How single parents can be an ’emotional mentor’ to their kids



Mentoring children to manage and handle their emotions is something many of us haven’t thought much about before. Most of us assume kids pick up how to display their emotions from their parents. Few people have ever seriously thought about being a mentor to their child and his or her feelings.

How can a single dad or mom be an emotional mentor when they can’t model appropriate responses to their own feelings?

Divorce can leave a normally levelheaded adult an emotional wreck

I know I’ve been there. Honestly I didn’t know I had the capacity to be so angry. Here I was an adult with two kids, running my own business, loving the Lord, serving in my church and I experienced a level of anger that scared me.

For some parenting alone, after the initial crisis, there can be a season of sadness, depression, confusion and a host of other emotions. The upper level of the brain, the level-headed and thinking part of the brain, seems to disappear when a person is thrown into the crisis of divorce.

What is emotional mentoring?

Wendy at Kidlutions calls mentoring of emotions “An Emotional Apprenticeship”

“It’s the very first step in helping us raise healthy, happy kids who are able to manage their own emotions and get along well in society.  There is no shortcut here. We have to master our own emotions so our kids can master theirs! It’s an emotional apprenticeship of sorts…and the parent is the master teacher.”

This is easy to say – hard to do especially for a divorcing parent

Children of divorce see two parents living in separate homes and they may see a wide variance in emotional expressions. You may be thinking, “Of course they do because adults are human. We all express our emotions differently.”

While this is true in a two-parent home when one parent gets overwhelmed or expresses something that’s not quite appropriate or let’s their emotions get out of hand there is another adult to smooth and gloss over the situation with the child.

Dad may take little Johnny aside and say something like,

Mom is really having a bad day. She had something happen at work and she’s very frustrated. Let’s give her a break and fix dinner for her tonight.”

The dad and kid move to the kitchen where dad continues to help the child understand what’s happening with mom. More than likely dad will change the subject quickly to something upbeat. While concerned for the mother, the dad and child move on with their evening.

In a single parent home there is no other person to explain and smooth away the emotional outburst. Many kids will slink away to their room not understanding what just happened.

Practical tips to help single parents be an emotional mentor

  • When overly upset about the divorce, the other parent or the divorce itself, call an adult friend and talk when kids are not in ear shot
  • Develop one or two Christian people who have experienced being a single parent that you can trust to be honest with you and who will mentor you and point you to Christ during trials
  • When upset with your child, be honest with your feelings
  • Label your feelings so your children will be able to put a name to their feelings
    “I’m feeling very confident today”
    “I’m feeling sad and a little depressed today”
    “ I don’t like it when life gets hectic. It makes me feel frustrated
    “Reading God’s word helps me feel peaceful and calm
    “I was one proud mama when you kids sang in the concert”
  • Sometime when your child is exhibiting his or her feelings take a moment to describe what their body looks like.
    “Your eyes are really big like this”
    “You are clenching your teeth like this”
    “Your fists are clenched. Seems you might be angry”
  • It’s okay if your kids see you cry when you are really sad. This is especially true at the beginning of a divorce
  • Always go to God even when you don’t feel like it. He is there and He hears your moans and sighs.

Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Sprit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Sprit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (RSV)







3 thoughts on “How single parents can be an ’emotional mentor’ to their kids

  1. My wife and I have both recently been through an intense curriculum on the battle for our own hearts and the battle for the hearts of those who are in our domain. I struggled learning to label my own feelings. My wife did as well, though she became comfortable much quicker. I’ve seen her begin to help our children (7,4,1) label their feelings and it has challenged me to do the same.

    I think the world encourages us to hold these feelings in. I know I’ve felt that for years. But there’s freedom in speaking the language of the heart – the heart God created and is constantly renewing and refining.

    I pray I can help my sons and daughter learn how to do this much earlier than I did and the good news is God has given us all we need in Christ to live from our hearts and draw that out of our children.

    Thanks for the encouragement in this article! So relevant for married couples as well!

  2. Pingback: How to Help Your Child Through the Trauma of Divorce | SMORE :: Single Moms Overjoyed, Rejuvenated, & Empowered!

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