They're all laughing at me!" She was 4 and three-quarters; her
big, brown eyes filled with unspeakable sadness. I'd been there all
along and couldn't see anyone laughing at her, though all the
children were laughing. In fact, she'd been laughing with them. But
suddenly, her heart was broken.
Somewhere toward the end of the preschool years, children move
from the understanding of "I see you, and you see me" to "I see you
seeing me." They start to understand that other people have
opinions about them. This cognitive transition can be filled with
trepidation and may be especially frightening for children who see
themselves as culturally, physically, or otherwise different from
"I think you were all laughing together," I told her. "Your
friends enjoy laughing with you. But even if everyone in the world
laughed at you, you and I would still know you're wonderful, and I
love you." "Okay," she said, then smiled and pranced out to the
Those three words -- "I love you" -- were worth more than 10
minutes trying to reorient her feelings. I know, because I've spent
the 10 minutes with far less satisfying results. Kids need to know
that when the world around them turns rocky, teachers and parents
are on their side.
I must confess, there are times I go to God with the same
feelings -- not understanding what's happening around me, thinking
they're all laughing at me! or some other self-focused thought. I'm
so glad God doesn't try to make me think more rationally. God says
simply, "I love you," and it balances my world.
Preschoolers need adults to accept their feelings and love them
in the midst of their crises -- big or small. Too often, we
invalidate young children's feelings in an attempt to make them
feel better. We argue with their perceptions and try to replace
their feelings with our more reasonable thoughts. Instead, we have
the opportunity to act as Christ's representatives and let children
know that no matter how bad they feel, God's love is constant.
Teaching preschoolers is so much more than bringing Bible
stories to life. It's planting the message of the Bible deep in
their hearts where it'll change the way these little ones process
the events and emotions of their lives. What we do in the name of
Jesus during Sunday school matters. Preparing a lesson is
important; having materials at hand is a must; but above all,
remember the power of those three words -- "I love you."
Lori Niles is the teaching director of Moreland Family
Preschool, an associate pastor, and a teacher at the seminary level
in Portland, Oregon.