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A preschool girl blowing a celebration horn on promotion Sunday.
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4 Situations to Avoid During Your Children’s Ministry Promotion Day

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?

Promotion Day 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” — causing 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.

Promotion Day 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.

Could This Work?

Make the transition over several weeks instead of all in one Sunday morning. Allow the toddler to visit the new room accompanied by his present teacher. Introduce him through play to other children in his age group. Realize that not all children reach the developmental stages at the same time. It’s better to have a happy child and satisfied parents than have strict rules concerning promotion.

Promotion Day Situation #3:  Understanding Special Needs

Allie, a 6-year-old child with unique needs, had formed a close bond with Mrs. Jones, a teacher trained in special education. Mrs. Jones used accommodation and modification of the curriculum that made it accessible to a child with a hearing and sight loss. Allie’s parents questioned: Would the teacher in the next department understand their daughter’s unique challenges? Could she adjust the Sunday school curriculum for a child like Allie? And would their daughter continue learning about the Bible in her own way?

Think About This:

Once a child with special needs bonds with a person who shows love and kindness, it’s difficult to let go to find another. Certain genetic or environmental conditions affect prenatal development. Other children have special needs as a result of injuries suffered in serious accidents or illness.

Today’s schools mandate that children with special needs receive the special education they need but be treated normally to the fullest extent possible. Research shows that when children with special needs spend part of their time with children who don’t have special needs, they learn from each other. Getting to know and accept one another, they offer social stimulation and interaction.

Parents of children with special needs face many concerns unknown to other families. Unfortunately, many Sunday school teachers don’t understand the needs of these children and their parents. If the parents feel there’s “no room” for their child, they drop out of church. And the family lacks the support of a loving church group.

Could This Work?

Schools use the term least-restrictive environment for children with special-needs requirements. Throughout the day, they attend a class geared for their special needs. But they also join their peers in music, art, and physical education classes. Could this method work in your class?

Sunday schools have many opportunities to engage all children in varied activities while keeping these children with the volunteers who are most equipped to minister to them. You may need extra volunteers and teachers to help these children with restroom needs, using craft materials, or enjoying rhythm band instruments. Teaching little ones that God loves all children is a powerful message for any Sunday school.

Promotion Day Situation #4: Separating Best Friends

Since kindergarten, Cooper and Tristan had been best friends. Living next door to each other, their families shared meals and fun activities together. However, one problem existed. When promotion day rolled around, Cooper remained in his old classroom while Tristan, a year older, was promoted. Both home-schooled, they never thought about being separated at church. On learning of the situation, Cooper said, “I’m not going back to Sunday school unless I can be in the same room as my friend.” And Tristan asked, “Why can’t I stay back and not be promoted?”

Think About This:

Solving problems such as this in a small church is easier than in a large one. With only a few cases such as this, you may find ways to accommodate the children. However, larger churches may have many children who want to remain with their best friends. It’s a difficult situation. Pray that God will guide you to make the right

Could This Work?

Talk with the families and assure them that you want both boys to be happy. If the situation demands it, let the boys stay together. Also plan social events and activities where both classes participate. Try team-teaching, where you rotate children and staff between classrooms. Introduce new members to already established classes. Assign a buddy system so children meet others.

With these tested strategies you can turn Promotion Day blues into a positive experience for everyone.

Carolyn Ross Tomlin has taught early childhood education and child psychology at Union University.

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