One HUGE mistake we’ve made with the child of divorce


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Often, when kids of divorce show up in your church classes, they may exhibit unruly, out-of-control behavior. Your teachers and volunteers will ask a question like:

    What on earth could be causing these kids to act like that?

They may wonder if there is any discipline in the home at all. However, it is not that the parent is a bad parent or isn’t trying; more likely, it is because there is confusion and chaos in the child’s life. Many of these children live in high-conflict situations where they experience high stress levels.

In the book Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors, Heather Forbes and Bryan Post write,

      Children who are misbehaving are seeking external regulation.

In other words, these children need people who care enough that they are willing to help the children behave and get control of their behaviors. The authors go on to say that stress causes children to have confused and distorted thinking. When they act out or misbehave, many children are simply doing the best they can do to survive in that moment.

Today, I’d like for us to look at a HUGE mistake we made in the past when working with some of these children.

Specialness/self-esteem mistake

Before the divorce epidemic hit our world, we used age-old standards that seemed to work for our grandparents. These techniques seemed to work at the time. But now that we have many stressed-out children and children living in two different worlds on a daily basis, some of those old techniques simply don’t work effectively.

Keep in mind that for the most part, we were taught or encouraged to use different techniques by society, the colleges we went to, the experts, and the child development specialists. Sometimes, what we did before might have seemed to work at the time, but some of those techniques had long-term consequences.

  • Special-ness: We told kids they were special. We sang songs that touted, “I am special!” We did art projects that said, “I am special.”
  • Self-esteem: We worked on raising kids’ self-esteem to a special level. Everything was about helping children feel they were special, and everything needed to feel good.

Over the years, I began to realize we were not doing these kids any favors by telling them how special they were and raising their self-esteem so high that it affected their other relationships. We seemed to have left God out of the picture. We forgot that God wants us to teach children to love Him first and then to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What children of divorce need

When everyone is special, no one is really special. For the children of divorce, when they come to church, and you tell them are special, they aren’t going to believe you. They certainly don’t feel special. Many feel worthless. Many feel unloved. And we only serve to confuse them even more.

  • Children need self-respect.
  • They need self-worth.
  • Children need healthy self-esteem.
  • They need strong self-esteem.
  • Children need to learn to be part of a community or a family.
  • They need to realize they are part of God’s family.
  • They need to learn that God is God, and He is a God to be respected and loved.

Churches can create healthy environments where children of divorce feel part of a church family. They feel like they belong to a community of people. This is where the church and the families in the church can pick up the slack. We can help these children feel a sense of belonging.

Children feel like they belong when

  • They take on ownership.
  • They feel responsible.
  • They take part in rituals.

Helping them feel like they belong

  • In your children’s area, ask children to pass out papers, collect Bibles, or help run the tech equipment.
  • At church-wide events, ask them to help the ushers hand out bulletins for Sunday services, greet people at the door, pass out the collection plates, and clean up after events.

Imagine being a kid whose father or mother walked out the door a few months ago and how lost and even home-less this kid feels. And then the child comes to church and finds a group of loving people who want him to be there and who trust him enough to take part in a church-wide, adult event. Imagine how belonging helps children feel good about who they are. Imagine feeling loved and accepted by the Lord’s people.

When children of divorce feel accepted and feel like they belong, then you will begin to see their behaviors come under control. They will want to learn how to act and how to contribute to the group. It may take time, but it is worth it to see a child come into the family of God and become part of the kingdom.

What do you do to help the children of divorce feel like they belong in your church family?


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on September 12, 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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