Why do kids of divorce need to tell their stories?



If you read this blog often you have read, “kids need to tell their stories.” Why do I continually say this. Is it really that important for kids to talk about their lives? Is it important to bring up things that are currently happening in their daily lives? Absolutely it is and here’s why.

I’ve read several books about adult children of divorce and many don’t have memories of their young lives. Or there appears to be gaps in their memories. Jen Abbas, the author of the book Generation EX, was the first person to bring this to my attention about ten years ago. She explains in her book how she can’t remember certain details in any kind of a logical manner. This has always bothered her.

My own kids couldn’t remember their young lives

For years I couldn’t figure out why their younger years didn’t make sense to them in a logical manner? What happened to parts of their memories, especially the time when their dad moved out? Now I know that the trauma of divorce affected their ability to remember their young life in a logical manner.

Divorce labeled as a trauma

While many people don’t think a divorce is a trauma it is for a lot of children. This is especially true at the beginning stages of a divorce. Upon learning about the eventual split of the family many children go into a shock mode. It is more than their brains can handle. Their brains tend to block out those unpleasant memories but why does this happen?

The best description of memory loss

I think Heather Forbes describes it best when she says,

Trauma is stored in fragments within the memory system. Pieces of memory here and pieces of memory there can create confusion and conflict for children who have experienced trauma. By giving them the time-line of events (even if you do not have all the details due to a lack of records and information available), the child can start “making sense” of his/her history through the storytelling. This will help your child in the process of sorting through the reality and the magical thinking to help ground your child, thus paving the way for long-term healing.

A young girl makes up her story

I had a child years ago that would make up some of the most outlandish stories about her past. For a long time she was accused of lying. Others accused of lying just to get attention. This child had experienced a lot of trauma in her life. Now years later I realize she was trying to piece together her story – her life history. Her mom was not on the scene and her dad while a hard worker, just wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Her extended family thought it best not to talk about her past so she was discouraged from asking questions or even allowed to talk about it.

  • She wasn’t lying or trying to get attention.
  • She was trying to make sense of her life.
  • She was trying to rid herself of the confusion she constantly felt.
  • She was trying to piece together her own life story.
  • She was trying to label the scary feelings and fill in of the holes in her life.

How you can help

  • Anyone ministering to, living with or working with the child of divorce needs to encourage the kids to tell their stories, to talk about their daily lives
  • Don’t be afraid of bringing up bad memories
  • Don’t be fearful of making the child feel sad
  • As the child talks, help them label their feelings, “Seems to me you are saying you feel sad your mom didn’t come with you to church today? Is that what I’m hearing?”
  • Ask open-ended questions, “So when your dad said he couldn’t pick you up on his week what did you think about that?”
  • Don’t ask a child how they feel about something that happened. “How did that make you feel?” Many children don’t know how they feel and that’s why they need an adult to help them discover and label their feelings.
  • Relate their personal stories to stories from the Bible. “When you got really mad like that you were a lot like Jonah in the Bible. Did you know Jonah got mad with God’s compassion on the people of Nineveh?” (Jonah 4)
  • Relate your own personal life stories. Kids like to hear about what happened in your life as you were growing up. Keep your stories short and to the point.

As children and parents get into routines, life settles down and they develop a new normal, memories will begin to get lodged in a normal and logical manner. I think if we help them during the transition time they will better be able to remember their childhood when they become adults.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on April 9, 2015.

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11 thoughts on “Why do kids of divorce need to tell their stories?

  1. are there any blogs or links for kids, specifically pre-teens? I’ve found my pre-teen doesn’t like to discuss much with me, and both her and her younger sister have blocked out any negatives about their father (who is marrying a friend of mine in 2 months… 1 yr post divorce). I’d love to have something to guide her to, where she can share experiences… ?

    • I have another article coming out next week talking about why some kids won’t talk or share their stories. Your pre-teens are very typical. Preteens fit well in many DC4K groups around the country. ( You can use the Find-a-Group search engine on the DC4K site to help you find a group near you. I have several preteens in my group.

  2. I see this in Chained No More participants. They don’t remember much about their childhood, yet that is where the deepest trauma happened to them. Once they share their story, all kinds of memories open and they see why they are the way they are and have the issues they do. First step to healing. #chainednomore

  3. Thank you so much for this article. As an adult child of divorce, it is absolutely true that long periods of time seem to go amiss. We three siblings have a very different outlook to our parents as what it was like growing up. The effects of trauma, have followed me around for 15 years and as we have grown into adults sharing our good memories has become very important to hold onto. We have really struggled to talk about the past when our parents were together, as now we have a good relationship with our step parent and we don’t tend to speak of the “past family”. Even as an adult in a very happy and healthy marriage of 4 years (praise God) it has been a real battle to combat the effects of divorce as a child. Realising we are not my parents and we do not need to fall into the same pattern has and does take a toll. It has only been in giving these things continually to the Lord and not neglecting to address these fears that I have been able to make sense of it all. I have embraced my past now and I can see that God always walked with me, and I see much goodness that has come from adversities and hardship. Bless you for this blog. I often read this and it is awesome to see the children of divorce be acknowledged. It is often a tender subject a lot of people don’t know how to approach and I appreciate that you have spread awareness on this sensitive topic.
    I am often moved how spot on you are in addressing our stories.
    Isaiah 1:17 ‘learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.’

    • Chris, I’m so very honored at your words. Thank you. Praise God you can turn to Him and acknowledge the goodness that have come from your own adversities. Thank you for sharing a part of your life with us.

  4. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing it. My sister and I have started a podcast talking about our complicated lives living through multiple divorces and blending families. We found that it has been extremely hard to remember our childhoods but we are slowing unlocking memories as we dig deeper. We just did an episode about the time our parents told us dad was moving out. My brother and sister had blocked the whole event. We hope to be able to help parents who are going through divorce to realize some of the effects on children and maybe to help some children feel like they are not alone. Maybe we’ll talk about this post in our next podcast.

  5. Pingback: DC4K » Why kids won’t tell their stories

  6. As a mother going through a divorce, I know that the road ahead for my son is a difficult one. While I am not innocent in the entire tragedy, I will say that I have never bad mouthed his father or his father’s family, I have never done anything illegal, and our son has always been my first priority.

    Reading your article, I can do nothing but shake my head in agreement. I pray our son comes out of this a stronger person and with myself and God’s help: he definitely has a fighting chance. I allow my son to speak and I also allow him to be himself, something I fear he is not allowed to do when he is not in my care. I tell him it is okay to cry, it is okay to miss his daddy, it is okay to be angry. I tell him his feelings are justified and that I am sorry and we will work through everything. I pray this doesn’t damage his heart beyond repair.

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