Effective ministry to children begins when the leader develops a relationship with a child, who in turn, opens up to the leader. This friendship is not automatic. A relationship takes time to develop and demands that the leader learns important principles that will increase his ability to initiate and develop the kind of relationships that will lead to a deepening friendship. The following Principles for relating to Children are essential:
1. DEVELOP FRIENDSHIPS WITH CHILDREN
Children’s workers usually fit into one of three categories when it comes to how they view themselves in relation to the children: The Authoritarian leader insists that they are in control and the children must be quiet. On the opposite extreme is the Permissive leader who just talks with the children about anything that comes up and never maintains any form of discipline. A more beneficial approach is that of the Democratic leader who view themselves as guides who set the stage for learning while they are aware of the emotional needs of the children. Moving towards the third approach will begin the process of relating well to children.
How do you see yourself when you relate to children? There are a number of self-concepts that a leader may have. Firstly, the adult with children. There is nothing wrong with this unless you see adults as people with power and authority, and children as people whose role is to submit and learn. These leaders tend to be authoritarian and consider “covering the material” their main aim in ministry.
Secondly, others view themselves as the teacher who imparts information, while the children are there to receive information. The leader who gives the information requires that the children repeat it back to them. This leader, together with the first, is unlikely to develop a depth of relationship with the children as they spend too much time trying to maintain control and their questions are impersonal rather than personal.
There is a third view that will produce a better response. The leader who views him/herself as an adult friend. They see themselves as there to guide the children while they are also free to spend time developing relationships with the children who they see as individuals. This is the role that the apostle Paul adopted towards the churches he related to (See 2 Cor 6:11-13; 1 Thess 2:7,8,11,12 and 2 Tim 1:3,4). He took time to become the true friend of those to whom he was communicating the word of God.
Being a friend of children requires that we respect them, share with them, and listen attentively to them. Children value the following in friendships: Taking turns, conceding, supporting each other, explaining, discussing and reflecting similar values.
2. GET DOWN TO THE CHILD’S LEVEL
This is so obvious, but not so evident in practise. The leader must get down to the level of the child and not expect the child to come up to his level. Getting down requires that we:
A. ACTIVELY LISTEN TO CHILDREN
Possibly the most important step in learning to relate to children is developing the art of listening to what they have to say. This starts with an attitude that treats children as individuals, with the respect they deserve, ie. with an attitude that communicates, “This person is special. I can learn from them if I listen carefully.”
Then treat their conversation with sincerity and attention that will communicate that you are actually listening with interest to what they have to say. Avoid the temptation to offer pat answers or continually interrupt the child. Develop the ability to feel with the child and express concern and involvement in their lives.
Leaders must learn to balance their talking and listening time with children. They should listen 75% of the time and talk 25% of the time. After a time of sharing with a child evaluate your conversation: Did I listen to what the child was saying? Did I preach at them? Did my attitude express genuine interest? Did I help the child? What did I learn about the child that I did not know before?
B. DISCOVER THE WORLD OF THE CHILD
Children’s workers should try to discover the following about the child:
* What does the child like or dislike?
* What are the interests of the child?
* Who are their friends, heroes, or TV favourites?
* Who is in the family of the child?
* What pets does the child have?
* What are the child’s ideas about God?
* How does the child spend their free time?
But, do not let you conversation with the child resemble an interrogation. Do not approach the child with this list of questions, like someone who corners you outside a supermarket with a list of silly questions! Communication with children requires that we give them equal time. It may take a while for children to realise that you’re actually interested in what they have to say, because they have been taught to be seen and not heard. As you share with the child you will begin to discover their beliefs, values and even convictions. When children express themselves you will be able to determine what they actually have learnt and believe in.
C. COMMUNICATE ON THE LEVEL OF THE CHILD
Effective conversation with children involves understanding where they are and how they are able to communicate. They are not adults, nor mini- adults and must not be treated as such. Their world must be the centre of the conversation and not your world. Speak about things that interest the child, ie. school, friends, play, etc. Giving them abstract theological concepts when they are concrete thinkers is of little value. Learn to re- phrase what you have learnt in a simple way that will communicate with the child.
D. PHYSICALLY GET DOWN TO THE LEVEL OF THE CHILD
One of the surest ways to get a response form children is to physically get down to their level and communicate with them, eye to eye. This in itself will communicate to the child that you are attempting to relate to them seriously. We need to place ourselves in the position of children at times and consider how we would feel being spoken down to all the time.
3. LEARN THE NAME OF THE CHILD
Another simple principle for effectively relating to children is to learn and make frequent use of their name in conversation with them. Once again this communicates that you are concerned about them. Remembering the names of key people in their lives will also help to show that you want to be a friend. The way to learn the name of a child is by repeating it as often as possible in the conversation with the child. If necessary write out their names and periodically revise the list. There are many ways to learn name, ie. by repetition, association, etc. But however you do it, make sure that you learn the names of the children!!!
4. MAINTAIN CONTACT WITH THE CHILD
Ministry to children does not end when they leave the programme and go home. Because we aim to develop friendship-relationships with the children we must see the importance of maintaining contact with them. This may be done by means of letters, phone calls and most importantly, by home visitation. This will lead to contact with the family and give a broader perspective of ministry into the life of the child as well as open up avenues of ministry to the other family members.
5. WRITING TO CHILDREN
One of the ways to relate to children is through letter writing. You will discover details about the world of the child and some of their deeper thoughts that may not suface in normal conversation. One way to stimulate writing is to have a postbox in the youth group where children can, on a regular basis, send letters to the leaders. The replies can be deposited back in the postbox to be delivered during the next gathering.
Think of your relationships with children. Place an X on the line to describe the quality reflected in your relationship:
Think of where some of your children would place their mental marks to describe their relationships with you!
Meaningful Relationships are Evidenced by:
* Warmth rather that coldness
* Closeness rather than distance
* Feelings of really knowing the other
* Feelings of really being known by the other
* Two-way rather than one-way communication
Work at developing relationships that show these qualities in ever increasing measure. But, above all, consider the following!
Seven Things that Children See Right Through:
* Using a strange tone of voice
* Showing a lack of interest in their reply
* Towering above them
* Getting their level of development wrong
* Talking to the parent over theie heads
* Pretending that you are just a big kid
Seven Things that Children Respond to Well:
* Sharing feelings with them
* Demonstrating that you trust them
* Spending “quality time” with them
* Being up to date with their interests
* Remembering special events in their lives
* Telling them that you like them
* Helping out in conversation with open-ended talk
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