With the high rates of divorce, it’s critical that you understand these key insights when you ministry to children of divorce.
It’s Sunday morning and you’re optimistic. You have enough material for every child on your class roster, and you’re excited about what you’ve planned.
When class begins, however, only half the class is present. Two families are on vacation. One child is sick, two are with their fathers, and one is with his mother for the weekend. You can understand the vacation and the illness, but the children you see only 50 percent of the year because of divorce really bother you. How can you minister to these part-time kids-children of divorced and separated parents?
Reaching Families of Divorce
The church can serve as a healing community to provide hope and help for families who’ve experienced divorce. Even though we have less time with these children, we can meet the needs of the parents and the children. Here’s how.
Speak kindly about both parents.
Encouraging words may be lacking at home. Anger and hostility are often the driving forces between separated or divorced parents. Focus on the positive aspects of each parent when you’re with the child.
Open up a dialogue with each parent.
Tell each parent that you’re interested in the child and want to be available to the child. Update both parents on events, projects, successes, and pains that the child experiences as part of your program.
Be aware of possible sensitive situations.
One delicate area revolves around the specific legalities involved in each divorce. One parent may’ve lost parental rights and may be legally prohibited from having any contact with the child. Or a court may decide that one parent is not obligated to know any information about the child.
The circumstances around the divorce may’ve involved abusive behavior. If a child confides about a possibly abusive situation with either parent, assure the child that such behavior is not appropriate. Immediately confer with your pastor and Child Protective Services in your county.
Encourage your church to provide resource people, workshops, and support groups. Since many parents have been out of the single social scene for years, sessions on improving social skills may be helpful. Practical workshops on car repair, finances, home repair, resume writing, conflict resolution, and time management can help the family save money and decrease frustration.
Provide positive adult relationships for adults and children.
A mentor will help a child by providing interaction with another adult and can give the parent a break from the strains of constant parenting. An Adoptive Grandparents program in your church can also be a positive resource and can give older people an avenue for service. Likewise, an adult peer mentor for the parent can help guide the divorced person in times of great anxiety and frustration.
When we help strengthen the parents, we also strengthen the child. As children see their parents thrive as singles, children will feel more secure. But don’t stop there. Plan special ways to make your program a healing place for children.
Plan a children of divorce support group.
This group can meet the same time as an adult group meets. Address emotional and practical issues in these sessions.
Work to create warm, inviting classrooms.
Remove attendance posters so children don’t feel bad about their absences. Mail any class projects, lessons, or student pages to the half-time students ahead of time. Also consider contacting the child’s Sunday school teacher in the child’s other church. Find out what they’re studying and incorporate it into your lesson time. This will help the child feel important and will allow you to reinforce lessons for the child.
Drop curriculum that can’t stand alone.
If your curriculum is designed so that each week builds on the previous one, don’t use it with half-time kids. They’ll feel lost and left out. Use curriculum with lessons that can stand alone from week to week.
Inform kids of upcoming events.
Try to schedule events to fit a part-timer by finding out when the child is likely to be present. Don’t add to the child’s anxiety or guilt if the child must miss an event. Instead of saying, “We’ll miss you next week,” say, “I hope you have a great time with your Mom next Sunday.”
Ministering to part-time kids is challenging, but it’s also rewarding. These children need your love, and their parents are hungry for healing. Help children feel less like pawns and more like valuable people in their new family structures and in the family of God.
Brian Dykes works with children at his church in Greenville, Michigan.
Ban Attendance Charts
Attendance charts are inappropriate for a Sunday school setting. These charts involve listing children’s names in a column and giving the children stars for each week of Sunday school attendance. Such direct comparisons can be very hurtful to children whose parents are unable to get them to Sunday school. Imagine how a child with two stars-wedged between children with 10 stars-feels when it’s not his fault that he can’t be there. Attendance charts don’t exactly encourage these kids to come back.
Instead, use an alternative attendance record where the child is rewarded for attending without direct comparisons. For example, during the fall, place a paper tree trunk on a wall. On Sundays, each child places a leaf on the tree. Children participate in the same fun activity of getting to place an object just for being there, and they’ll enjoy seeing their tree grow. Use snowflakes in the winter and flowers in the spring.
You could also link attendance with your unit’s theme. If you’re studying creation, place a large mural-sized paper on the wall. As the weeks progress, children put stars in the night sky, rays of light from the sun, and various plants and animals in the garden. By the end of the unit, the children have contributed to a wonderful visual summary of the creation story.