“Please sit still and listen to the story.” “You need to quit running around.” “Do you have ants in your pants?” “Please get out from under that table and come sit.” “I don’t know what I am going to do with you,” “Do I need to go get your mom?”
These are things you might hear in Sunday School classes, kids’ camps, schools, and children’s ministry groups every day. Teachers and their assistants struggle with classes that are too big and many times are filled with overly active kids. How do you “tame the chaos” in class so they can learn?
The majority of children nowadays come from homes in chaos, so that is how they act. They live in the ‘flight or fight” mode of their brain and it is virtually impossible for them to sit still. If leaders do not understand this, it can just be a push and pull every day. I don’t have some fancy degree, but I have worked with the families of divorce and other trauma for over 15 years, have gone to countless class, workshops, conventions and symposiums, and have learned practical ways to connect with these kids and help them learn.
I headed up the Divorce Care For Kids (DC4K) group in our church for a few years and then The Big D…Divorce Thru the Eyes of a Teen for a few years after that. I have worked at a church camp for several years as well. Kids come into our churches and camps with a boatload of hurt and devastation, but don’t know how to cope or control their actions, many times. How can we help so they benefit the most from our groups?
First of all, we need to understand what is behind their behavior. Mainly, what a child needs is to know they are safe and truly cared about. They may have adults in their lives who say they love them, but then hurt them over and over. Why should they feel safe with us then? A parent may promise them things, but rarely ever do what they promise, so the child learns to not trust adults. Many children are thrown back and forth between parents after a divorce, so they never feel settled or know where they belong. Many kids are surrounded with anger, so that can be the filter they see all of us with. If kids live in a step-family situation, many times they see their step-siblings get better treatment, so they don’t learn to get along without jealousy and poor self-worth. They may steal to get what they want. Many kids learn from home that they don’t have to do what you say unless you yell or threaten them, so they aren’t necessarily defying you when they don’t listen; they don’t know any other way. Be willing to be patient and set up guidelines for what happens in your particular group so they know what you expect.
“If you minister to the heart of a child, their behavior will change.” Please read this again.
Chaotic children are used to getting in trouble, having time out, sent to the principal and being made an example of. If you give them a little extra loving attention, truly listen to them, maybe let them help you, give them deserved compliments or kind words, be consistent with them and “catch them doing something positive”, you will earn their trust and they will feel safer. THEN they can learn.
Our world is so very different from what it used to be and those of us who work with kids, need to learn how to adjust how we connect with them. When a new child comes to our groups, we should find out what type of family they are living in so we can assess how to come alongside of them. Please don’t expect them to be like “normal” kids. If you do, you will lose them. Take the time to understand.
There is a wonderful resource to help us understand all of this. Please go to http://www.hlp4.com for a large amount of articles that can help you become more affective to the children God puts in front of you. Traditional ways of teaching kids are mostly ineffective in this generation, so be willing to learn.
“Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come to Me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
There is so much that hinders children from learning about Jesus’ love for them, so we, as childrens’ leaders/teachers/mentors need to learn new ways to connect with them so they can learn. We can learn to “tame the chaos” and love them as they are, just like Jesus.