When it comes to working with kids, there are some simple things you can do to help build a connection that will, hopefully, allow you to speak into the life of children. The first, and oftentimes most important, thing you have to do is learn a child’s name. If you’re like me, and a lot of other people out there, this is not always an easy task.
A child’s name is one of the most frequent words they will ever hear in their lives. A lot of their identity is tied up their name. People have told them, “You look like a Lyndsey,” or “You remind me of a Jacob I once knew” all of their lives. Parents spend hours and days agonizing over picking the right name for their child, but most of them will tell you a couple of years in that, “There’s no doubt about it. He is definitely a Nathan.” A child’s name is how they identify themselves, how their friends know them, what their parents call out when they need them.
In Biblical times, a name had much more meaning than they do today. Take for example the story of Jacob (a name meaning “Deceiver or Supplanter”) whose name was changed to Israel (meaning “God preserves”) as God continued to work on him. Or, consider the case of Jesus’ disciple Simon (meaning “to hear, to be heard”) who was called Peter (meaning “rock”) long before he ever exhibited those characteristics. In the Bible, names are often descriptive of people and that fact is often explicitly stated in the text.
Today, names don’t have quite the same meaning, but they are important to the kids. In a child’s eyes, even if you are dealing with a couple of hundred kids, if you can’t remember their name you aren’t a “friend.” You are just another adult that they have to answer to. They might listen to you, they might even respect you, but they will not open up to you, and will lose your opportunity to speak into their lives. Yes, names are important to a child, and no matter how good you are at it, you have to find a way to learn their names.
Practical Tips for Learning Children’s Names
- Play a name game in small group. This is a game we’ve tried over and over. Sit or stand in a circle or around a table. Go around the table and have each child say their name. Then you try to repeat them without looking at name tags. Have the kids help you when you forget a name. Keep trying until you get it, then have the kids try to do it themselves. We do this anytime I have a new group of kids, and from time to time during the year. You will be amazed how many kids who see each other every weekend can’t remember one another’s names.
- I find it much easier to remember the names if I can associate them with pictures. If you have, or can take, pictures of the kids, create a cheat sheet and invest the time studying their names. Pray over the sheet. I find that praying for kids helps to solidify their names in my heart and mind.
- Nametags are a must. Let’s face it, the more kids you have, the harder it is going to be to remember all of their names. You have to work at becoming an expert at “sneaking a peek” at nametags when the kids aren’t watching. Here’s one word of warning – this won’t work for very long. Kids are pretty perceptive, but this little trick will get through for a while.
- Pick some general nicknames and use them with the kids. Don’t just reserve these nicknames for the kids whose names you can’t remember. Use them judiciously, but if the kids hear you using them from time to time, you’ll be able to use them seamlessly when the name of that kid who only shows up once a month slips your mind.
- Don’t ever lie about it when you’ve forgotten a name. The kids will know. If you forget their name, apologize, ask them what it is, and make a point to remember it for the next time.