What inclusive language do you use in your ministry to divorced kids?


African American mother talking with her daughter.


How do you talk about, talk to, and describe children of divorce? Most of us know that when a child has special needs, we shouldn’t refer to that child as a “special needs child” but as “a child with special needs.” The special needs aren’t who the child is. For instance, if a child has ADHD, the child isn’t ADHD; rather, the child has ADHD.

The same holds true for children whose parents have divorced. They aren’t divorced kids, yet I’ve heard people in ministry refer to a child as “you know, that divorced kid.” Here are some other inappropriate phrases sometimes used about to talk about children, many times even in front of children.

  • Never-married parents
  • Out-of-wedlock kid
  • One of “those kids”
  • Whirlwind kid
  • In a whispered voice, “His dad has several girlfriends” or “Her mom has a live-in-boyfriend”

You don’t want the children to whom you’re ministering to think that you think something is wrong with them. Instead of using these terms, it’s better to say:

  • Tom’s parents are going through a divorce.
  • Gretchen’s parents are divorced.  
  • Paul lives in a single-parent home.
  • Carrie has a lot of energy.

In some situations, it’s better to say nothing at all. You have to ask yourself if you’re gossiping or sharing relevant, helpful, necessary information.

These are just a few ways to describe children’s situations without labeling or demeaning them. Being sensitive doesn’t mean that we ignore the parenting situation or the impacts it has on children. However, when talking about children—especially when the children are present—we should be careful with the words we use.

Other ways to affirm children with your language

What language should you use when interacting with a child growing up in a single-parent home?

  • Words of affirmation about the child
  • Words that express God’s love for the child
  • Words or phrases that can be said directly in front of the child, to the child, or to the parent
  • Words that we can plant in our brains to keep our thoughts about the child pure and holy

Here are examples of helpful character traits to exhibit and how they can be incorporated into ministering to this population.

  • Empathy—“I understand. What can I do to help you during this time?”
  • Reliability—“Know that I’m reliable, and I will always be here for you.”
  • Attention—“You had my attention when you walked in the door this morning, and you smiled at me.”
  • Caring—“All of the teachers in this class care about you.”
  • Kindness—“I saw that act of kindness you showed to your friend. Thanks for being kind.”
  • Forgiving—“Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes when someone hurts you, it’s hard to not want to hurt that person back, but God’s Word tells us to forgive: ‘Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another’” (Col. 3:13).
  • Loving—“It’s important to remember that there are a lot of people who love you. Jesus loves you, and so do I.”

Here are some principles to remember to help you communicate when you reach out to children in single-parent families.

  • Intentionality—Be intentional in how you approach these kids and how you respond to them.
  • Honor—Honor your time with these children by being there for them, and honor their hearts by showing them the kingdom.
  • Respect—Model respect for God, for the church, and for the child. Keep in mind that many of these kids don’t see respect modeled for them.
  • Relationship—Be relational. Relationships are one of the most important aspects of connecting with the child of divorce. You can set the tone for what honest, respectful relationships look like by being in a loving relationship with each child.
  • Compassion—Be compassionate on days when the children struggle with their behavior. They might have just experienced a fight between their parents, or they might have had their entire weekend interrupted by a thoughtless person. Allow these children to experience a compassionate servant of God.
  • Grace—Extend the art of being gracious to all children even when they feel like they don’t deserve it.
  • Honesty—When you talk to adults who once were kids of divorce, you find that honesty is a huge issue for them. The adults ministering to the children of divorce must be honest with the children. Don’t tell a child that his dad loves him if you don’t know for sure that the dad does. Don’t tell children made-up stories about how great life will be. If single parents want to know what to tell their children about why the divorce happened, encourage the parents to tell the truth on the children’s developmental level.  

What other helpful language for ministering to the child of divorce or the child living in a single-parent family comes to mind?


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

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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4 thoughts on “What inclusive language do you use in your ministry to divorced kids?

  1. One of the best things my son had during my divorce was Divorce Care 4 Kids. I encourage every ministry to offer it. He was six at the time and it really helped him to know that he wasn’t the only kid experiencing the feelings he had and that he had a place to talk about it outside of his parents. It also helped me to talk with the other parents about what they were experiencing too. In addition, remember that every child has an issue of some kind in every family. Each child is different and needs affirming words and forgiveness. The best place to experience forgiveness, restitution and rebirth is the church. Our Sunday School and VBS areas should be prime examples of this love and forgiveness. Yes, you only have 45 min to an hour with them, but why not make it the highlight of their week and yours too!

    • Candice, what a wonderful testimony and promotion of DC4K. We know it helps thousands of kids just like your son so I always wonder why every church doesn’t run it? And I agree so much with your statement about Sunday School and VBS. Thank you, thank you. Linda

  2. My dear friend is approaching divorce after decades of very complex challenges in her marriage. This is really helpful- thank you!

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