Thanksgiving-2

Ways to Help the Angry Child of Divorce be Thankful at Thanksgiving?

Issues Kids Deal With / Spiritual Formation //

Many times the child of divorce doesn’t comprehend the idea of being grateful. As a matter of fact many children of divorce get angry over the holidays. Being thankful is not on their minds at all. Even if you are teaching about being thankful, they may not understand the concept because of the anger they are experiencing.

For the child of divorce, many times the holidays bring up feelings of tremendous anger. Thoughts like, “If my dad hadn’t been so selfish, he wouldn’t have gotten a divorce. He wasn’t even thinking about me. He was only thinking about what he wanted. What about me? I want him here for Thanksgiving. I’m GLAD he’s going to be alone. He doesn’t deserve to have a happy Thanksgiving.”

Many times, shortly after the angry “I’m glad he is alone” thoughts, come the conflicting thoughts: “I’m glad we get to go to Dad’s for Thanksgiving dinner. But what about Mom—will she be alone that day? Will she miss me at dinner? We always play that game with the turkey and dressing, seeing who can eat the most. Whom will she talk to if I’m at Dad’s house?”

Children may long for acceptance from both parents. Because of this, they may vacillate back and forth with their feelings of anger, resentment and guilt for wanting to enjoy the holidays with both parents.

Here’s one of the key reasons children can get so angry during the holidays: Everything has changed. Life has changed. The family unit has changed. And even though Thanksgiving and Christmas still come around, the celebrations will be different.

As holiday routines are interrupted, the loss of security may become overwhelming to some children. Why? Routines bring a sense of security in knowing what’s expected of each person. When routines are interrupted, children become angry and unsure of what is happening. They don’t know what is expected of them or how they are supposed to act. Some children will have full-blown angry outbursts while others will remain crabby and out of sorts for days.

Church leaders and volunteers can help these children understand the concept behind being thankful. You can do this by

  • Giving examples from your life about what you are thankful for
  • Point out the good things the child has in their life (This means you’ll need to know something about the child’s life. Do they have enough to eat? Do their parents split custody? Or perhaps they never see the other parent, etc.)
  • Provide games, color sheets and stories of thankfulness that the child can take home to remind them about being thankful.
  • Take time to pray with them about their home life.
  • Provide an upbeat attitude about the up and coming holidays and do it with a smile. Smiles are contagious and kids will cling to a joyful person.
  • Encourage the single mom or dad to talk to their children before Thanksgiving. In one of the DC4K Facebook post the suggestion was made, “Talk with your children ahead of time as to what will happen on Thanksgiving Day. Make sure your child knows it’s okay to have fun even if you or the other parent is not present.”One of the single moms responded very wisely when she said, “This is a great point! One of the first questions I always try to ask is if my daughter had a good day/time or if she had fun…with an expectation in my voice that she did. I want her to enjoy her time and know that it’s okay and she should!”

Suggestions you can make to the single parent

  • Encourage reminiscing
    It’s okay to reminisce about past holidays. Let the children know it’s okay to talk about these things. Pull out the pictures from past holidays. Pore over them and talk about what fun everyone had. If your child gets angry when remembering past holidays, then talk about what you can do as a single parent family to make things different this year.
  • Allow children to help plan holiday celebrations
    Ask the children what they think would be a good plan to help them get through these times. Ask the children what traditions from the past they want to keep. Don’t make them wonder about how they’ll spend the holidays. Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Keep your routines
    Do your best to keep routines the same so children can depend on some things staying the same. If you do have to interrupt the normal routine, make sure your children know in advance what is taking place.
  • Do something new
    Even though children thrive with routines, change—when introduced and handled well—can be good too. This is especially true if a past tradition is too painful to continue. For example, maybe your family has always gone to pick out a tree together. But doing it without Dad may seem overwhelming to your child. Talk about still doing this, but with a variation. Possibly you could go with another family or plan on going with just one parent.

Much of the information for this post came from an article on the Surviving the Holidays site. For more in depth look at kids of divorce, single parents and the holidays see, Reasons Why Children Get Angry During the Holidays, and How You Can Help

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About the Author

Linda has been a children’s ministry director, developed DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids, dc4k.org), operated a therapeutic child care, and has extensive experience at successfully accommodating challenging behaviors. She currently serves as the DC4K Ambassador and Professional blogger at http://blog.dc4k.org.