How to love the kids you wish wouldn’t show
Oh, Lord please don’t let Tommy come today; I need a break.
Your prayer ends with heckling guilt. How could you think like
that? Yet as you enter your classroom, your mood lifts when you
notice no Tommy…relief begins to spill like rain…It’ll be a
good day after all…Oh no-it’s Tommy tearing through the doorway
screaming an obscenity.
You know you should make yourself think about how Jesus would
handle this. Instead you break out in a cold sweat.
We all plan to love unconditionally. Especially in the early
hours: in the wee hours during prayer time, prior to the next class
or on the way to the program. But once on the front line, our
humanness exposes our fears, our egos, our intolerances-especially
in response to kids who bully, talk back, scream or whine; those
who are lazy, clingy or have horrible hygiene; and children who are
boisterous, rejecting…well, you know the ones.
What to do? Add these techniques to your ministry toolbox:
1. Listen to the behavior. Reading an action as
a message-rather than reacting emotionally to it-can reduce your
anxiety and teach you a whole lot about a child. Discern where
children are coming from, not where you want them to be.
Behaviors are information about the quality of kids’ lives,
relationships and self-concepts. Think about the kids you know and
what their actions say about them. Perhaps a clingy child is
telling you she needs love desperately; maybe she lives in an
environment of neglect, abuse or some other chaos.
Often snobs have been snubbed, bullies have been brutalized,
kids with poor hygiene think they “stink” and the lazy do-nothings
feel like they are nothing.
2. Love as Jesus loves. “Children like this
receive bad messages over and over again. They keep getting put
down,” says Elaine Friedrich from Texas. Elaine suggests learning
kids’ names. Calling out “Brian” says something totally different
from “hey you” or “the boy in the red sweater.”
Remind yourself over and over that these children-however
obnoxious or bullheaded-are children Jesus died for. By loving them
as Jesus does, you’ll help them respond to Christ.
3. Transform the negative into positive. Okay,
so you see Tommy the Terror through Jesus’ eyes of love. Now
Kathy Coffey of North Carolina puts overactive kids to work.
“It’s as if they weren’t challenged enough,” she says. When she
places rambunctious kids in leadership positions as her helpers,
Kathy finds that they create fewer problems in class.
Elaine has discovered similar results. She often invites
overzealous or lethargic students to put out materials or to read a
Bible verse. Little assignments ease kids into appropriate
4. Vary teaching techniques. If “problem” kids
disrupt your class, you may not yet be on their “turf.” Their turf
can be defined as the way they’re most comfortable learning. Some
children’s turf is on a physical plane. Get them running, jumping
or touching objects. Another’s may be auditory-being easily
stimulated by records or tapes. Yet another child might respond
best to visual cues such as reading, watching a video or
deciphering a coded message. If you use numerous teaching styles,
you’ll better reach children on their natural territories.
5. Look at yourself. Mose Yoder, an articulate
Amishman, once said, “Every time you point your finger at someone
else, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you.” And remember
what Jesus said: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your
brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
(Matthew 7:13, NIV).
Do emotionally needy children drive you up a wall? Ask yourself
if you, too, are clinging to your relationships. Or, to compensate,
are you aloof and cold?
Do the kids who talk back make you want to scream? Perhaps you
don’t trust your teaching abilities, decisions or opinions. Do
whiny children play on your nerves like an out-of-tune violin?
Could it be you don’t feel able to verbalize the difficulties in
If a child’s behavior sets off a highly-charged emotional
reaction in you, work on yourself first. Then you may be able to
clear the emotional air enough to deal more effectively with that
6. Develop compassion. With all of these
problems, it’s often not the child’s fault. If 7-year-old Crissy
smells badly, she probably doesn’t know any better. If nothing has
ever worked to settle down 9-year-old Eugene, perhaps he suffers
from Attention Deficit Disorder. If 4-year-old Ebony never
responds-no matter how much encouragement you give her-she might be
depressed either clinically or as a result of a prior or present
Some situations necessitate additional action. A conference with
a parent and possibly a referral to a pediatrician or therapist
might be the second greatest gift you have to offer a child.
The greatest gift is love. And please remember, “Love bears all
things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”
(1 Corinthians 13:7, NAS) even an “unlovable” kid-if there is such
Judi Bailey is a licensed professional clinical counselor in
by Judy Comstock
“I really do want to make a difference, Lord,” I thought as I
supervised the mass of children on the playground. I noticed how
isolated Nicole was. There was no friend to play with this unhappy
face in my class.
When I asked the third-grade teacher about Nicole, her first
words were, “Oh, yes, you have Mean Nicole.” Since we had three
Nicoles in fourth grade, this was a way of distinguishing her.
Nicole had a lot to live up to.
The teacher also said that Nicole had severe speech problems,
learning disabilities and visited the social worker on a regular
That night I wondered, “How would Jesus handle Nicole?” He would
love unconditionally, I thought-but could I? I prayed for all of my
students that night, especially Nicole.
My prayers changed me. I started seeing potential-hope for what
could be. Nicole didn’t know how to make or be a friend. She didn’t
like herself, so how could she like anyone else? Nicole’s mother
told me how her daughter had been isolated in a corner all of first
grade. Nicole was checking me out, testing me, every moment of the
After the ninth day of school, Nicole stood by her desk and
asked if there was anything she could do. I suggested a few small
tasks. Then I walked her to the hall to say goodbye. The halls were
empty. The school seemed very quiet. In the hallway, she took just
a few steps, then turned around and with open arms ran toward me to
say goodbye again. That was our magic moment. She trusted me enough
to be vulnerable-to open her arms.
What had happened? I had felt Nicole’s hurt and despair. A net
of love had caught her before she fell too far.
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