Does divorce create behavior problems in children?


Behavior Problems


The answer to this question might depend on the person you ask. If you ask a parent who is barely surviving, that answer is going to be “no” simply because they can’t see the behavior problems standing in front of them. These parents are in a fog because it is just the best they can do at the moment. When the third grade teacher calls it may almost be more than they can handle. It will be a wake up call.

If you ask schoolteachers many of them will shout “OH YES!”  They see it day in and day out. Many teachers themselves are frustrated with the behavior problem children in their classes. The other frustrating point is when they have to communicate with the parent in the first paragraph. Teachers are sensitive and they know the single parent is hurting. They also realize that if someone doesn’t get control of the child, their learning will be jeopardized.

Church leaders also see more behaviors problems in children of divorce. It is difficult to accommodate these children because many only attend sporadically. However, there are things that can be done whatever environment you are in to accommodate and help these hurting children.

The first thing we need to do is understand why children of divorce exhibit some of these behaviors.

There are many things that can cause behavior problems in kids of divorce

  • Confusion about who is in charge at home – whichever home?
  • Lack of boundaries in one or both homes
  • Warring parents – many children are only mimicking what they are seeing at home
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Nutritional issues
  • Children who are angry and can’t or don’t know how to work through their anger
  • Sad children who don’t have the energy to comply or remember the rules
  • Anxious children who can’t sit still
  • Children who have learned, “If I act bad enough I’ll get sent home”
  • Children who use their behavior as a manipulation and bargaining tool, “If I act bad enough the principal will call my parents and they will have to talk to each other and see what they are doing and they will get back together.”
  • Not knowing – not knowing who is picking them up; where they will sleep tonight and various of other worries
  • Fear of pain
  • Chaotic lifestyle and disorganized life style

Most of these children don’t start out to be behavior problems. Many evolve into behavior problems as they attempt to process the divorce. Other children have had behavior issues for years and they are doing what works for them. Their brains have become wired to misbehave. And for some children they are learning they can control their parent by how they act. It can become a manipulation tool.

It is important that anyone working with children of divorce understand the issues these kids face. It’s not that we should let them get by with things because they are kids of divorce. Nor should we feel sorry for them or pity them because of their situation.

What they need are

  • Strong Christian men and women who will show them empathy
  • Church leaders who will model acts of kindness toward them
  • Adults who will provide boundaries for them
  • Teachers and church leaders who will use an assertive voice with them
  • Adults who will form relationships with them
  • Adults who will love them and cherish them
  • Loving and safe classrooms
  • People who will step in and mentor and even perhaps become a substitute parent or grandparent until the hurting parent can get things together

As you think about the children in your ministry, target one child in a dysfunctional family situation to pray over, pray for and pray with in regards to helping that child change the direction of his or her behavior. When you help one child change his or her behavior, other kids will notice and the entire group will appreciate the change.


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

Did you know DC4K blog articles are on Pinterest? Divorce & Kids, Children’s Pastors, Single Parents, etc. It’s all there. Check it out here

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.