GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Because younger children can’t use sophisticated words to communicate feelings, helping them recover from the trauma of their parents’ divorce takes skill and organization, a counselor said.
“Divorce recovery with children is a whole different ballgame than it is with adults,” Dodie Williams, a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist, told discipleship leaders attending Discipleship and Family Week at LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center, July 21-27.
Williams, who is in the process of moving her private practice from Dalton, Ga., to Nashville, Tenn., said leaders who facilitate a divorce recovery program for children must spend extra energy helping them get in touch with their feelings. She introduced “KidShare: What Do I Do Now?” a 13-week divorce recovery course developed by the children’s discipleship area at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The goal of a divorce recovery program for children, she said, is to provide a safe place for them to talk about their feelings. “Of course, we have to provide the mastery of words, through pictures, drawing or play, to help them figure out how they are feeling.”
Recovery offers children of divorce a more optimistic future, she said. “If we can help them get through their grief, we can promote emotional, spiritual, social and mental health in these children.”
The divorce of their parents can affect children, especially those still in grade school, in specific ways, Williams recounted:
— They blame themselves for the divorce. “Children this age believe they cause everything to happen.”
As children grow from infancy to adulthood, they gradually learn the world doesn’t revolve around them, Williams said. When divorce of their parents occurs within the first 12 years of their lives, that learning process is thwarted.
“If you don’t help children deal with the fact that they did not cause this tragic event, they begin to think their world is out of control,” she said. “When you first get hold of them, children are in the business of trying to fix this mess between their parents.”
— Their self-esteem may be affected. “They don’t like to be labeled as children of divorce.” Also, their whole world is out of kilter, she said. “Everything familiar and predictable has become unfamiliar and unpredictable and it can affect the way they see themselves.”
— They probably have less economically. “Most of the time women are going to get custody of the children, and the day the couple walks out of divorce court, the man is usually better off and the women heads toward poverty unless she was the primary breadwinner.”
Doing with less, Williams said, can make the children angry. “They believe they wouldn’t have to do without if their parents hadn’t gotten a divorce.”
— Their peer relationships may suffer. “The child may not have as much in common with their friends whose families are still intact. They get teased a lot, especially if they have to move to another town with the custodial parent.”
— The child may quit trusting God. “After all, children receive their image of what God is like from the way their parents treat them. When one parent suddenly disappears, they begin to associate that with God.”
Williams said children whose parents have gone through a divorce might begin to misbehave for various reasons.
They may be seeking attention, they may feel threatened or unsafe in a group or they may have deeper problems such as abuse.
Children’s leaders who are planning to start a divorce recovery program in their churches should develop a plan.
“It is much more important to be organized with kids than with adults. Adults can fill in the gaps, but kids can’t,” she said.
A divorce recovery program also requires prayer, approval of the church body and qualified leaders. The class structure must be determined, facilitators matched with children and resources ordered in time.
Good leaders, Williams said, have good listening skills, make eye contact with the children and give nonverbal affirmation. “You can put your arm around a child and give him a hug. Children of divorce need affirmation probably worse than any human being there is.”
More information about KidShare is available by calling 1-800-458-2772 or through LifeWay Christian Stores. For more information about helping people heal from divorce, visit the website www.divorcecare.com.
Discipleship and Family Week was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources.