How to care for children of modern or unusual family systems


DC4K 3-23-16 Blog Post Best Practices dealing_37009470

Training church leaders and volunteers is becoming critical if we want to address some of the more unusual situations and needs of children and families in our communities. It’s also important to educate ourselves on the many societal issues surrounding the children in our midst.

The post “Mommy says Daddy has a girlfriend” discussed how to react and what to say and not say when children disclosed something troubling them. In order to help you educate yourself, your leaders and volunteers also need various definitions of today’s confusing gender and family issues. I shared those with you, along with trusted resources in the article Confused about gender confusion and other modern family issues?

Following are some practical tips and best practices to adopt when ministering to modern families and the messy lives the people in these families live.


We have to love these families as Jesus did. Besides the kids, we must love their parents and/or caretakers too. When I came to this point in ministry, I had to change some of my thought processes. I had to set my judgments aside and, even though it is a much-used phrase, I had to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” I am embarrassed to say that my thoughts were not very Jesus-like. Personally I couldn’t love these families because I was too busy judging them.

Years ago the first time I came across two girls whose mother turned to the lesbian lifestyle, I couldn’t help the girls. I was literally incapable of loving these girls or even reaching out to them because I was too busy judging their mother. This was a new experience for me, and I had no training or education in this area, and I didn’t know where to turn. To this day these little girls haunt me because I failed them, and I believe I failed in ministry.  

A few years later when one of the dads of some children in my ministry left his wife for his male lover, I did a little better at reaching out to the mom and the children. I was able to find resources to help Mom and, along with another minister, was able to provide for the children’s emotional needs.

For me it was a process of educating myself, reading God’s Word, praying about my reactions, and, above all, asking God to forgive me for judging the parents so harshly. I learned to be intentional about loving these precious little souls. When I looked at these little ones, I had to think “soul care,” because for some children it was actually their little souls that were at stake.

Educating leaders and volunteers

Educate yourself on the various family situations and issues particular children in your ministry are facing. You, your staff, and your volunteers can become familiar with all the types of family situations mentioned in Confused about gender confusion and other modern family issues? Once you have an understanding of the current language regarding the many societal influences affecting families today, you’ll be better able to meet the needs of the various unusual and modern families in your ministry.  

Training your leaders

Train your volunteers. I can’t say this loud enough: TRAIN YOUR VOLUNTEERS! Your volunteers are on the front line of messy ministry, but for the most part we just expect them to understand all of the issues.

Leaders’ expressions and attitudes when they don’t understand can and will send kids away from your church, some to never return and some to leave church altogether and forever. Training should include anything that is particular to your denomination or church policies. Training should also include:

  • Helping your volunteers know how to react the first time a child or parent discloses sensitive information.
  • Teaching your volunteers what to say and not say during those sensitive moments of disclosure.
  • Discussing in advance how you will handle a child who is identified as a transgender by his or her parents. This discussion needs to include which bathroom the child will use.
  • Defining how your ministry will define confidentiality—in other words, who will have access to particulars about certain children or families.
  • Alerting your volunteers about how to respond to questions from other children or parents about various situations (child with two mommies, female child who dresses like a male, transgender parent, etc.).
  • Informing all staff and volunteers that many times children dealing with some of these sticky family situations and the issues surrounding their families may look for a way out of the misery. One of the escape mechanisms is thoughts of suicide.
    Understand we are now learning that prepubescent children are seriously contemplating suicide. You can learn more about younger children who are contemplating suicide in the article Do elementary age children seriously consider suicide?

    Train your volunteers to know what to look for and whom to call in case a child is suicidal. Research shows many times it takes only one caring adult to change a child’s life and outcome. Who are the adults in your church who can fulfill that role?

Prayer teams

Develop prayer teams or ask the church prayer group to remember these kids each week. Please protect the children’s rights to privacy by not issuing the names of the children or their families.

In order to minister to different kinds of families and kids, we have to keep ourselves in tune with what God is saying to us. We must allow the Holy Spirit to speak not only to us but through us also. We have to try to keep ourselves unstained by the world around us. Psalm 119:125 ESV says, “I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!”

Practical and easy-to-use techniques

Besides loving these children and families, educating oneself, training volunteers, and calling on the power of prayer, there are still some practical, simple tools to employ. While most of the techniques listed below will sound familiar, it’s important to realize they are still effective. When one gets to know the child and the child’s particular situation, any of the following suggestions can be easily implemented.

  • Use Scriptures that are relevant to the situation.
  • Provide prayer cards and intercessory prayer partners.
  • Talk and ask open-ended questions. This gives kids a chance to organize their thoughts and helps them to express what is on their minds.
  • Give kids an opportunity to connect with other kids in like situations. There is healing power when one child can help another child through something he or she has experienced.
  • Even though this might seem old-fashioned, research is showing that drawing and coloring can be relaxing and calming to a child.
  • Cutting out pictures and adding captions such as “I feel loneliest when …” helps a child organize the thought process.
  • Use of puppets – even hand-drawn characters taped to craft sticks can help a child work through issues. Acting and pretending a scenario with a puppet can help children clarify what is bothering them.
  • Role-play – acting out different situations with a caring and understanding adult can help take the fear out of the moment. It can also give the adult an opportunity to give appropriate responses to a situation. “Did you like it when he hit you? Pretend I’m him. What would you say to me? Say it like this: ‘I don’t LIKE it when you hit me.’ Say it with me now.”
  • Music – listening to calming music calms the brain and body; using praise music with a lot of movement and crossing from side to side stimulates the thinking brain.
  • Writing – expressive writing taps into the emotional side of the brain. Encourage the child to write a letter to the adult, parent, or other person who is causing the child’s stress. Explain that the child doesn’t have to give the letter to that person, but many times just writing the letter gives the child a deeper understanding of the situation.
  • Sharing feelings – taps into the emotional side of the brain.
  • Pictures of emotions or faces with expressions of emotions on them helps the child recognize his or her feelings. Some feelings are foreign to children. When a child can name the emotion and then claim the emotion, the child has a better chance to tame the emotion.

Don’t forget about the power of the church

Whether healthy or unhealthy, strong or broken, all families need to be a part of a church family. Single moms can find comfort in binding together. Kids grieving the loss of a parent (because of divorce, death, abandonment, etc.) can find comfort in coming together in a supportive situation. One such program that provides support for kids is DC4K, DivorceCare for Kids. In this program children learn to support one another and bear each other’s burdens.

When we belong to a supportive church family, one’s burdens do not automatically go away, but something amazing happens to one’s spirit. For example:

  • A child finds strength and support and realizes that he or she is not alone.
  • Parents learn through Bible studies that they are not the first to walk through deep waters.
  • Through talking and sharing with others, they can find encouragement in how God can provide comfort and love for them.

Dealing with some of these situations can be overwhelming. Because we love the Lord and we so much want the children in our midst to know Him, all of these societal issues and how they impact the little ones can be discouraging. We have to hold on to our faith and continually go to His Word. I have found Psalm 119:133 ESV helpful. It is a good verse to pray over your ministry, for your staff, and for yourself also. “Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.”

Be encouraged. Know that you provide “soul care” for many children who will have no other such influence in their lives. And, after all, isn’t that what we do in children’s ministry?


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training your children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here

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