Question of the week: Can children of divorce multitask effectively?


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Multitasking is the source of many behavior problems that you see in children of divorce. What do I mean by that? Well, hold on as I explain.

Recently, while reviewing research on the brain, I read that multitasking is a myth—your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. As I thought about this idea, a lightbulb went off in my brain: Little kids whose parents are divorcing have a lot on their minds.

When you look at Wikipedia’s definition of multitasking, you read, “Human multitasking is the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task at the same time.”

Now, I realize that the researchers are saying that, in multitasking, a person switches from one activity to another. You’d probably say that kids are only doing one activity when they, for example, are memorizing a Scripture memory verse or listening to a story on Sunday morning.

Although the children of divorce in your group might appear to be doing only one physical activity, you can be certain that their brains are on overload. And brain overload will affect how well they pay attention to the person reading a Bible story.

Within their little minds, there might be several stories unfolding. The inner voices telling these stories are so loud that the children simply can’t hear what you are saying.

Think about the following stories that might be floating around in the children’s brains, screaming at them.

  • What if my mom’s boyfriend brings his kids to our house while I’m gone this weekend? What am I going to do if they get into my stuff?
  • I know my dad says he wants me to live with him all the time, but what can I do because my mom told me the judge said “50/50”? I’m not really sure what that means, but I think it means I can’t live with dad all the time.
  • If I do get to go live with my dad, how will that make my mom feel? Won’t she get all mad and stuff?
  • I wonder if my mom remembered to feed my hamster. I sure don’t want him to die. What would I do without him to talk to every night?

In reality, you are competing with louder voices that sound more important to the children than what you are saying. Although the children appear to be listening and thinking while multitasking, they are not being very successful at paying attention to all these voices.

What you can do to help the child of divorce in your class

  • You can slow things down a bit for the child of divorce. Perhaps provide a quiet place for the child to go to simply relax for a moment. This should not be a punishment but should provide a place for the children to just regroup, transition to your environment, or calm down.
  • You can provide music that encourages stretching and gets the child of divorce moving. Stretching and inhaling deeply allow the brain to focus better.
  • You can provide a journaling notebook where the child can record what is bothering him. You can write Scripture at the top of various pages of the journal.
  • You can take a few moments to pray with the child of divorce collectively in your group or one-on-one to the side of the room.
  • You can suggest that the parent register the child for DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids) if your church runs this group-support program. Or you can find a church near you on the DC4K Find a Group web page.

The answer to the question “Can children of divorce multitask effectively?” is that many children, especially early in the divorce process, cannot multitask—period. If they do, they are not very productive. If we, as adults, allow or encourage them to multitask by setting them in a group while their minds are in a state of confusion, we are setting them up to fail.

What are your ideas to help kids of divorce not multitask?


DC4K blogs posts are great to use for 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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