grade language arts classrooms.
Logistically, the biggest question concerns timing of the support group. The elementary
school day begins at 8:30am and ends at 3:00pm. The majority of students have working parents
and about half of them are bussed in. A before-school program would result in a 7:30am start to
their day. An after-school program would mean a 4:00pm end to their day. As students are
selected for the program, preferences could be assessed. Potentially, both before- and afterschool cohorts could be created, if enough students were interested.
A group for whom the before and after school model always creates concerns are the lessadvantaged students who dont have many transportation options. Many of the students who are
bussed in are not able to participant in extracurricular activities of any kind because they are not
able to get home unless they are on the school bus. The only option for later bus services is
private bus service. Some of these students would be great candidates for the support group; yet,
the school would need to investigate options for transportation. If funding cant be had for
private bussing, perhaps parents can work together to creatively solve these kids transportation
issues.
Concerning the make-up of the group, it will be imperative that the counseling staff
interact and interview all students, and at least one parent, who are interested in the support
group. The target group is well-functioning. If students seem like their concerns are more

serious, it is important that they and their families be directed to the appropriate resources.
Similarly, if the parents have more serious concerns, it is imperative that they be provided the
appropriate resources. Teachers and counselors are often the first to see signs of distress in
students and it is expected that this process will glean helpful information (Mahmud, Yunn, Aziz,
Salleh, & Amat, 2011).
The beauty of this school is that it is a microcosm of the metropolitan environment in
which it is located, meaning that it is socioeconomically, religiously, culturally, ethnically, and
racially diverse. The divorce support group needs to reflect this multicultural perspective. The
counselor leading the divorce support group happens to be a Caucasian male. It has been
suggested that he bring in a female co-facilitator for the divorce support group.
Given the often negative or absent role that men can play in divorce or family separation,
it is a gift that this group will have a man as a leader. There may be rich opportunity for the kids
to transfer and connect with some unexpressed emotions. To balance that, it would be helpful to
have a woman as a counterpoint, who may seem more approachable.
No ethical concerns arise given the design of the group, its setting, or participant makeup. The group will be conducted in accordance with school policies and counseling ethical
guidance.
In terms of application, this divorce group faces relatively few challenges. It relies on the
support of school counselors, who are already on the schools payroll, and really would not
require additional expenditure. The greatest effort would be in recruitment of students and
enrollment of parents in the purpose of the support group.

References
Berk, L. (2010). Development through the lifespan, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
DeLucia-Waack, J.L. and Gellman, R.A. (2007). The efficacy of using music in
children of divorce groups: Impact on anxiety, depression, and
irrational beliefs about divorce. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research,
and Practice, 11(4), 272-282.
Esmaeili, N.S., Yaacob, S.N., Juhari, R., and Mansor, M. (2011). Post-divorce
parental conflict, economic hardship and academic achievement
among adolescents of divorced families. Asian Social Science, 7(12),
119-124.
Gladding, Samuel T. (2012). Groups, A Counseling Specialty, 6th ed. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Jolivet, K.R. (2012). The psychological impact of divorce on children: What is
a family lawyer to do? American Journal of Family Law, 25(4), 175-183.
Mahmud, Z., Yunn, Y. P., Aziz, R., Salleh, A., & Amat, S. (2011). Counseling
children of divorce. World Applied Sciences Journal, 14 (Learning
Innovation and Intervention for Diverse Learners), 21-27.
Prusse, R., Goodnough, G. E., & Lee, V. V. (2009). Group counseling in the
Schools. Psychology in the Schools, 46(3), 225-231. doi:
10.1002/pits.20369
Rich, B.W., Molloy, P., Hart, B., Ginsberg, S., and Mulvey, T. (2007).
Conducting a childrens divorce group: One approach. Journal of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 20(3), 163-175.
Savard, S.W. (2010). Through the eyes of a child: Impact and measures to
protect children in high-conflict family law litigation. Florida Bar Journal,
84(4), 57-60.
Uphold-Carrier, H. and Utz, R. (2012). Parental divorce among young and
adult children: A long-term quantitative analysis of mental health and
family solidarity. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 53(4), 247-266. doi:
10.1080/10502556.2012.663272