In ministering to children of divorce and their single parent it is important to realize that right after a divorce has occurred single parents may need to change how they discipline their children. They have moved from a two-parent partnership to only one parent. What might have worked before no longer works for the single parent. It can be scary for the single parent to parent alone especially when a child exhibits behaviors that are not normal for him or her.
This past Friday night I got the following text from a panicked single mom. Her elementary age child was in fit of rage. This is a newly-divorced family. The kids came from dad’s home into mom’s home on that evening. Everything was going fine until the mom told the child to pick up his clothes and put them in his room. She said, “All I said was ‘take your clothes to your room and put them away’ and he went berserk.”
It was just too much for the young man. It was not the laundry that caused him to become a raging child. It was the stress of the divorce and all that goes with it.
- Living one week at dad’s and then one week at mom’s
- Switching homes on Friday evening when most children are tired at the end of the week
- Holidays looming before him
- Uncertain plans
- School work
- Trying to please both parents in two different homes
The list can go on and on. But the final drop that filled his bucket to overflowing was his mom telling him to put his laundry away.
I like how Rob Rienow explains this in his “Visionary Parenting: Encouragement for Single Parents.” He says “Kids may blow up when they are hurt because their buckets of hurt are full. Someone says one little thing or does something and it’s only a drop but it’s a drop too much that falls into their full bucket and they blow up.”
I texted the mom and explained that this was not a discipline situation or a time to draw the line on behavior. It wasn’t the clothes or her that caused the rage but the divorce and stress. To help in the immediate situation this is what I suggested the mom do
- Wait for him to calm down
- Do not try to talk or bribe him out of his rage
- Don’t offer him food or anything else right now
- Do not call his dad for help
- You have to deal with this situation yourself (This was appropriate for this mom’s situation. It is important to know and understand the divorcing situation when ministering to the child and or the single parent.)
Then I made suggestions as to how to handle the rest of the week and how to empower her child through the next transition between the dad’s home and her home.
- Allow her son to move at his own pace when coming out of his room.
- Offer him choices.
- Make everything a choice. “Do you want to sit at the table to eat or at the bar?”
- Don’t offer one positive choice and one negative choice. When you do that you are manipulating him to do what you want. Right now he needs to feel like he is in control of himself.
- Always offer two or three positive choices. Choices empower a child.
- Right now his anger is his power and it’s all he knows to do when that one “drop” falls into his bucket.
- Develop some kind of ritual for when the kids come to your home.
- Wait until after the kids have gotten settled to start having them do chores. Was it really that important for the clothes to be put away as soon as the kids arrived or is that something that could have waited?
This is not a situation where the child needed to a firm hand or to be punished. This situation called for a calm adult who could lovingly work through the raging, screaming fit. It calls for empathy on the mom’s part. It also calls for a change in how the mom has normally dealt with her child.
In the end the outcome for this single mom and her son was good. When her son calmed down he had a really good cry. He came out of his room and apologized to his mom. He picked up all the clothes and cleaned up the mess he had made. They ended up having a good weekend with the child being sweet and loving all weekend. He was back to his normal self.
If you are a children’s minister or children’s volunteer you need to realize this won’t be the end of it. This child is really hurting. He is confused and he wants things to go back the way they were before the divorce. It will take time for his hurting heart to heal.
If you have had a single parent come to you for help with this kind of emotional explosion, what has been your advice?