Divorce doesn’t just affect the parents—it affects the whole family. It’s important to know how to understand and care for the family and children during this stressful time. Here are seven tips on how to care for the children in your ministry affected by divorce.
The changes caused by divorce touch every individual in the family. Two-thirds of all kids experiencing divorce show changes in academic or social behaviors. It’s helpful to view divorce not as a single problem or event, but instead, to focus on changes caused by divorce (such as living in a single-parent home, losing the noncustodial parent, changes in routine). Consider how these changes affect family members.
Divorce is a loss that must be grieved. Children experiencing this major shift need someone they can lean on, so take this as an opportunity to learn how to approach these kids with love and compassion.
1. Encourage children affected by divorce to talk about their feelings.
Feelings that go unexpressed can lead to anxiety, fear, and depression. If children are allowed to express their feelings, then they can be dealt with reasonably and lovingly. Children of all ages need to know that communication lines are open.
2. Provide a “feeling” vocabulary.
Young children haven’t learned the words to describe the intense feelings they have. Take advantage of everyday experiences to label feelings. Or make a feeling chart (happy, sad, and angry faces), and ask the child to point out how he or she is feeling that day.
3. Provide a consistently warm and stable environment.
Divorce causes upheaval in families, so keeping routines in place for the child and rules consistent will give the child a sense of security.
4. Teach children affected by divorce how to use affirmations about themselves.
When the child does a good job or perseveres at a task, respond by saying, “What a great job! You must be very proud of yourself.” By helping the child feel good about him- or herself now, you’re creating a pattern for developing healthy self-esteem.
5. Reassure children that they did not cause the divorce.
Children are in a developmental stage where they think everything revolves around them, so many kids worry that their actions or behaviors caused the upheaval in the family. Continually remind the child that the divorce was not his or her fault.
6. Practice effective listening.
Children have many concerns and feelings about their parents’ divorce. Many adults find it difficult to listen to children without suggesting a solution to the problem. So adults who listen with patience and caring attentiveness reassure the child that he or she is being heard.
7. Normalize the child’s experience.
Families going through divorce sometimes feel isolated and try to keep their issues private. This can intensify a child’s insecurity—it’s better to let children know that they are not alone in their pain. Find some books about divorce or other family changes. Introduce the child to other children who have experienced divorce or other losses.
This excerpt comes from Group’s Emergency Response Handbook for Children’s Ministry. Looking for more leader resources? Check out these posts!
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