Today’s guestpost is from Tonya Langdon. Tonya is the Special Needs Ministry Director for Skyline Church in La Mesa, California. Tonya was one of the original sources for my writing on special needs inclusion when I started in 2009. Over the past three years, Tonya has provided me a wealth of knowledge and a precious friendship. And I have yet to meet a person who is more naturally gifted in understanding and correcting a child in a way they know they are loved by both Mrs. Tonya and Jesus. Tonya is one of the special needs ministry champions hosting the Special Needs Ministry Networking Event at The Orange Conference. For more details on the OC12 special needs ministry track , click here. ~ Amy
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight. Psalm 19:14
Words are powerful. We use them to express our feelings, our thoughts and to share information others may need to know. The words you speak can bring comfort, give much needed encouragement, relay instruction or express love. Words also have the power to wound others, create discord or cause chaos in a classroom. The chant “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is simply not true. Pain from a physical injury fades but hurtful words linger long after a relational scuffle is over. Words can heal or they can crush a spirit.
Instruct children by giving them choices
Are you cognizant of your word choices inside the children’s ministry environment? Do your expressions and tone help to calm the class or inadvertently fuel the misbehaviors? Many times it is not the words we use but how we phrase the instruction that makes the difference. For instance, when a Johnny is pestering his neighbor, a class leader might exclaim “Johnny, stop bothering others” or “Keep your hands to yourself”. Instead consider saying “Johnny, you are welcome to sit next to Tom as long as you can keep your hands to yourself”. Can you envision a difference in how Johnny receives the latter instruction? Could our phrasing affect Johnny’s response? In the latter example Johnny is given control. We have let him know that he is in charge of whether he gets to sit with his friend Tom.
Convey consequences in correction
Every children’s ministry volunteer has at some point felt disrespect from a child inside the ministry environment. A hypothetical and understandable adult response might be “Tom, don’t come back into the class until you can show me respect.” or “Don’t talk to me like that.” Consider rephrasing the instruction: “Tom, feel free to join the class as soon as you are calm and respectful.” Or you might say, “Tom, I will listen to you when you are showing respect.” Using this type of wording teaches Tom that he has choices over how he is going to behave and the consequences are directly tied to his choices.
Choose words to convey Jesus’ approval of that child
For some kids, words of approval and praise are received far too sparingly inside their home or at school. This is especially true for children with challenging behaviors. When you notice a child is making good choices, communicating their needs appropriately, or looking out for the interest of others, make a point to commend them. Catch a child in the act of doing something good, even if the behavior is expected from others. Affirmation is like a balm to the souls of these little ones. Positive recognition can be expressed as simply as “Frank, I noticed that you helped Karen when she fell down. Thank you.” or “Susie that was kind of you to talk to your neighbor when she was sad. I am proud of you for being such a good friend.” It is common for a child with challenging behaviors to soften and become more cooperative when they start receiving praise. The child may soon recognize that the attention is easier to obtain and more fulfilling when it comes from doing something good instead of being in trouble. And it is important to remember that our words of affirmation and praise maybe the only positive recognition such a child receives all week. Every child longs to hear approval. As the hands and feet that represent Jesus to the children in our ministry, shouldn’t we be a source of that needed affirmation? Be intentional in finding ways to offer approval, even for the most challenging child.
Words. Your words are powerful, profound and life changing. This week how are you going to use them? – Tonya Langdon