Reaching At-Risk Kids

Relationships and Responsibility

At-risk kids are often threatened and inexperienced when it comes to relationships and responsibility.

Understand resistance.

Children at risk have typically experienced a great deal of loss in their lifetimes–losing their parents and even siblings, losing loving relationships to neglect or abuse, losing predictability and routine. And many of these children have experienced these catastrophic losses repeatedly. It’s no wonder that some react by becoming resistant to relationships–no matter how warm and well intended. For a child in this circumstance, be consistently kind, warm, gentle, genuine, caring, and interested.

Require responsibility.

Adults tend to coddle struggling kids and attempt to shield them from further distress by not holding them accountable. Yet, one of the most effective ways to help children build self-esteem and learn coping skills is to intentionally create roles of responsibility.

Give kids purpose.

Children at risk, who often feel invisible and unimportant, will flourish–like any child will–when given a sense of purpose. Create opportunities for kids to be accountable to you, their peers, and themselves. Give kids responsibilities that’ll lead to personal and public successes.

Be a relational teacher.

Relationship building is like running a marathon. It takes commitment and time. Often, a child at risk has experienced a succession of broken relationships. You can’t make up for a lifetime of heartbreak, but you can be a consistent, loving, predictable presence in the child’s life.

Don’t wait for a child who’s at risk to “warm up” to you. A child who’s been routinely hurt and let down isn’t likely to be compelled to initiate a relationship with you. The child who causes the most problems and elicits the least amount of nurturing from you is the child most likely to need your love, compassion, and care. Above all, remember, “relationship is an action, not a feeling.”

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jenniferhooks@churchleaders.com'
Jennifer is managing editor of Children's Ministry Magazine and Children's Ministry Professional Edition.