Hard Conversations & the Small Group Leader // Starr Cliff

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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!

Storytelling to Perfection

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Weeks after reading the book  Playing for Keeps, one statement is still rattling around in my brain. The book says,

Stories are just another one of God s brilliant ideas to connect us to what really matters.

As a small group leader, isn t this really my main objective? To connect kids to what really matters? It s the bottom line for why any of us want to work with kids. It s the burden parents carry. It s the reason behind why churches do so much for kids these days. They want to connect them to something bigger than themselves.

- Read the rest of my contribution to the Lead Small blog at:  http://leadsmall.org/elementary/storytelling-that-works/

Parents Have the Loudest Voice

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Let us look at the singular most valuable voice in the life of your child. As a parent, you have the greatest potential to influence your child s heart and life. You are the loudest of all voices, and you are the best person to show compassion, forgiveness, and affirmation to them. Even when your children begin to age and seek out other voices, your voice should and will always stay the one they most need to hear.

It s important to find valuable voices all around your children, and begin to choose who many of those voices are. It s important to leverage what they hear from others to help them as they mature, and it s important that you are picky with whom you let influence your children. But all of that is diminished if your voice isn t the one speaking grace and truth in equal measure to them.

You are the champion of all voices, and as you seek God s will for how to lead your family I m certain that you will be given opportunities to say what needs to be said when it most needs to be heard.

I believe that you are equipped to be the voice of forgiveness for your children when they need forgiveness the most, because who else knows them like their parent?

I believe that you hold the possibility to direct your children in the way of wisdom when they need wisdom the most, because who else knows them like their parent?

I believe that you are the voice of love your children need to hear more anyone else, because who else knows them like their parent?

Begin to value the voices all around your child s life, but seeing your own voice as the most valuable of all. When the full weight of that sets on us as parents, it draws us to seek wisdom for ourselves as we continue on the journey of being a parent, and what a great journey this will be!

Heavy Words

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Recently, my middle school son has begun to volunteer at our church in the preschool areas. He has been assigned to the 3-year-old room, and has proven to be a real all-star in that environment. This son of mine, is entering a stage of life where he is looking for affirmation, and needs to feel that he is accepted for who he his. As he has served the 3 year olds at our church, he has also been surrounded by adults that marvel at his heart for the little ones. They've said things to him like, You are so great with these kids, I wish there were more middle schoolers like you! and Have you seen the way these kids look at you? You are their hero just by coming and playing with us!

Those words on their own are powerful, but I have leveraged them in a few distinct ways. First, I knew my son would succeed in that area. I m his father, and I know his strengths. Helping him find a place to serve 3 year olds was better than if I had asked him to go work with 3rd graders. I also set him up for success by choosing an environment that would bring out the best in him, and therefore bring out the words of affirmation in others. Then, I made sure that the he fully understood what those people were telling him. I helped him to see that those friends were sharing what they saw in his life, and they weren't making it up. I reminded him that his mother and I have seen those things in his life, and have told him those same things as well.

It is experiences like this that allow me to say what I ve always said to my son, You are special, unique, and God is going to use you to do great things for the world all around you! and to put those words into the mouths of others. With your child you have the ability to find areas where they can win consistently, and then leverage the situation to say what you ve been saying all along.

Maybe it s an art class at the community center, or working alongside others at a local food bank, or volunteering at your church. Maybe it s allowing them to play a sport that they excel at a little more than the other kids, or spending some time after school with a club that will help draw out some of these other talents they have inside of them.

So much of leveraging the words of others in the lives of our children, has to do with us being intentional as parents. When we leverage the words they hear, we are helping to shape them into the people God wants them to be. However, this doesn't happen by accident. This happens when we listen for the voices, and surround our children with the right voices.

 

Leveraging the Voices my Kids Hear

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After you ve looked for the voices and people in your child s life, and invested the time to add and subtract as necessary, then you are at a place to really flex your parental muscles. It s time to show off how powerful you can really be, and begin the heavy lifting of parenting. The good news is that you don t have to be all-powerful; you just have to learn the schematics of leverage.

There is great power in leverage. For example, I’m not a large person, which has its advantages. I’m not usually asked to help people move, and rarely have I had to move a refrigerator up a flight of stairs. It s not that I’m a weakling, because I’ve moved my share of large items in my life. The real key to moving big things is leverage. A 100-pound teenager can move a fridge much faster using a dolly with big rubber wheels than a 300-pound grown man can trying to carry it by himself.

The words our kids hear from those around him do indeed have power, but what we choose to do with those words can make them ultimately life changing.

I’ve written a ton about one of the most strategic things we can do as parents, and that s doing some relationship math with our kids. The next step after adding new voices is to leverage the voices they hear for their benefit. I can t follow up on every single conversation my child has with a friend, nor can I filter every word they ever hear from an adult. I can, though, choose and pick when I take the time to leverage what they hear.