In Sunday School, a boy makes a disparaging remark about another boy. A girl reveals private information in the classroom. Another child does or says something embarrassing. While each of these situations may be challenging and uncomfortable to us, they can be wonderful teaching opportunities. As parents and teachers, most of us have encountered one of these or similar situations. How should we respond? Here are some suggestions.
Turn the attention away from the child involved and toward the heart of the issue.
- Example: if a disparaging remark was made, talk about
how we are called to love and encourage each other in the Body of Christ,
a family brought together by the work of Christ on the cross, and His
victorious resurrection. Luke 6:31 calls us to treat others in the
same way in which we want to be treated. Remind the children how we are
each created differently with differing gifts and abilities, but all part
of one Body and all created to love and serve one another (Psalm 139:14; I Corinthians 12:18-22).
Perhaps you could help the children come up with things to think before
speaking: Is this encouraging or discouraging to the hearer? Would I want
someone saying something like that about me (Luke 6:31)? Is there a way I can be kind
instead of cruel (Proverbs 11:17)? Am I being critical of
others just to make myself feel better (Romans 14:10)? Remind them that the kindness
we show to one another reflects the kindness that God has shown to us in
His work of saving us. Maybe give them some examples of different phrases
or words and after reading each one ask if it reflects Christ or our
sinful heart. For example:
- “Shut up”
- “Would you like me to help you?”
- “You’re stupid”
- “I’m sorry!”
- “Give me that!”
- “Can I have that, please?”
- “Leave me alone!”
- “I’m not feeling well. Could we talk later?”
- Example: if private information has been shared, discuss how certain information should be kept confidential, especially if permission was not given by those involved to share the information. Remind them that the only time they should NOT keep something private is if someone is in danger.
- Example: a child refuses to read aloud when called upon. It is best to assume there is a reason this child is not comfortable reading aloud. Let them know it is ok to pass on reading aloud. You can always talk to them privately afterwards to better understand why they refused to read. Many children with reading disabilities and learning difficulties find it very difficult to read aloud. Encourage them in other ways they can participate if they do not want to read aloud
If sin is involved, bring the child with you to the foot of the cross. We’ve all allowed our sin to manifest itself in our words. Come alongside the child who has sinned and share with them the truth of Scripture, the forgiveness that Christ offers and the steps of repentance including asking forgiveness from God and the person sinned against (I John 1:9; James 5:16-18). This may also require helping the offended person grant forgiveness (Colossians 3:13).
If childishness is involved, teach a more God-honoring word or activity. Sometimes it’s hard to know if a child knows something is inappropriate or if they have not yet been taught. You may have the wonderful opportunity to teach them that a word or sound is not appropriate. Gently letting them know that there is a better or more appropriate word to use may be all that is necessary.
Children often take their cues about how to respond from adults. Even if something uncomfortable has happened or was said, your calm and kind response can often turn the response of the children involved. By not ignoring the problem, but instead addressing the heart of the issue with love and grace, you have gained a teachable moment – a gospel opportunity. It may even be an opportunity for prayer. How we respond to difficult or uncomfortable situations, every interaction, teaches something. Don’t miss the unplanned teachable moments.
[This article is written by Bobette Hatteberg, the Children’s Ministry director at our church. It was originally published on our church website.]