When Anastasia Higginbotham was 14, her parents told her they were getting divorced. Now, as an adult, she's written and illustrated the new children's book Divorce is the Worst—because as she, and any kid currently going through divorce can tell you, it pretty much is. Real Simple spoke with Higginbotham and asked her to channel her inner 14-year-old, as she does in her book, and reveal what kids experiencing it wish adults knew.
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Child holding broken heart
Credit: Design Pics/Ron Nickel/Getty Images

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Child holding broken heart
Credit: Design Pics/Ron Nickel/Getty Images

1 Don’t tell kids “it’s for the best.”

Sure, it’s probably for the best for the parents, and may be best for the kids down the road. But kids are not their parents. And they didn’t make this decision. So when it’s happening, recognize it as what is it—a hard, sad thing that is going to be confusing and a little chaotic. Remember: Your divorce is their divorce. They’re not just bearing witness to it—they’re going through it right alongside you. But their experience may feel very different from yours. Acknowledge that.

2 When they cry about a stuck zipper, it’s probably not about the zipper.

Kids don’t really know how to feel about divorce, and so emotions can come out in all sorts of situations and ways. Read the signs. Closely observe these emotions and let kids talk about them.

3 Kids know you’re hurting, so don’t try to hide it.

Bluntly put, their life depends on you, and so they notice when something isn’t right. Shielding kids from your feelings makes things scarier and more mysterious. So be real with them—but don’t talk to them like an adult. “I knew my parents were suffering,” says Higginbotham. “They weren’t showing a lot of sadness, but they were harsh and removed. I spent a lot of time worrying about them; I needed to focus on me more, and I didn’t. ”

4 Hello, they know that “friend” isn’t just a friend.

This is what they’re thinking instead: This isn’t just a friend, and I don’t know how to articulate that yet. What’s going to happen now? Is this person going to always be around? Do I have to share my mom/dad now? I barely see them anyway. Do I have to answer to this person? Is this person going to have a whole other set of rules? Do I need to take care of this person? I can see that he/she is nervous…

5 You aren’t ruining their lives.

But it’s a significant time in their lives, so let them go through it. “You can’t get over something you never went through in the first place,” says Higginbotham. This is a chance for kids and parents to get closer, to be more honest. Let kids live through it, and it’ll help them grow up strong and confident. “Afterward, they get to know they did that,” she says.

Divorce is the Worst is available wherever books are sold. It’s the first in a series of books Higginbotham is writing called “Ordinary Terrible Things” (brilliant). Her second book, Death is Stupid, will be out in 2016.