When a couple goes through a divorce, they become the easiest people on your shopping list to buy for! When buying a gift for children of divorce, their unique needs may not be as clear as those of their parents. Certainly, they have adjustments of their own to make such as dealing with change and loss, acclimating to living in two homes and adjusting to visitation schedules. With a little forethought, you can give a gift that is fun and also supports the child’s transition to their new lifestyle.
Calendars- ages 3 and up. Two large calendars and a box of magic markers is an inexpensive gift, but it is useful, fun and educational. With one calendar for each home, the children can to keep track of their schedule and where they will be-Mom’s House or Dad’s House. This simple information can help a child feel more grounded and relaxed. By color coding the letters, even pre-school kids can use this tool. Pre-reading children can enjoy this activity by simply learning to put an “M” when they are at mom’s house and a “D” for dad’s house. Simultaneously they are learning the days of the week, months, colors, and words. As the child’s reading level grows the calendar can include other information and activities- sports, play dates and homework assignments. Providing this simple tool can support the recently divorced child as they regain a sense of control and security. This tool can be modified and used with kids right through their teens. Hopefully, it helps them learn organization and self-reliance.
CD player, iPod or any small easily operable music recorder and player-3 to 10. Parents can pre-record favorite books for the young child to listen to at bedtime while at the other parent’s house. This helps children feel less split and diminishes homesick feelings. Parents can include special messages in these recordings. Young children enjoy hearing their favorite books read over and over and will approach bedtime with a bit more enthusiasm and a little less separation anxiety.
Puppets – 3 to 10. Children often find it easier to talk about their feelings and concerns when playing with puppets (or dolls). Puppets offer some distance from the issues thus making them more manageable for the small child. They also foster creativity and confidence as children use their imagination to create and perform stories.
Doll Houses- 3 to 10. Like puppets, a doll house can encourage children to express their feelings and concerns while having a fun and stress-free experience. When asked, “How do you feel?” many kids will simply clam up, especially if they find the situation too anxiety provoking to deal with directly. Fantasy play gives the child a comfortable distance to play act their concerns. Check out this innovative doll house which actually divides into two houses.
Interactive Games -6 and up. To encourage quality time with your kids nothing beats shutting off the TV and computers and bringing out an old fashioned board game. Consider Monopoly, Clue, Life, Crazy Eights, Checkers or Cards. These foster good interaction between the generations; quality time is created when all members are actively involved in the activity and with each other. These activities also teach children about patience, taking turns and good sportsmanship. For younger kids-3 to 6- try the old classics- Candyland or Chutes and Ladders. When you choose these oldies but goodies you also get to share a part of your childhood experience with your children.
The Activity Focused Gift- How about a gift card for movies, theme parks, miniature golf, bowling, or skiing? These gifts will be enjoyed equally by both parents (who may not be able to afford the some “extras” right now) and the kids. All ages.
The New Room Gift- Adjusting to two homes means kids have a new place to sleep. A gift card for a new comforter, curtains or storage bins can be a welcome surprise for the child who feels a little “displaced.” This gift gives the child the opportunity to make the new room uniquely their own. Parents will appreciate your generosity. Again finances may be tight and this gift provides a practical yet fun project for the parent and child to share.
The Transitional Object- Up to 7. Often used when a child is having trouble going back and forth between houses, the transitional object makes the trip with the child and offers the child comfort and security. It can be a stuffed toy, a special pair of pajamas or even a book. The transitional object works best when it is a gift from BOTH parents as it reinforces for the young child the parents ability to work together as co-parents. In the case of the stuffed animal, each parent can dress it up with a tie, or necklace, or some other personal item, as it goes back and forth. This makes the Transitional Object a treasure as the child has something of each parent represented on the toy. In the case of the book or PJs, parents can attach surprise notes or cards to help the child in his/her transition.
Books and Movies that are about children’s experience with divorce help create a useful dialogue between parents and children. Mrs. Doubtfire is a classic as is ET. Fly Away Home and Irreconcilable Differences are good for slightly older children. The Squid and the Whale works well for adolescent and teenage kids. Watching these with your kids helps promote conversation and encourage sharing thoughts and feelings. Parents should always preview any DVD before watching it with their kids to make sure it is appropriate for your unique circumstances. The list of appropriate books is endless.
The main purpose of any toy should be enjoyment. Don’t work too hard to create “teachable or therapeutic moments.” Children have the uncanny ability to get what they need from creative, open ended toys. All of these items have flexible and varied uses. They can grow with the child and provide months and, in some cases, years of enjoyment for both parent and child.
Lastly, do not try to compensate for the divorce by overloading children with every conceivable toy advertised on Saturday morning TV. A few good quality creative items will last longer and have more meaning then just pushing more presents under the tree to compensate for your feelings of inadequacy or guilt. Choose toys that foster creativity. Long after the holiday magic is over, the child will continue to reach for that item and always find interesting and challenges ways to play, imagine, express and create.
Above all, remember that the very best gift you can give your kids is peace between the two most important people in their lives. Ask any child of divorce and they will tell you “NO FIGHTING!” is the best gift of all. If peace between you and your child’s other parent is still illusive, then perhaps after the holidays, you might consider seeing a therapist who specilaizes in high conflict divorce or taking advantage of one of the many good programs that help parents find their way to peaceful co-existence.
Wishing you and your children a peaceful and loving holiday!