Children of divorce need YOU to help them manage their behaviors


Safe in her mother's arms

Children of divorce face many struggles on a daily basis. Because of these adversities some children of divorce will have out of control behaviors. It’s not that they want to misbehave or they like misbehaving, it is because they are doing the best they can in their state of confusion.

Many children of divorce who misbehave are actually seeking external regulation or management. In other words they don’t know how to internally regulate themselves so they seek outside regulation. They need someone to help them manage their behaviors. This is where you, the church leader, volunteer or staff member can help.

For children of divorce their behavior becomes their voice when they

  • Don’t feel safe
  • Don’t feel like they belong
  • Don’t feel loved
  • Are confused
  • When they don’t know what is happening next

Equipping yourself and volunteers to work with stressed children

  • Empathy – use the role of empathy in getting kids attention. Empathy is a heart understanding. It’s feeling what they feel. It’s feeling the same emotion. Empathy means providing them comfort. They need you to comfort them. Sometimes we forget to comfort the children and we punish instead.
  • Mirror neurons – activate the mirror neurons in the brain to change a child’s mood. Mirror neurons allow what is happening in your brain to be projected onto other people. When you smile, it can activate the mirror neurons in another person’s brain and they will mirror your expression. Just like a child catches a cold, kids can catch your mood. Make it a good mood they are catching.
  • Listen with your eyes. In other words keep a watchful eye and notice what is going on at all times. To be fair to kids in divorcing situations, one has to be aware of things that are happening around the child.
  • Some kids brains are wired for self-preservation. That means if you have a child that has lived in a stressful world where they have been hurt, hit, slapped, kicked, etc. they will be reactive in a lot of their movements. For instance they might push a child who walks in front of them. All they see is someone they think is coming at them so they react by pushing that person out of the way.
  • Children, who have experienced a crisis or family trauma such as a divorce, are intuitive. They are people watchers. They have to be in order to survive in two separate households with different rules and expectations. These children will notice when you are judging them and they will shy away from any interactions with you.
  • Does every infraction need to be verbally addressed? Sometimes a look, nod of the head or a hand signal will work effectively. It gives the child of divorce attention they need from you and it let’s them know they belong enough to the group to follow the rules. It reassures them you will hold them accountable and that you are seeing them with your eyes. After the child complies a simple smile or wink let’s them know you care and are happy they belong to your group.
  • Prepare yourself first by having your mind free and clear and ready to listen. Children of divorce have learned to read body language; they will look at your face, or your eyes to see if they have your attention. They also will be able to tell if your mind is some other place. If your mind is on something other than that very moment, they will turn you off. You will loose them probably for the rest of that session.

Whether a child wonders about stressful situations such as where he or she will sleep tonight;  if they are going to  have enough to eat, or if they are loved, they need to know  you care enough about them to help them manage their behaviors. For the time being think of yourself as their behavior manager. Teach them how to develop external regulations or how to behave in different situations. As the child heals, the family heals and life moves forward, you can gradually pull back in  your roll as behavioral manager and allow the child to regulate their own external behaviors.

What are your suggestions for helping a child of divorce who has many stressors that permeate his or her life?



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