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Moving On

Carolyn Ross Tomlin

Avoid any Promotion Day blues this year in your Sunday school.

Each year when Promotion Sunday rolls around, churches have kids who look forward to moving up to another class. Granted, these are usually kids who yearn to grow older. Being recognized as advancing to the next level provides its own status symbol.

However, not everyone gets excited about change. Children in mixed-age Sunday school classes may want to remain in their tight-knit circles of friends -- rather than see half the class move up. Parents can voice desires for their children based on maturity and special needs. Both concerns have value as well as faults for your Promotion Day.

In researching the idea of promotion for children, I found very little information to help children's ministries deal with the blues that can surround moving up. When a problem surfaces, the dilemma may solve itself. But in worst-case scenarios, a dissatisfied family may leave the church.

Several Christian education directors provided the following examples of how they handle Promotion Day blues. Could these suggestions prove useful in your church?

Situation #1: Growing Up Too Soon

Samantha just wanted to be treated like any other 11-year-old girl, but that was difficult. Instead of wearing clothes for children her age, she shopped in the junior or misses' department. It wasn't that she wanted to look older -- quite the opposite. But with a mature figure, children's clothes didn't fit. And when Promotion Day came for Sunday school, her parents insisted she be placed in a class with young teenagers. Their rationale: As their daughter was physically developed, she surely must be mentally and socially mature, also.

Think About This:

Psychologist David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (Da Capo Press), talks about the stress of "force blooming" -- ausing children to grow up too soon. Television and the movies tell our preteens and teenagers that sex is in and childhood is out. But today's pressures to cope, to succeed, and to win are every bit as taxing -- indeed, as dangerous -- for children as they are for adults.

Early development can present a concern for parents and children. Even though parents may want the child to "remain a young girl a little bit longer," others expect maturity of actions and thoughts due to physical growth. If she stays with her age group, she'll use the literature planned for her age level. By moving up to an older group, the materials and activities may be above her mental and social age of development. How will she feel during church-sponsored events where teenagers socialize in a group setting if she doesn't have the emotional or social maturity to do the same?

Being physically mature doesn't mean that the girl is socially and emotionally ready to handle issues in the older class.

Could This Work?

Ask the child where she would feel most comfortable. Discuss with her any differences she may encounter in the older age group. Does she feel ready to face those?

Will this approach create a problem with other parents? Perhaps. But consider the pros and cons, and remember that people are more important than problems.

Situation #2: Trust vs. Mistrust

Two-year-old Harrison was previously a happy toddler who loved to stay in the church nursery. He played happily with others on his age level and participated in group activities. Moved to an older classroom, he cried and clung to his parents whenever they tried to leave. No one understood why; after all, he was only being promoted to a room across the hall. His parents wondered why such a small change could make such a big difference in his behavior.

Think About This:

Erik Erikson's theory of early social development describes this stage of trust vs. mistrust. Erikson says that one of the cornerstones of development, the parent-child relationship, largely determines whether a young child feels trust or mistrust.

Trust results when parents and young children coordinate their behaviors to one another's temperaments and when needs are consistent and reasonable. This trust continues with others who care for the child on a regular basis. Sunday school teachers who see the child weekly, or sometimes more, help the child develop this familiarity by being the one they see when entering the classroom. When another person replaces the familiar teacher, children develop doubts as to who'll be there for them.

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