What to foster healthy spiritual growth in kids? Here’s how you can instill healthy confidence and God’s love in kids—one carefully chosen word at a time.
Wide-eyed, 6-year-old Jacob could hardly contain his excitement as he dribbled the soccer ball down the grassy field. Fueled by the crowd’s roar, he ran faster, outmaneuvering his opponents and tripping over his own feet before regaining control of the ball. The crowd grew wild as Jacob moved within striking range of the goal. He paused, then whacked the ball, sending it flying into the net. Elated, he whirled around to face his biggest fan–but the pained look on Mom’s face told him something was terribly wrong. Slowly, Jacob realized he was standing on the defender’s side of the field. He’d unintentionally scored a point for the other team.
Totally defeated, Jacob crumbled to the ground, thoughts swirling like a dark tornado in his head: I’m so stupid! I bet my team hates me now! What do Mom and Dad think? I’m so embarrassed! He swiped at tears as they rolled down his cheeks and silently cried out for God. His parents, who could read his thoughts, watched helplessly from the stands. Was Jacob’s error partially their fault? Were their warning cries misinterpreted as cheers? They blamed themselves for not sending a clearer message.
Have you ever been in Jacob’s shoes, taking control of the ball only to run it in the wrong direction? Or maybe you can relate to his well-meaning parents whose encouraging words were unfortunately misunderstood.
As teachers and children’s ministers honored with the task of helping kids grow spiritually, we need to ensure that our loving words and intentions aren’t misinterpreted and that they instill healthy confidence and positive spiritual growth in our kids. Here’s a look at how even the noblest of intentions can go awry–and how to set them straight.
1. GOOD INTENTIONS GONE BAD
Even the best-intentioned compliments and encouragement can have unintended consequences. Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls of good intentions gone bad.
• Beware of flooding children with praise that isn’t specific. Too many overused, generic phrases such as, “Good girl!” and “Nice work!” can have the same sickening effect as pouring too much chocolate syrup into a glass of milk. Moreover, kids with a sweet tooth may become dependent upon other people to pour out the praise, rather than learning to fill their cup of self-worth.
Instead, praise specifically: “I love the way you think of others first!”
• Watch out for the lie. Saying, “You drew the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen!” may sound like a loving and enthusiastic compliment, but if you don’t mean it, it’s essentially a lie. And even “little white lies” breed mistrust in relationships, which can have a long-term negative impact on a child’s spiritual development. A child who soars in a balloon bloated with praise will inevitably face the razor of reality.
Instead, praise truthfully: “I can see that you worked really hard on your drawing of Jesus, Alonzo.”
• Be wary of rewarding good behavior. When children get rewards for behavior they already willingly perform, they learn to expect payment for performance. And when the rewards lose their appeal, the behavior dwindles along with the appeal. So don’t give out peppermints when kids have been respectful during class or stickers when they share a toy.
Instead, encourage standards of behavior: “Thank you, Kailee, for taking turns with Chenice.”
• Think twice before sheltering or overprotecting. It’s our responsibility to ensure kids’ safety, and we must intervene when any child faces significant danger. But when we consistently prevent children from taking age-appropriate risks or handling social situations for themselves, we actually rob them of golden opportunities to learn and grow.
Instead, allow kids to take appropriate risks and solve social problems on their own, stepping in only when they genuinely need help.