The divorce rate in the United States has declined since the 1980s but is still higher than most other countries. Researchers Hetherington and Stanley-Hogan estimate that 40 percent of children born to married parents in the U.S. will experience their parents’ divorce.

During the summer months when noncustodial parents have children for an extended time, I cannot help but think of some of the ways parents can help children deal with the divorce and strengthen relationships along the way. It is a lot of work for all involved but need not be contentious. Ellen Galinsky and Judy David offer some guidelines for communicating with children about divorce.

-As soon as it becomes obvious that one parent is moving from the home, it is important to explain to the children what is occurring. It is also important to have both parents present and to assure them. Be sure to tell them who will take care of them and assure them of the visitation arrangements with the other parent.

-Be sure to let them know that the separation or divorce is not the child’s fault. You may need to repeat this several times, as many children believe that they have done something to cause the parent to leave.

-Let them know that it is normal to feel bad. It is OK to share emotions and let them know it will get better after a while. Keep this part of the discussion brief and do not criticize the other parent.

-Assure them that you are willing to talk about it if they want to ask questions. It is healthy for the children to share their frustrations and fears with their parents. The affirmation that the parent is willing to listen to them about their feelings is critical as all work through the transition.

-It is very important to keep their world as consistent as possible. This means communicating the rules and applying them at both homes. This communicates warmth and caring as well as sets reasonable limits. Different rules at each home cause confusion and encourage playing one parent against the other.

-When visiting during the summer months and other vacation periods, it is critical to spend quality time with the child. This is accomplished by taking the time to do something together that both of you think is fun.

It does not need to be expensive or require a trip somewhere. You might try camping or completing a project together. Enroll them in a day camp if you do not have the time off while they are visiting. This encourages friendships with others their own age and engages them in activities other than being home alone during the day.

Providing them with their own space in the home is important so they do not feel like a guest. Ask for help with chores and the preparation of the meals. This helps them to feel a part of this family as well and not just a visitor.

Having them come for a month and not really seeing them does not encourage them to come back as they grow older and would rather spend time with their friends. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on an expensive trip or on toys or other items.

What the child really wants and needs is your time and attention so they are sure you love them and are interested in their well-being. The evening table game or successful completion of a project or outing without the distractions of the very busy world pays dividends over time as they come to believe they are loved and valued even if both parents do not live in the same home.

SOURCE: Kathryn Watson at