The incredible, amazing brain in the child of divorce, Part 1


Metaphorical Human Technology

I want to share some profound brain science with you in a series of blog posts. Understand this information, and you’ll be better equipped to connect with and relate to the child of divorce and children who have experienced other traumatic events.

Don’t let me scare you away. This isn’t leading-edge stuff, but it might be new to you or others in your ministry. I’ll make it simple. Even better, I’ll show you how to apply it to the kids you minister to.

The brain is an amazing, incredible part of the human make-up. God in His wisdom created the human brain, and it can outlast, outdo, and outperform any computer or electronic gadget now or yet to be invented.

An especially helpful discovery for those working with kids is the discovery of something called mirror neurons.

What are mirror neurons?

This is a gigantic concept, and if it were possible, I would have bells and whistles going off in this article to bring attention to mirror neurons. Daniel Goleman in “Social Intelligence” (Bantam) explains it this way,

One person’s inner state affects and drives the other person. We’re forming a brain-to-brain bridge—a two-way traffic system—all the time.

In other words, we can catch each other’s emotions. Just like kids catch colds, they can catch your neurons.

Essentially, 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 other people’s brains, and they will mirror your expression. Are you beginning to see what an important concept this is when working with those sad and angry children of divorce in your classes?

Have you ever had a bad Sunday morning—the type of day where you feel grumpy and out of sorts? You walk into church, and someone from the hospitality team greets you with a smile, and all of his interactions with you are upbeat and positive. All of a sudden, you feel your mood lifting, and you are not quite so grumpy anymore. Those are mirror neurons at work.

Mirror neurons show you what it’s like to experience what others do. (Bruce Perry, “Born for Love”)

Mirror neurons at work—“Have a good day”

When I owned a child care center, I used to wonder why when I was having a bad day, the children and even some of my staff seemed to fit right in and also experience a bad day. Now, I know. Their mirror neurons were mimicking what was going on in my brain. I learned that no matter what I was feeling or thinking when I went into a room, I had to go in humming or singing and with smile on my face. I had to think to myself:

Have a good day.

Mirror neurons and the child of divorce

Children of divorce see a lot of grumpy, angry people. These expressions are especially common at the beginning of the parents’ separation. The parents might be sad, angry, distracted, confused, and worried. Many times, their facial expressions say it all. Kids see this day in and day out, all week long. When they come to church, they need to experience positive, upbeat emotions. They need to experience joy and to have leaders who ooze joy in the Lord.

Imagine being a lonely, confused child, and the main adults in your life are negative and distracted. Now, imagine walking into the Lord’s house and seeing happy, joyful, calm adults who seem to be having a good time. It makes it easy for a child to perk up. Understanding the concept of mirror neurons, we know we can make things even better for these children.

Giggling is contagious. Having a good time is infectious. Smiling is catching. Build relationships with these children, and count on all those powerful mirror neurons to mirror your facial expressions back to you. It’s so easy, and it comes from the amazing, incredible brain that Lord created in each of us.

“All the days of the afflicted are evil; but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15 (KJV)

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on May 14, 2014.


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8 thoughts on “The incredible, amazing brain in the child of divorce, Part 1

  1. Pingback: DC4K » The incredible, amazing brain in kids of divorce part 2: Applying empathy

  2. Thanks for sharing this Linda. This info helped me so much with my daughter who was only 3 when her dad and I split. You described it very accurately. Lots of negative events and emotions were seen and felt by her. Once I understood the impact on her, it made me much more intentional about inputting positive emotions around her. I realized even if I never said anything negative in front of her, if I even FELT it, or THOUGHT it, she could feel and sense it. It didn’t mean I had to stuff my feelings. It just meant I made sure I had a safe adult to download with. One God moment came for me with my daughter when she was 5. Every night at bed time, we read stories from her children’s Bible. I was sure we had read the whole thing more than once. One day I slipped up. It was in the afternoon and I was fretting about the latest financial chaos my ex was unleashing. My little daughter came running into my room with her children’s Bible. She said “Mommy read this one, we haven’t read it yet!” Not even looking at it I said, “Yes we did, we’ve read the whole book” “It’s not even bedtime!” She said “no Mommy we have not read this one.” Me: “Yes we have.” Her: “READ IT MOMMY, READ IT!” Me: “ok fine.” What did she want me to read? The Parable of the Pearl. nuf said.

    • Cathy, what a great testimony. Thanks so much for sharing. I pray many kidmin people read your response and see how easy it is to impact some of our hurting children. Love your little girl being used of the Lord. 🙂

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