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
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."