Question of the week: Why is it important for me to understand the brains in kids of divorce?


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“I’m a children’s leader in my church. Why would I want to know about the brain when I’m with the child for only a couple of hours on Sunday and usually only every other week at that?”

I realize that talking about the brain may seem like a medical issue, and you don’t think knowing about the brain will impact any of the children your class.

I know because I thought the same thing when I was introduced to brain research back in the early nineties. Here’s the thing about brain research: it actually validates what many of us who have worked with children in the religious realm have believed for a long time. In other words, the things I had been doing for years are now being proven to be effective. Brain research goes a step further and explains why a technique or tip is effective and how to make it even better.

When you understand what is happening in the brains of children of divorce or children who have experienced other traumatic events, it will allow you to develop better relationships with them and impact these kids in a positive manner.

Understanding what doesn’t change behavior

Let me give you an example. For years, I’ve worked with children who have been traumatized in some way. I have always felt these kids need kindness, relationships, boundaries, and people to speak hope into their lives. Sending an out-of-control child to a time-out chair and telling him to think about what he did seems a little barbaric to me. How are you supposed to think about what you did when you don’t know what you did?

Most of the time, being sent to a time-out chair only serves to isolate the child and drive him into more outrageous antics. There is no relationship building going on as the child is alone. Most times, the teacher is frustrated, and the words “Go to time-out” come from an angry voice, not a kind, in-control voice.

What purpose does the time-out chair serve except to get the angry or out-of-control child away from the rest of the group? It doesn’t teach the child anything. It doesn’t change his behavior.

Afraid, fearful children

We now know that children who experience traumatic events in their lives are afraid and fearful. They don’t feel safe, and when they don’t feel safe, they revert to the lower level of the brain or the brain stem, which is the part of the brain that is reactive. These kids don’t have the ability to “think through what they did.” They react to a situation. Sending them away to be alone is not going to help calm the brain.

Many of these children do need time away. They live in chaos, so their brains are wired for chaos, not calm. The words “take a break for a few minutes,” coming from a kind, empathetic person will help them calm down.

Jesus—the perfect example of what research is telling us about the brain

I love that the scientific world is catching up to the religious world. The perfect example of someone who understands children and knows how to deal with children in the world and with some adults who act like children is Jesus. If you study how Jesus dealt with various situations, you can find many examples of what the brain research is talking about today. Jesus demonstrated

  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Affirmative voice (a matter-of-fact voice or “this-is-the-way-it-is” voice)
  • Calmness
  • Trust
  • Love
  • And much more

Even if you only have a child for an hour on Sunday every other week, you can make still an impression on the child. Showing a cranky, little kid love and kindness goes a long way. You might be the only adult who tries to understand him. Everything that is said to the child is stored in the unconscious part of the brain. It is there forever because you planted it there.

I know that many of the little kids I have ministered to down through the years won’t remember me. And that is okay because the nurturing and kindness shown to them is still there deep in the brain. When they need one of those abilities, it will be available.

Stay tuned as we have a lot more about the brain and kids of divorce coming up.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on May 19, 2014.

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3 thoughts on “Question of the week: Why is it important for me to understand the brains in kids of divorce?

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