Speaking Up for Kids

Book by immigrant psychologist speaks to parents about divorce from a 10-year-old's point of view.

After more than 20 years working with acrimonious divorce cases in Israel, psychologist Daniel Gottlieb is seeking to help children who are caught in the crossfire with a new book that speaks to separating parents in the language of a child.

Employing a mixture of text "written from the point of view of an intelligent 10-year old," and illustrations designed to appeal to adults and children alike, the short book - released this week - aims "to induce parents to feel what their children are feeling."

Dr. Daniel Gottlieb

Currently clinical director of the Israel Institute for Family Therapy in Herzliya, Gottlieb, who made aliyah from the United States 25 years ago, self-published a Hebrew version of the book - roughly translated as "Everyone's Child" - in 2009. It is intended for professionals working with families in the midst of divorce, for couples currently in the process of splitting up, and also for their children.

Yossi Alkoni, whose Milo publishing house released the book in Hebrew, said he received letters after it came out from people saying they found the book useful, particularly for social workers.

Following such positive responses to the original, Gottlieb has now published an English version: "Listen to Me! Your Child and Your Divorce."

Gottlieb says using the language of a child - "who expresses his frustration, confusion and anger, but also his hopes and wishes" - helps adults confront difficult truths about divorce. "Children speak in a pristine manner. They don't lie," Gottlieb says.

The child in the book appeals to his parents to "take care of us; don't expect us to take care of you," and explains that "we understand that it's not easy for you to deal with all of this - but its not any easier for us either, so please don't make it any more difficult than it has to be."

The messages contained in the book are based on Gottlieb's own experiences working with children of divorced parents, he says. While research has demonstrated that divorce affects children's self-esteem and rates of achievement, Gottlieb maintains that a child's feelings "can't really be studied in a scientific manner." The book is meant to appeal not to intellect, but to emotion, he says.

Although "Listen to Me!" is meant to show parents how they affect their kids, children have also identified with the text, according to Gottlieb. One week ago, a 12-year-old patient at his clinic bought the book as a present for his mother. "That's definitely a message," he says, noting that the book can be a helpful tool for children who find it hard to articulate or understand their feelings.

With the book now available in English, Gottlieb hopes that it will reach an international audience. Cultural references in the original Hebrew version were altered in order to make it more appealing to Anglo readers: Shabbat candles and a challah cover in an original illustration were replaced with a Turkey; "sweet sixteens and confirmations" were included along with bar mitzvahs in the text.

Cultural references aside, Gottlieb says he believes that "these feelings are universal."

"Divorce is different in different countries and the effect of divorce is mediated by norms, but a child is a child and the anger and the disappointment and abandonment and sense of loss, I think these are universal," he says.

"Listen to Me! Your Child and Divorce," was published by Contneto de Semrik in Tel Aviv, and is available online as an e-book as well as in hard copy.

(Steven Klein contributed to this article. )