Don’t miss these 13 practical, healthy ways to build friendships with the kids you teach in your children’s ministry.
Each week, we face rooms with children excited and ready to learn about Jesus. Sometimes our kids know each other, go to school together, and have intact friendships. Or they may represent a blend of different ages, schools, and backgrounds with no existing friendships. As their teacher, one of the most important things we can do for kids is to guide them in building friendships with one another and with us. When kids feel welcome, cared for, and loved, they’ll get more out of their church experience—plain and simple. And as teachers and Christian mentors, we’re more effective with kids when we have good relationships with them.
You can work to build stronger bonds with kids all year long. It doesn’t take a program overhaul, just a commitment to maximizing the little moments we have with kids each week. Here are loads of ways you can strengthen your relational bonds with kids this year.
Continually pray for the children you serve. Pray for their families, too. Pray together at the beginning of your class time and at the end. Bowing your heads together to talk to God is one of the greatest ways to create a powerful relational bond that’ll be unbroken—and last long after kids leave your room.
2. Do Your Homework
Ah, preparation! As a teacher, you know your lesson goes better the more prepared you are. But being prepared has another great advantage: It lets kids jump right into the lesson without having the unsettling sense that you’re unsure of yourself. Kids pick up on our nervousness and disorganization immediately. So the more confident you are with your lesson, the better everything will be. Planning ahead also demonstrates to kids that you took the time to prepare and that alone shows that you value them and care.
3. Create a Routine
Establishing a routine is great for kids because it gives them a sense of belonging and familiarity. Consider adding a specific learning activity to the routine you do together each week. This could be as simple as tossing a ball from one person to the next while you recite each week’s verse just before closing. When you practice a simple learning experience together as part of your routine, it gives you all a common goal (learning the verse or Bible point) and adds to the group’s sense of belonging.
4. Find Common Ground
One of the best ways to connect with kids is a simple, tried-and-true method: Relate to them by finding something you have in common. For example, Olivia has only attended Sunday school twice and isn’t comfortable with her teacher, Mr. Jim. This week, Mr. Jim greets Olivia and asks how she’s doing. He asks her what she did over the weekend. As Olivia tells Mr. Jim that she spent the weekend playing with her dog, Mr. Jim’s eyes light up. He tells Olivia that he has a dog, too, and tells her a humorous story about his dog. Bam. Connection made. This is a fantastic way to make a genuine connection with kids.
5. Celebrate Together
A key to building strong relationships is to take time to celebrate together. Please note: This doesn’t mean bribing kids with prizes for learning Bible verses. But you can encourage relationships and learning by celebrating with kids. For instance, plan an event such as a bowling party or an afternoon picnic to celebrate the end of a quarter. Let kids talk about the Bible points or Scripture that mean the most to them and why, and celebrate the fact that you get to learn about Jesus together. Adding celebrations to your routine Sunday schedule will add excitement and joy—and offer great ways to casually connect with kids and parents.
6. Take It Seriously
As a teacher, you’re also a mentor. You have a great influence on many young lives, which is an important responsibility. Children are easy to influence—negatively or positively—so never underestimate the importance of establishing healthy, trusting, honorable relationships with them. Your connection with children may seem casual and mundane at times (think discipline!), but it’s also sacred. God’s entrusted them to you, so before every time of interaction, adopt the mindset that you have an important and specific role in their lives.
7. Make Your Greetings Personal
One way to instantly engage children of all ages is to personally greet them when they come in your door. This sounds very simple, but it’s a technique that’s often overlooked. Greeting children by name, making eye contact, and asking how they are is an effective way o build closer bonds with kids nearly effortlessly. The act of a personal greeting demonstrates that you care about children individually and that they have value.
8. Play Together
Games connect children relationally and help them learn how to solve problems. For instance, when teaching about the Israelites crossing the desert, plan an activity where children must use equipment such as skateboards, rope, and baseball bases to get from one place to another. Give kids the equipment and explain that just as the Israelites had to cross the desert together, they must work together to successfully help everyone to the other side of the room. Then let kids take the lead. Activities such as this are great opportunities for building friendships because they allow children to take risks together in a safe environment. Group games and play let kids learn important skills such as problem-solving, working together toward a common goal, and helping others. And don’t miss the opportunity to debrief game experiences with kids afterward. Often, the discussion surrounding an experience is more valuable than the experience itself.
9. Work Together
Doing work together is another positive and effective way to strengthen your relationships. Ask your kids what kinds of projects they’d like to do together. For instance, your Sunday school class might want to take a field trip to the latest Christian movie but needs to raise funds to do so. Organizing a plan and doing the work to raise funds together lets your kids take on new roles and work with each other in new ways. Or they might decide to put on a play based on the Bible passage you’re studying. You might set aside your typical lesson plan for a week and rehearse before you perform the play for the congregation or other classes. No matter how you choose to work together, the journey from the beginning to the end of your project is a great way to get to know your kids better.
Laughter is the best medicine, and it’s also a great relationship-builder! The group that laughs together is a group that feels more secure and welcoming. Add the “giggle filter” to your weekly plan—meaning you do one thing each time you meet that gets kids laughing. If your lesson plan doesn’t have the giggle filter, add a simple, silly game. Just ensure that your time with kids isn’t all serious. And remember this: If you have a child who only comes to church once a month (and we all do), you can immediately make that child feel welcome by making him or her laugh. Laughter is a simple yet effective way to create an instant bond of trust.
11. Provide Familiarity
Many churches have a handful of people who are involved in every event that takes place. This is especially true when it comes to vacation Bible school, Sunday school, and other events. When those steady volunteers need a break, new people step in to help. When you have someone who assists once in a while (especially in the nursery), expect that children may become nervous or unsettled. One way to alleviate this anxiety is to keep one person in the room the children already know. Seeing one familiar face in the room makes a big difference.
12. Get to Know Kids’ Families
Getting to know kids’ families is key to strengthening your relationship with kids. All parents want to know who’s caring for their child. Connect with families by spending just a few extra minutes talking with them before and after class. This is an easy and effective way to establish a relationship with parents, and it isn’t a major, time-consuming production. A simple greeting, positive comment about their child, or heartfelt “How are you today?” will make a world of difference to parents and open the door for authentic conversation. Let parents know you appreciate and care for their child, and you’ll have an instant partner in the child’s faith growth.
13. Teach Well
Teachers have the privilege of illuminating the Bible to the future leaders of our world. With that thought in mind, it’s critical to ensure we do our very best when it comes to presenting the lesson each week. This goes beyond the logistics of preparation and into the heart of what we do. We need kids’ trust so our teaching is more effective. Think of it this way: Adults are more likely to listen to someone we trust and have an established friendship with than someone we distrust or don’t know. In turn, we must ensure kids trust and know us so our Bible lessons create a deeper impact. Get to know your kids and their families. When you form a bond with kids, you’ll be a more effective teacher and mentor to them.