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No Shame On You

Laycie Costigan

STEP 1: Use the Filter of Grace
The most important thing you can do to avoid unintentionally shaming kids is to make a habit of infusing your thoughts and language with grace whenever you are working with kids. The children you teach today will continue to work out their relationship with Jesus throughout their lives. Faith is a journey with lessons and challenges for each stage of life and development. So there's no better jumping off point for a child's faith journey than with God's overall message of love to us-and that must be your overall example to them. Love cultivates the beginning of a lifelong relationship with God; shame cultivates division from him. God's love is a solid, biblically-central, and age-appropriate foundation in which kids can root their faith commitment. A focus on grace creates an environment where kids are safe to just be kids. Remember, God's message for kids-and for each of us-through Jesus isn't "Shame on you!"-it's "Let me take this shame from you."

STEP 2: Eliminate Negative Messages
"My decision to speak to my own family in a loving and uplifting manner spilled over into the way I talked to children and children's volunteers in the church," notes Dick Gruber, co-founder of Children's Ministries University Online and a seasoned children's minister. Dick urges people who work with kids to reform their ministry language to create a more positive message. "My entire ministry was transformed by this one conscious decision. Proverbs 16:21 says, 'The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.' Since those early days, I've approached classroom management with verbal kindness and blessing. Rather than threaten children with punishment, I constantly encourage them with kind words. Leading with love is much more efficient than leading through shame."
It's true: In all situations, highlighting and praising kids' good behavior goes much further than calling out unruly behavior (and it goes further still when you tell parents or guardians about their child's triumph). Through your example of praising the good you see in kids, you'll effectively transform kids when they see that good behavior and acts of kindness earn positive attention that feels a million times better than negative feedback. Your words of affirmation and praise become a living example of how God feels about kids-even though you both know they're still capable of messing up. Let kids know you're proud of their triumphs, and you give them reason and desire to repeat their actions.
"Kids are constantly being told what they're doing wrong," adds Dale Hudson, director of children's ministries at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida. "Rather than calling them out, let's call them up to become all God desires them to be."

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