You know your ministry has them. I bet you can immediately rattle off several names – kids you genuinely like, but also have the ability to drive you up a wall. Challenging kids can make your Sundays or Wednesdays tiring, and they can be a drain on your time and your volunteers’ energy. However, challenging kids should be a tremendous blessing as well. They push you to put good systems in place, open up your communication, and help you learn to mix discipline with affirmation.
Since we all deal with challenging kids, here are a couple tips that I’ve picked up that may help you and them thrive in your church environment:
Make communication your foundation. Talk it out with everybody. If they have a small group leader, go over their tendencies, discipline ideas and effective affirmation. Get in touch with their parents and talk about their time in the classroom, and make time to ask them as many questions as possible. Talk to the kid, especially when they are not acting up. It’s amazing how much you can learn, and how far communication goes when it comes to getting everyone in your corner. Most important, communication helps build a deeper relationship with the kids and their family, and that trust will help you become a trusted leader to them.
Try to grasp the kids’ story. Getting to know a child’s back-story almost always provides you with good insights on how to better work with them. Maybe you’ll glean knowledge about ADD or a learning disability that makes thriving in a classroom difficult. Maybe you’ll find out about home or family issues that weigh on a child’s mind and push them to act out. Most important, knowing your students back-story will help humanize them even more in your mind, enabling you to act more wisely and compassionately toward them.
Work your systems. One of the advantages of working with challenging kids is they highlight flaws in your classroom management systems. When this happens, don’t get frustrated – view it as an opportunity to make them better. Find ways to make them more restorative, work with your leaders about on ways to improve your communication and support or simply find new methods that will work with your challenging students. Whatever the improvements are, see them as an opportunity to make your entire classroom better.
Affirm, affirm, affirm. In my experience, many challenging kids and families know that they require more energy than other kids. This can create feelings of frustration, guilt or mistrust for them. As a children’s ministry worker, you have the opportunity to exchange these feelings for feelings of trust and community. One of the best ways to do this is to intentionally find opportunities to affirm your kids and their families. Highlight their value, and the good things they bring to your church. Even when they are being difficult, mix affirmation with discipline, so they are reminded that they are welcome in your community. That sense of welcome and affirmation will go far in the minds and hearts of your challenging families.
Know when to be firm. Sometimes challenging kids need extra discipline. Sometimes they require meetings with parents, or even to skip certain events or programs. Tackling this is extremely difficult, but when you’ve worked on the things listed above, it gifts you with a better foundation to have the hard conversations. Also, don’t hesitate to get the backing of your bosses when you need to take a firm stance that may produce blowback. Part of your responsibility is to ensure the overall health of the classroom, so be willing to take firm steps when needed.
I know this is just scratching the surface, so what are your tips for dealing with challenging kids? Please share!