Helping Children with Divorce with Dr. John Simpson (Pedcast)




Welcome to another edition of  I am your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, a board certified pediatrician with 32 years of private practice …so far.  From gestation to graduation, if it involves children, we talk about it here in the pedcast format.  I am SO please to have a returning guest on today’s pedcast, Dr. John Simpson, a licensed psychologist (that means he has a PhD in clinical psychology) who has tremendous insight and experience with families and children.  Dr. Simpson has been helping children and families about as long as I have.  We have previously spoken about grieving and death as it relates to children, the impact of moving on children, and how parents can become tech savvy.   Today, we are going to take on the very important topic of how to help children and families who find themselves in the midst of divorce and separation.


General remarks:


Q 1. What percentage of practice involves divorce? 15-20%


Q2. What is the biggest reason you have children referred to you?  Anxiety and depression. However, among families with divorce-70-75%, this is particularly important when there is still conflict between parents.  Children not divorcing from the family, just the parents divorcing from each other. Parents need to remember that children’s needs come first, not theirs.

Let’s center on the children-. Parents have a responsibility to put children first.

Some cases this an easy but sometimes not.  I like for the family to pretend that they are shareholders in what I call Joey incorporated…stock value measured by Joey’s happiness, stability, friendships etc.



Q3. How does this Joey Incorporated effect the parents’ communication?

Would always make sure that the other shareholder is as strong as possible.

Parents bring different strengths.  Children not an emotional dumping ground.  Parents need to act like Switzerland during WWII, neutral in their treatment of Joey or Janie, their children.



Q4. Dr. John, tell us how the divorcing parents should talk to their children during the breakup.  I ‘m sure this is very difficult for everyone.  Be right out there but only information that the child needs! Be specific about the upcoming change but reassuring that their needs and feelings will be considered and respected. (Other points?)


Q5.  What can parents do to make the divorce as easy as possible for their children?

Provide predictability and stability. Put the war aside for the sake of the children. Remember the Switzerland rule! (Other points?)


Q6. What is your advice for divorcing parents when their children start to act out, become very angry or destructive?  It’s probably time for professional help. It’s also time for help if parents are having communication problems or having difficulty determining what is best for the child.  Particularly important point… some children act out as a way to get parents back together in hopes they will reunite or treat each other with respect.   Recognize this if it starts to happen. Describe ICU parents? (Other points?)


Q7. When parents are still at war and having trouble communicating, how do you recommend they resolve these issues?  McDonald’s rule…explain and describe.


Q8.  What are some of the things you particularly don’t want to see parents do during a divorce?  Don’t force a child to take sides.  Don’t talk about the other parent to the child.  Don’t talk about new dating relationships as a replacement for the missing parent.  Don’t quiz the child to get dirt on the divorced parent. Don’t involve the children in any of the “War” conflict between divorced parents.  That’s adult stuff only. Don’t overindulge the child out of guilt.  Tell the story about the remarried Dad who undermined step mom out of guilt.


So, let me try and sum up the most important things you shared with us today.

-It’s the parents that are divorcing, not the children

-Just because the family structure is changing or different doesn’t mean that parents don’t still need to focus on what’s best for the children… always. The Joey Incorporated analogy is a good way to keep this in mind.

-Children should be kept out of the emotions of the adults in a divorce.  They need to be treated like Switzerland in WWII… a neutral party.

-When parents do have emotional, adult issues to settle, they need to use the McDonalds approach…public, brief, quiet, and to the point.

-Dr. Simpson, you gave us a number of don’ts for parents to keep in mind during a divorce.

Don’t force children to take sides

Don’t talk about the other parent in a derogatory manner

Don’t talk about new relationships taking the place of a parent

Don’t quiz a child for information about a parent

Don’t let children get involved in a “War” between parents. Kids don’t get involved in “Adult” stuff

Don’t overindulge a child out of guilt or an attempt to buy their favor



Well, Dr. John Simpson, I can’t thank you enough for sharing some of your wisdom with my listeners and me.  You get right to the point and always are helpful. Please promise that you will return soon, won’t you?


This is Dr. Paul Smolen, recording in studio 1E in Charlotte, NC, hoping we were able to shed some new light and give you some important pediatric insight, on separation and divorce.  Until next time.