Children of divorce need to belong but do they “belong” in your church?




God designed all of us to want to belong. He made us relational and gave us the need to be in relationships.

Children of divorce, too, have an innate desire to belong. First and foremost, God wants these children to be in relationship with Him as their Creator, second, with His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior, and lastly, with other people.

A few years ago, the American Values group did a study called “Hardwired to Connect.” The primary outcome shows that “children are biologically primed for enduring connections to others and for moral and spiritual meaning.” Essentially, this report tells us that kids need to belong!

This scientific study reveals that kids’ brains are hardwired for close attachments beginning first with their parents as infants and then their extended family and eventually broadening out to others.

For children, their parents’ divorce interrupts the idea of connecting with and belonging to their parent and family. Children wonder where they belong. Do they belong with Mom or Dad? In this home or that home? Her church? His church? The questions of belonging are endless.

This disruption of belonging can be one reason kids of divorce act out. They act out to get attention—a need that needs to be addressed. Many times, we choose to gloss over the behavior, thinking that if we ignore it, it will go away. With children of divorce who are trying to belong, though, that’s the worst way to react. These children need you to lovingly react and gently help them correct their misbehavior. They need to know that you care enough about them to react.

Low-level misbehaviors

Dr. Rick Chromey, in the book Pulse by KidzMatter, calls this beginning misbehavior “low-level” behaviors. He explains that many of us have been trained to ignore these low-levels behaviors, but, he goes on to say, “ignoring misbehavior only fuels it.”

I have noticed that, in DC4K groups that I’ve led or observed, many leaders want to ignore low-level misbehaviors. Personally, I think it’s because they feel sorry for the child, they want the child to like them, or they want the child to like DC4K.

I’ve had leaders say, “Oh, come on now. It’s only a minor thing.” Then I’ve seen this “minor thing” become a “major thing” simply because the issue wasn’t addressed right away.

Ways to connect

I learned many years ago that small gestures and corrections serve to connect with children doing low-level misbehaviors. Sometimes, it is an act as simple as

  • Raised eyebrows and head-shaking that says, “No”
  • Eye contact with a look on your face that says, “Really?”
  • A hand on the shoulder
  • A side hug (hand across the child’s shoulders with a slight squeeze)
  • Calling the child’s name
  • Using hand gestures from across the room (e.g., raised hand indicating “stop”)
  • Telling children what you want them to do and expect them to do
  • Being matter-of-fact, as in “this is the way we do it here”
  • Assigning children responsibilities
  • Giving children a couple positive choices

Keep in mind that these reactions are for low-level misbehaviors. If you can address the low-level misbehavior, it likely will never become a major issue. The child feels connected. You feel good because you’ve kept the conflict to a minimum. And you have bonded with a child who needs it.

Remarriage situations

Sometimes, when single parents marry, they are excited, but the children are apprehensive. Of course, the children won’t tell the parent they are worried or fearful because most children want their parents to be happy.

The child will worry about belonging in this new family. If the child has two parents, and both remarry, the child is facing a double whammy of belonging. The child might have just gotten used to belonging in the single-parent home. Now, the parent is entering a new marriage and sometimes a new home with other children living there.

You may find yourself dealing with children who have entered or are getting ready to enter a blended family. Deal with these children the same way you deal with the child of divorce. The children might not even realize that they are acting out in order to feel connected or like they belong.

Children need to belong. They also need to know that you want them in your church. They need to know that your church wants them to “belong” to its children’s activities.

I hope that children of divorce do “belong” at your church.


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

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