8. NOTICE THE QUIET
We all know that children have different personalities. Some are more boisterous, outgoing,and fun. They ask questions, they tell stories, they fool around, they eagerly participate in games and skits—all of which makes it easy for us to give them the majority of our time and attention. However, we must also remember those children who are shy, reserved and quiet. For such children it is a common experience to feel somewhat wary or nervous when meeting unfamiliar people or encountering new situations. Some may experience fear and anxiety in social contexts to a degree that hinders their abilities to interact with other children. You might be tempted to help these children by encouraging them to speak up, act in skits, work in groups with classmates, answer a question, or help you with song motions in front of the class. What you may not realize is that these ways of helping often accomplish the opposite of what you were aiming for because they represent significant causes of stress for shy children.
Because of how much our culture values extroversion and views shyness as an undesirable trait that needs to be fixed, it would be worthwhile to read THIS excellent article written by a counselor and educator who happens to be the parent of two shy children. It will give you a new perspective on shyness and some great tips on how to accept shy children and help them thrive in your environment.
9. CONSULT THE EXPERTS
Parents are the experts of their children. You can learn a lot about your students from the parents. Remember, you and the parents are on the same team, and you’re pursuing the same goal—helping their children to become more like Jesus. Don’t hesitate to ask the parents for their input.
The more you communicate with your students’ families, the better you will understand your students, and the more connected your students will be at church. Make it a goal to call each family in the first 10 weeks of a school year. Share a positive observation of their child, and then ask parents/guardians what you should know about their child to best teach them.
If you’re interested in several more practical tips on establishing effective, two-way communication with parents, read THIS article.
10. STEP OUTSIDE OF CHURCH
I dare say—attend their events. Learn what kinds of sports and extracurricular activities your students are involved in. Make it a point to attend one for each child. I know you are already committed to so much; but really, you’ll be amazed how simple and impactful that is on a child. It’s also a way to see a child in their own environment. How many times do we hear parents say, “My child is a totally different person at home than at school.” Just consider it.
One way that you could easily spend one-on-one time and get know your students is by having lunch together at their elementary school. (Be sure to first get the parents to submit to the front office a permission letter that authorizes you to eat lunch with their child.) Make it extra special by bringing them a lunch of their choice from a local fast food restaurant. You can eat too, or you can choose not to eat, and just focus on conversation. Either way, you will get to know your students, make them feel cherished, and bring God’s presence into their lives in a very meaningful and tangible way. And they will get a huge kick out of it (and lots of questions later from their curious friends)!
11. REMEMBER SPECIAL DAYS
Try your best to remember your students’ special occasions—both happy and sad. Each child has milestones like birthday, accepting Christ, baptism, graduation, preparing for a surgery, losing a loved one, moving out of state and so on. These are the times when each child needs a little extra attention and love. View these times as entry points into a child’s life, an invitation to make them feel special and valued. A handwritten note from you will remind them that they’re loved and celebrated and will assure them that they’re not alone. You can’t imagine what impact a few lines in the card may have on your students. Some of them will hang on to your handwritten messages for the entire year, or even longer.
In an age of emails and instant messages, it is the handwritten note that counts. So stock up on some cool stamps and envelopes. Get that pen out and make someone’s day by writing them encouraging message.