Reaching At-Risk Kids

1. Stay positive.

Create a positive, inviting classroom. Be encouraging, friendly, helpful, and patient, and require that all your kids treat each other in these same ways.

2. Defeat the Pygmalion Effect.

Other­wise known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, the Pygmalion Effect holds that when we’re given negative expectations, we’ll fulfill them every time. So don’t expect that an at-risk child will show up late, cause problems, or ditch your class. Instead, expect that this child will be the best classroom assistant you’ve ever had, will learn more than any other child in your class, and will one day be teaching others about Jesus–and express those admirable expectations to the child.

3. Discipline–don’t punish.

There’s a big difference between the two. Punishment meted out as retribution sends a defeating message to any child. Discipline is a tool that proactively prevents problems, respects all individuals involved, provides natural consequences for actions, and reinforces or builds on a child’s developing inner values. Punishment, on the other hand, is reactive, expects unquestioned obedience to authority figures, relies on control by rules rather than inner values, and has arbitrary consequences.

4. Banish boredom.

Make your time together an adventure. Stimulate kids’ imaginations, challenge their spirits, and get them physically moving. Children who are stimulated and challenged won’t find their entertainment in challenging you or acting out. No child thrives in boredom. Make creative, active learning your standard of teaching.

Don’t label. Tossing around labels is a lot like name calling. We don’t allow our children to call each other “stupid,” “lazy,” or “liar.” Why then does it seem acceptable for an adult to call a child “disruptive,” “hateful,” or “aggressive”? A child may exhibit these behaviors, but they don’t make up the child’s being. Good labels such as “beautiful,” “smart,” and “created by God” are the only kinds of acceptable labels for kids. Anything else is a characteristic, behavior, or demeanor exhibited by the child.

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