As kids enter elementary school, they also enter a time when friendships become a central element in their lives. Kids this age are still learning how to make friends, and their lives can often seem more like a soap opera because of the fluid — and often fleeting — nature of these friendships.
And though these friendships may come and go, as a children’s minister you can help kids have positive experiences, learn to grow in their friendships, and learn to value their friends. Here are tips you can use.
• Bait and Switch — Give plenty of opportunities for kids to talk together with a partner or in a trio. And have kids switch every so often so they’re exposed to more than the same group of kids each time.
• Force It — Make “friendship appreciation” a regular part of your class time. In each class, incorporate activities such as having kids each say something nice about the child sitting next to them. This will build rapport and self-esteem between kids.
• Honor the Rule — Use Scriptures that depict friendships and their importance in your lessons. Point out the significance of friendship in these verses. And most of all, teach kids the Golden Rule — and enforce it.
• Hire Ambassadors — Make your classroom a “friends-first” classroom. This means that any visitors have an automatic partner (a volunteer ambassador) and that kids who miss class are prayed for and sent a “missed you” card.
• Talk About It — Most kids love to talk, so tap into this propensity by giving them a chance to talk about why friendship is important and how we should treat our friends.
• Worth Fighting For — Conflicts are inevitable. How you guide kids to handle their conflicts will determine whether they learn to treat one another with respect and kindness or with contempt. Make your conflict-resolution policy clear.
Although kids this age experience fluid relationships with one another, there can still be a strong bonding that takes place. By emphasizing that friendships are important and that everyone belongs, you’ll help kids build the foundations for strong friendships in the years to come.
Jennifer Hooks is associate editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine.