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Come What May

Lori Haynes Niles

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 their peers.

"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 playground.

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.

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