The incredible amazing brain, Part 5: Do you love me?



How many times have you had a child ask you, “Do you love me … ’cause I love you?” Those of us working in children’s ministry like to know that the little ones we work with love us.

There are reasons some kids need to know and need to be told that you love them. Many children of divorce question if their parents still love them. They need reassurance from caring adults that someone loves them.

Let me explain. Feeling loved comes from the emotional part of the brain. Learning about the emotional brain or the limbic part of the brain is important when working with children of divorce. This mid part of our brain serves many functions, including:

  • Generating emotions and feelings
  • Directing our emotions
  • Helping motivate us
  • Directing our drive
  • Arousing our attachment
  • Enabling our ability to have attachments and relationships
  • Storing highly charged emotional memories
  • Being territorial
  • Tagging events as internally important
  • Controlling appetite and sleep cycles

The limbic system or the emotional brain is always asking, “Am I loved?”

Children from divorced homes retain vivid emotional memories and scenes. Some of the kids coming to your church have emotionally charged memories of their parents fighting and arguing. These memories are going to be stored FOREVER in the limbic part of the brain, but we can also help children store the God’s Word alongside those charged memories. This is a biggie!

Memories attached to an emotion are remembered. Help give these children emotionally charged, happy memories by bringing in fun alongside Scripture and various church experiences and concepts. Think silly string and green slime.

Many of these children literally cannot access the upper levels of the brain. (How to help these children access the cortex will be discussed later.)

Threatening environments are not conducive to helping children become lifelong learners or even recall Scriptures. These can include environments where teachers or leaders tack on threats to the end of instructions and directions. While a simple warning may not be intended as threatening, it will sound like a threat to many children because of the way it is delivered.

The developmental need for the limbic system is connection.

Connection gives the child impulse control. Impulse control allows cooperation. Connection means harmony, warm support, and pleasant feelings.

The limbic system only has access to a certain set of skills—what we grew up with, for example, name-calling and verbal harassment or gentleness, concern, and care for others.

In the past, we used reasoning, rewards, and bribery, but none of it worked long term. That’s because we were doing nothing to change the skill set already embedded in the limbic part of the brain. You might say that the brain is like a CD that plays continually and only plays what has already been pumped into the unconscious part of our brain.

We have to change what is put into the brain. We have to help the child rewrite that CD. We can do that by helping the child strengthen this part of the brain, activating it through connections, and adding empathy.

In this part of the brain, “It is all about ME!

When some children experience severe trauma or uncontrollable events, such as emotional or physical abuse or violent environments, their brains become wired in a way so they cannot be successful. These are the children whose attention is difficult to gain. They may fight with others or take a swing at others.

In their minds, they are protecting themselves. They are territorial and don’t want other kids close or in their way. You will hear them scream things like, “Stop looking at me!” or “You’re in my place.” Or they may go into a rage when they are discouraged or frightened. These children have learned not to be successful.

Research shows that children like these need to be in programs and classrooms that

  • Offer hope
  • Have an encouraging atmosphere of trust
  • Provide a feeling of safety
  • Feel like a caring environment
  • Offer a sense of mutual respect

In other words, these environments have the ability to rewire the brain. A program like DivorceCare for Kids can be one of these environments that help many children of divorce coming to your church.

Many of these children do not do well in large group environments. If your church places these children in large groups, try to find a way to give them a small group environment for some of the time.

Think about your own church environment. Now pretend you are a frightened, confused child of divorce. How well does your church environment minister to you?

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on May 28, 2014.

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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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One thought on “The incredible amazing brain, Part 5: Do you love me?

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Heart and head: the incredible, amazing brain in kids of divorce: Part 7

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