Positive tools for thriving families.

In February 2015, I visited colleagues living in Palo Alto, CA who shared some disturbing news with me. There had been a recent flurry of suicides among high school students attending the local school. In attempting to research the facts, statistics, gender, and history of recent and previous teen suicides in Palo Alto, particularly in comparison to other affluent, well educated communities, we were unable to locate any substantial data. It seemed bizarre that such a resourceful, peaceful, and protected town contained high risk factors for adolescent suicides.

I visited the tracks on which the children had ended their lives, and watched the lone guard at the crossroad, who had been placed there to prevent further loss. I asked my colleagues if other preventative measures were being taken, for one guard at one location on endless tracks was surely not going to contain the risk. They shared that the parents were having meetings about what was happening and why. But the schools had not yet moved into public action in terms of understanding and prevention.

Finally, in April 2015, the NY Times caught on, and published two very important pieces on the suicides in Palo Alto. The articles verified that a cluster of adolescents had recently ended their lives individually – all of whom had attended the local high school. Further investigations revealed that there had been a history of teen suicides in the community. In digging deeper through interviews, the articles identified risk factors of high academic pressure, intense expectations of attending top-notch colleges (particularly Stanford), immersion in high achievement oriented families and social groups, and elevated expectations of performance and success in multiple domains. Welcome to Palo Alto from a teen’s perspective, as poignantly described by a Palo Alto student in an interview published in the Almanac News in March 2015.

A significant question raised in all articles is why parents, schools, and society are pressuring children to such an extent? This is a critical question, as living in a society that clearly espouses success, wealth, and achievement, and with Palo Alto being a powerful hub of all three characteristics, one begins to wonder what price our children are paying to meet these expectations? Are children really thriving when their primary focus is achievement and performance? Is it healthy for us to be pushing our children to measure themselves primarily through wealth and educational status? Shouldn’t we also be being paying close attention to and encouraging multiple forms of development, such as play, creativity, social relationships, giving to others, family time, and rest and recreation?

I believe that the above characteristics and behaviors are supremely important in child and adolescent development to foster thriving, well-balanced, and happy human beings. In today’s climate, parents and schools need to be mindful of whole child development, emotional happiness, and balanced life-styles, in addition to academic achievement. It is essential that we simultaneously emphasize these cornerstones of health so that our children can continue to be children, in all aspects of the word.  Lythcott-Hains, the Dean of Stanford from 2002-2012, has published a timely and informative new book, How To Raise An Adult, which explores the drawbacks of excessive expectations and overachievement for children. An excellent movie that also goes into depth regarding the pros and cons of academic pressure and rigor, the need for children to engage in balanced socio-emotional development, and the high price children and college students may be paying for achievement and success – including suicide – is The Race To Nowhere. This movie is now well shown in schools across the country. I strongly recommend that all of us as parents, educators, and clinicians review these resources and reflect on their powerful messages.

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  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf