In our last post, “When kids of divorce explode emotionally, how do you help the parent?” we discussed how to help the single parent when her child exploded in the home. But what do you do when an emotional explosion happens at church? You can’t send them to their room. You must handle it at the moment it happens.
Many of the ways we’ve dealt with children in the past simply won’t work with the child of divorce. These children are hurting. Many are mourning the death of their once intact home. Some have a divorce bucket that is filled to the brim and when you add one more drop to that bucket it tips over and all the vile anger and rage pour out in the form of an emotional tirade. It can happen at home, school and even at church.
Ways to help
- Separate them if possible from the rest of the group. The last thing the child needs is a lot of onlookers.
- If possible give them comfort at the moment by placing your hand on their shoulder and talking in a low controlled voice. For some children this may be enough to calm them and gently pull them back into the group.
- If they are raging, do not try to touch them but describe what their body is doing. “You face is going like this. Your shoulders are going like this.” When some kids become angry and rage, they go into the lower levels of the brain, the fight, flight or flee part of the brain. When in the lower levels they literally can’t think as their body is reacting. When you describe what their body is doing, they will usually turn to look at you.
- As the child looks at you, add empathy to the situation and repeat what the child has said in the form of a question. “You’re upset because you wanted to stay at your dads today? I understand because sometimes I when I get to visit my mom I don’t want to come back either.”
- Ask, “What can I do to help you today?” If it is a reasonable request, honor it. If not simply state, “Hmm, that is not possible. How about if I ______________?” and offer another idea.
- As the child settles down, offer him or her choices such as, ask if they want to rejoin the group or sit/stand in the back of the room.
- After a rage, offer the child a glass of water. Raging can drain the child and water will rehydrate their brain. It’s even better if you tell the child to go get the glass of water. This helps give the child a chance to move out of the area they had the rage in and allows their brain to move forward with a different thought.
- Love on this child in any way they will allow. Sometimes after an emotional explosion is the time they want to talk. This can turn into an intimate time where you can impact the child with the love of Christ.
- Offer a scripture or two for the child to take home and refer to the next week.
- Follow up with this child. You might call him/her, text, email or send a card. Next week (or two weeks if the child goes to the other parent every other weekend) greet this child with a smile and hug if they will allow it.
What not to do?
Do not call the parent to come to the class. Most of the time the single parent doesn’t know what to do about an emotional explosion. Other times, just seeing the parent will send the kid into a deeper rage. Most of the time I would not tell the parent what happened. If I felt the parent needed to know I would ask the child’s permission to talk to the parent. The parent that brought the child might not be the parent the child lives with and this could cause some major backlash for the child. Whatever you decide to do, allow both the child and the parent to maintain their dignity.
If you have ever had a child who exploded in a fit of rage, please share your story with us.