For many domestic violence survivors, ending a relationship with an abusive partner means going through a divorce. It can be tough to know how to talk to your children about this difficult subject. If you’re struggling to tackle the topic, maybe you can ask Elmo to help. Or, Grover.
The beloved characters of Sesame Street, now in its 47th year on air, are helping you and your children navigate this tough life transition through online divorce toolkits offering honest but age-appropriate information.
It’s important to note that these toolkits focus on the general topic of divorce, and don’t specifically discuss the challenges present when domestic violence is occurring or has occurred. You should tailor the information as you see fit to help children understand their unique circumstances.
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For example, if there’s a restraining order in place you may have to explain to children why the other parent can’t come within a certain distance of them, or come to school performances or athletic events. Or, children may be unaware that violence has occurred—especially non-physical violence—so it can be hard to let them know why you are separating.
“You want to explain to children in the most simple ways that there’s been some bad behavior and, despite loving the child, the parents can’t be together,” says Susan Bernstein, a MA-based licensed social worker and marriage and family therapist with expertise in domestic violence.
She points out that kids will likely question the separation. “They’re innocent. They don’t understand that someone would say, ‘I love you’ then punch you, or call you terrible names, or limit your spending or treat you like you’re useless,” she notes.
She recommends using age-appropriate language and concrete terms that connect with the child. Here’s one example: “Remember when Johnny hit you and took your crayons? That’s not okay, and when grownups hit, or use bad words, or throw or break things that’s not okay either. We have to make things safe for everyone.”
Here’s a breakdown of what you can find in the Sesame Street toolkits.
Familiar Sesame Street Characters Explain Divorce to Kids:
What Is Divorce? – Abby and Gordon explains to their friends what it means to be divorced.
Abby’s Story – Abby shares how her parents told her they were getting divorced and how it would – and wouldn’t – affect her.
It’s Not Your Fault – Gordon explains to Abby how children never cause divorce and also how they can’t keep a divorce from happening.
Changes – Abby explains to her friends how she is coping with her parents’ divorce, and how some things in her life have changed and some stay the same.
Children Share Their Own Experiences With Divorce:
Chase’s Story – 10-year-old Chase talks about his own experience with his parents’ divorce when he was five and how he and his mother moved in with his grandmother and he changed schools.
Chase’s Family Support – Chase’s extended family helps him and his mother and they all spend time together.
Victoria’s Story – 11-year-old Victoria talks about how divorce in her military family has changed her life and the lives of her siblings.
Supportive Friends and Family – Victoria shares how counseling, talking to family, reading, playing her tuba and riding bikes helped her deal with her feelings following her parents’ divorce.
Tips For Parents To Help Children Navigate Life During And After Their Divorce:
Managing Strong Feelings – Chase’s mother Stephanie talks about how she manages her own feelings of frustration and anger by walking, driving and thinking about what’s best for Chase.
A New Family – Mom and dad April and Lain discuss managing the challenges of their blended family.
Responding to Different Reactions – Victoria’s mom, Margie, explains how her three children react differently to various situations and how she helps them manage their feelings.
Adjusting to a New Place – Margie talks about how she helped her children adjust to an international move after their divorce.
Bonding with New Siblings – April and Lain discuss how they help their daughters from their previous marriages connect with each other.
Sing It Out:
Big Feelings – Gordon’s song shows Abby the range of feelings children might experience when their parents divorce – mad, bad, scared, sad – and how these feelings can be both confusing and normal.
Bird Family Song – A bird explains that its family, like Abby’s, has divorced parents and how the bird spends time with both of them.
- Tips for Extended Family and Friends in English and Spanish
- The Two-Hug Day children’s storybook about the days when a child transitions between parents’ homes
- The Sesame Street Divorce Coloring Book, which includes a page where children can share their feelings
- How Am I Feeling activity sheets that help children identify their emotions
- Super Stars that children can use to highlight wishes or things they are good at
- The Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce brochure that parents and caregivers can use to learn ways to help children through this life change
You can download the Sesame Street divorce app for Android and Apple devices. The app can help parents of children age 2 to 8 and includes articles, videos, conversation starters, interactive tools and educational resources.
Domesticshelters.org also includes resources to help kids cope with domestic violence and divorce. Check out these articles on:
- Helping kids understand domestic violence with picture books
- Teaching children that violence is wrong
- Explaining domestic violence to kids
- Understanding how exposure to trauma affects kids
- Breaking the cycle of violence
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