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How to Build Relationships With Kids of Divorce in Your Ministry

Children of divorce may live in unstable or insecure environments. They may not feel carefree, and they may be distracted when attending your Sunday school ministry. And that’s if they’re able to attend Sunday school because kids of divorce aren’t as likely to be at Sunday school. We definitely want them there, and we want them to know that Sunday school is a stable place for them to connect with God. It’s a place where kids can form an attachment to God separate from any earthly relationships that have disappointed or confused them. So here are some ways you can better build your own relationships with children of divorce.

Building Relationships

To adequately minister to children of divorce, you must begin to think differently about typical methods of ministry. Consider these points.

Know what a child’s life is like.

Imagine being 8 years old and you’re…

  • Living in two different homes
  • Following two different schedules
  • Adhering to two different sets of rules
  • Always wondering what your other parent is doing without you
  • Knowing that saying “hello” to one parent means saying “goodbye” to the other parent

A child of divorce can have a chaotic life. And knowing this can help you know how to approach and relate to the child when building a trusting relationship. Just having basic information can prompt you and your team to be more sensitive about what you say and do. It can also help you to extend grace when issues arise and to generally show God’s love and kindness to the child and parents.

Recognize the impact of a child’s circumstances.

Whether recognizable, there are always consequences when a family breaks up. Some show up as immediate problems. Others have less noticeable impacts on the children for years to come. Even when children seem to breeze through a divorce with no ramifications, many find themselves wrestling with conflicting emotions later in life.

When building relationships with children of divorce, pay attention to some of these short-term effects. This is not an exhaustive list, and not every child will experience all these effects.

  • Intense stress
  • Overwhelming emotions
  • Constant fear about safety
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Behavior problems
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Total confusion

Many of these effects will follow kids into your Sunday school. For instance, it’s difficult to grasp Bible points when you’re under a lot of stress. Or if a child is worried about her safety, it’s difficult to pay attention. And other children are simply exhausted due to their chaotic lives.

Understand what children need.

Of course, we want to reach out with love for every child. To foster healthy relationships, children of divorce may need these extra steps.

  • Greet the child calmly with a smile.
  • Help the child put a label on emotions—it can be scary to feel something and not be able to put a name to it. Say, “Ian, you’re clenching your jaw and your hands are in fists. Your face is going like this. It seems like you might be angry today.”
  • Help the child feel safe. Say, “Juan, I want you to know I’m going to keep you safe, just like the shepherd kept the sheep safe in the Bible. I’m here to make sure everything stays safe at church.”
  • Provide extra hands to help the child stay on task, and allow extra time for the child to complete a project if they want to—even if it means others go on with the next part of the activity.
  • Give the child choices. A child of divorce can feel like everything is out of their control. But choices empower a child. Try this: “Do you want to sit at this table or the one in the back of the room?”
  • Talk openly with the child about the divorce. Opening the door of communication will go a long way in helping the child feel comfortable. Regularly ask, “How did your weekend go with (the other parent)?”
  • Pray for the child.

Avoid these things when building relationships.

In an effort to minister to hurting children, we need to avoid certain things.

  • Don’t try to “happy up” the child. He has a right to his feelings.
  • Don’t rush the child; it only adds stress. If a child’s living a chaotic life, they need to be able to do something within their own time frame.
  • Avoid constantly reprimanding the child due to behavior issues. The behavior could be the child’s voice. Step back and discern what that “voice” is trying to tell you. For example, “I’m scared,” “I hurt,” or “I don’t know who’s picking me up.”
  • Don’t call the parents about basic behavioral issues. Most parents are overwhelmed. Win the child’s trust by handling things with the support of your ministry leaders.
  • Don’t talk about the child in public areas where people can overhear you, such as the restroom. Discuss issues with other leaders in private, when the children and other adults aren’t present.

This excerpt comes from Sunday School That Works! Overflowing with expert insights from more than 20 successful ministry leaders, this book guarantees practical solutions for every area of your Sunday school ministry.

For even more tips on helping children and families through tough issues, check out Group’s Emergency Response Handbook for Children’s Ministry.


Looking for more leader resources? Check out these posts.

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