It used to be that separation anxiety was only a problem that nursery workers had to deal with; today, that has all changed. The world is a scary place (and getting scarier) and children aren’t oblivious to that fact. As parents, we’re so tied in with our kids now with cell phones, tablets and apps (and understandably) that in some cases we may have gone a bit overboard. Now, if parents leave their kids in a new environment with new faces, it’s a bit more traumatic and challenging.
For the children’s pastor, that means we’ve got to be a bit more creative when it comes integrating kids into our ministries. Hoping they instantly love us when they step into the room isn’t realistic or an effective strategic for retaining visitors. Older kids can sulk, refuse to participate and even cry if they aren’t comfortable with the arrangement. Let’s work a little smarter. These six steps are useful, especially if you can get parents onboard with the plan.
1. Be enthusiastic and inquisitive when you meet the new family.
Always greet visitors with a smile, even if you have a child hanging on your leg. Be happy and show your happiness with an acknowledgement. “Hi there!” is a good way to start a relationship. You may be wondering, “What do you mean be inquisitive?” I mean ask the parent a question about the child immediately. For example I sometimes say, “So Mom, if Jane were a superhero, what would her super power be?” By asking a fun question and involving Mom, we’re unofficially asking Mom to sign off on our new relationship with her child. Believe me, it works!
2. Recommend trial separations.
For this exercise of trust, ask the child to stay for praise and worship, then promise to take him to his Mom. Let me say though, I don’t recommend asking Mom to stay. That kind of defeats the purpose and then you open the door for all the Moms to stay. (Yeah, don’t do that!) You may have to do this a few times, then add another segment. Say, “Okay, today why don’t you stay for praise and worship and the first game?” Work your way up to an entire service.
3. Have an established greeting routine.
Parents should be able to lead kids from the door, to the welcome table to the first stop on an exciting schedule, like a craft table. Kids love a routine. This makes them feel comfortable so do have an established routine.
4. Be ready for fun!
Before you open the doors to your facility, have everything ready. If kids just come in the room and sit in the sanctuary, you may lose a few. Have an activity area ready to go when kids arrive. I typically have clay dough, games and a crayon table but you can choose what you like.
Most importantly, be patient. Separation anxiety is a real challenge for kids, especially kids who have suffered trauma or abuse. Be sensitive to their needs and encourage parents to partner with you. You can do it!
Read more from Mimi by visiting her blog at Tools for Kids Church.
This article is part of our series of Teacher Tips. Another writer on our site also tackled this same common ministry problem, click here to read her strategies for separation anxiety at church. You might also enjoy this post about how to help toddlers who hate the church nursery.