How to help kids who don’t want to visit the other parent


Child Doesn't Want to Visit Parent

Several of you dealing with children of divorce who don’t want to visit the other parent requested this particular subject.

One children’s church leader reported that after a visit to the other parent’s home, “The kids come back to us shut down, nontalkative, and in need of love.” She went on to report another family’s situation, “Another set of my kids love their dad a ton, but he constantly puts down their mother in front of them, puts them in the middle of everything, speaks down to them, manipulates them (and they know it), and makes them feel like pawns in his vengeance to get back at their mom. It’s another sad situation.”

Other children’s leaders have shared that kids come back angry or depressed about things that happened at the other parent’s home.

There are many variables in each situation, and while we can’t address each one individually, hopefully you can glean something to help you with the kids in your ministry.

Reasons kids might not like going to the other home

There are some kids who genuinely don’t like the going to the other parent’s home. Most kids love their parents, but due to the divorce and strained relationships, visitation can be difficult.

The reasons a child doesn’t want to visit the other parent vary. Here are just a few reasons.

  • They worry about what is happening at home while they are gone.

I had one child who didn’t want to go to his dad’s on the dad’s weekend because he was worried about his bedroom and whether his stepbrother would go in and bother his stuff. He worried about the stepbrother wearing his clothes or playing with toys his dad had given him. He was miserable at the dad’s home, and it didn’t have anything to do with the dad.

  • They are lonely because their needs are not taken into consideration.

Jason’s dad traveled a lot, and on most of his dad’s weekends Jason found himself sitting in a strange hotel room with a babysitter. He rarely got to spend an entire weekend at his dad’s house. Jason was bored and lonely in those hotel rooms. It got to where he didn’t want to bother going to visit his dad. Plus, he was getting to the age where he was missing friends’ birthday parties and church activities.

  • Other children don’t want to be around an angry or very sad parent.

William loved his dad but reported that his dad was sad and tired a lot. He said, “When I go to my dad’s on Saturday he just sits there and watches TV. There’s nothing for me to do in his apartment. I get really bored and most of the time he ends up falling asleep in front of the TV, and he leaves me just sitting there.”

  • They are neglected emotionally and physically.

Emma went to her mom’s every other weekend. She had two half sisters who lived with her mom. Emma reported: “My mom doesn’t even know I’m there. She is always so nervous about her newest boyfriend that she doesn’t have time for me, yet she insists I come visit on ‘her weekend.’ Sometimes she doesn’t even feed my sisters and me.”

  • Some children are scared at the other parent’s home.

Caleb and his little sister’s visits with mom were haphazard. He never knew for sure when a visitation was going to take place. He shared that many times his mom left him alone to take care of his little sister at night. The mom would go out on dates and stay out late or stay out all night. Caleb said many times there wasn’t any food in the house for him to fix for his sister and himself for breakfast.

What you can do at church

If you are like the children’s worker who has kids coming back sad, nontalkative, and distant, it can be frustrating because you want to help them. What can you do when you are with the child only every other weekend or maybe once a week? Here are some ideas. While some of these might seem simple, don’t discount them when it comes to ministering to a hurting child.

  • Greet him personally and warmly say his name when you greet him. And if he allows it, upon greeting him place a hand on his shoulder; give him a high five, a fist bump, or even a handshake. Many of these kids haven’t felt a human touch in days, so a handshake or a hug says to these kids that they matter.
  • Provide comfort. Realize the child may have just come from the other parent’s home. Maybe he is downtrodden and he might want to snuggle up with his blanket, pillow, or pet. Provide soft blankets for these children. I keep a big tub of soft blankets and soft stuffed animals for the kids to use when needed.

Provide small journaling notebooks for the kids to draw in or to write their story. I keep journaling books in a closed cabinet rather than sending them home. That way they are always there when a child needs to write or draw.

  • Empathize with the child. Really feel for him and what he is experiencing. Say things like, “It must be hard for you right now.” or “You seem upset. Would you like to just sit next to me or by yourself for a while?”
  • Give him Scriptures that resonate with him. Examples: “You are my hiding place from every storm of life” (Psalm 32:7a TLB). “Be strong and courageous … for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).
  • Be proactive. In some situations, like with my friend Caleb, you may have to contact the authorities. Caleb was afraid to tell his dad about his mom’s behavior because he didn’t want him to worry. We helped him talk to his dad, and his dad was able to alter the visitations so the kids didn’t spend the night at the mom’s apartment.
  • Don’t discount what the Holy Spirit is doing in the life of a child. While it might seem like you are not making a difference, keep talking to the child. I did that with my friend Jason. I talked to him weekly for almost two years. I told him that God loved him and would never leave him or forsake him. I told him to think of God as his Father for now. Our class prayed together over him.

One day he came in upbeat and cheerful. He said, “I think I get it. This morning the pastor said we are here to serve God. That we can serve God by serving others. I think that means for me that I might have to, like, you know, serve my dad. Witness to him. Treat him differently, like the Bible says. You know, be kind to him even when he’s not kind to me.”

These situations can be heartbreaking for those of us who minister to children. Like I said, though, don’t discount what the Holy Spirit can and will do. These kids didn’t get into these situations overnight, and their problems won’t be solved overnight.


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