For an hour every Sunday, I hang out with 3rd graders and their AWESOME small group leaders. I bounce around between five small groups totaling about 50 kids. I’m there to help the groups in any way I can: getting them supplies, filling out rosters, helping with unruly kids, etc.
Myself and the leaders…we don’t exactly run a “tight ship.” In fact we run a rather….err…crazy ship. We don’t expect kids to sit in perfect circles for an hour. There is a lot of sprawling on the ground, getting up and down a million times (especially the boys), running, wiggling, heck sometimes there’s breakdancing.
We understand that anytime you have that many 3rd graders together, the goal is controlled chaos with small moments (like, counted in seconds and minutes) of calm and discussion.
But occasionally a kiddo’s behavior will move beyond “normal third grade activity and commotion” into true disruption. If a kid is picking on someone relentlessly, or the only one refusing to let the group have a moment of discussion, or is just being over the top with inappropriate behaviors, then I have to talk about those behaviors with their parent.
Listen, it’s never easy to talk to a parent about what their kid does wrong. I only do it in extreme cases, and I’m always quick to also share that we LOVE their child, we’re THRILLED they are at church, and we want them to come back. But the fact remains…I’m still telling a parent about their child’s misbehavior, which can be an awkward and hard conversation.
Know what makes that conversation even harder? If it’s the very first one I’ve had with that parent.
It’s difficult, and maybe even wrong, for the first time you engage with a parent to be when you are unhappy with their kid. You’ve got to do some work ahead of time, so that when and if those conversations need to happen, that parent will already be assured that you are invested in their child.
How do you make those conversations happen? Here are some ideas:
Be sure you are at the door smiling at parents at arrival time. Say hello to kids, and call them by name.
When you see a kid in the church lobby with a parent, approach them and engage in conversation.
Send postcards and birthday cards to kids in your group.
Share the smallest of wins with parents:
“He was so engaged today!”
“He gave a great example in discussion time.”
“He rocked at our game today!”
“He is always so respectful.”
“I love how he’s a great friend!”
“He prayed for our group today during prayer time!”
Work hard to find ways to talk to parents about the GREAT things that you love about their kid. Even the toughest and rowdiest of kids have value and worth, and those are often the parents who need to hear it the most.
And when you do have to say “He had a bit of trouble in small group today. We talked a lot about being respectful and not disrupting prayer time”, it won’t be the first thing that parent has heard from you. They’ll know that you don’t just think of their kid as “disrespectful and disruptive”, because you’ll have already told them otherwise!
Answer: Angry people are so much fun. Angry people are exactly the sort of people I love to spend time around. Angry people are great to share a cup of coffee with. Angry people make everything that much brighter. Angry people set a great standard for how I want to live.
Question: What are things nobody ever says?
Unfortunately, while we never aspire to surround ourselves with angry people, we are ensured of being confronted with them from time to time. Whether it’s an overzealous driver, an easily offended mother in your neighborhood, or a frustrated coworker. I’ve worked in churches for years and I’ve talked to my share of angry people. Not because churches are full of angry people, but because churches are full of normal people. Here are some things I’ve learned to help me in my interactions with the angry friends in my life:
I’m very rarely the reason they are angry…even if they tell me I am. There is always another thing behind the thing. Want to test my theory? When was the last time you talked with an angry person that sincerely was angry about a righteous problem? Our angry counterparts are usually frustrated with something meaningless to most people. It doesn’t mean they aren’t sincerely angry, it just means there are always underlying issues.
Everyone seems angrier from a distance. The foolproof method to put out the fire inside an angry email, is to pick up the phone and call them. Take it one step further and go for face-to-face interaction. That simmers down the fire even more. When angry people get your full undivided attention, they usually are willing to listen and calm themselves down quickly.
Angry people want you to respond with anger. This is their way of justifying their own actions. What’s the learning here? Don’t let them win by returning angry words with angry words. Which leads us to the next point.
Angry people need love. Let me be clear, do not attempt to hug an angry person. What I’m advocating here is the love that speaks through your patient words and following up with acts of kindness. They need healing, and being on the receiving end of their anger, makes you the prime candidate to respond in the way most people won’t.
Those that know me, know that I passionately pursue simplicity in my life. It’s not that I don’t want anything, instead I’ve developed a heightened awareness towards those things I really need in my life. This has led me to sell things I own at a rapid pace, clear out closets and basements with abandon, and learn to live with perfectly dependable “old” things in my life.
In the spirit of a new year, and as we approach the end of our “setting goals” month of January, here are some totally foolproof ways to improve your life. I’m serious friends, these are game changers!
- Buy new socks and underwear. Trust me, it’ll change your life.
- Kiss your wife everyday. (After brushing your teeth of course.)
- Buy a new razor. If you’ve got an electric razor, go ahead and order new blades every 6 months. It’s worth the effort.
- Only drink one cup of coffee a day. Like real coffee, not those sugary chocolate drinks from Starbucks. Those are great, but save them for special occasions…and breakfast isn’t a special occasion.
- Train for a 5k with your 10 year old. On a personal note, my 10 year old is kicking my tail.
- When you first feel hungry, instead go drink a glass of water. If you’re still hungry, then go for it.
- Eat an apple a day.
- Hug your middle schooler. You’re still bigger than them, force it on them. They’ll thank you for it later.
- Read out loud to your kids as often as you can. And yes, even the middle schooler.
- Turn the TV off after 9pm.
- Take the 2 minutes necessary to tuck your kids into bed every night.