The balance of reaching out

Trying to reach out to a kid comes with a challenging side effect – the ones you start to connect with are also likely to be the ones who cross the line while you’re around.  That’s where it gets difficult – how do you hold kids accountable while still being careful to reinforce your positive interactions with them?  How do you tell a kid, “You’re in big trouble, mister, but I still love you,” with enough emphasis on both the “big trouble” AND the love?

TJ and his uncle (who is only a couple years older) have been attending out VBS this summer.  Both of them are intelligent, articulate, and can come across as fairly mature.  They also are both high energy, very independent, and like being the center of attention.   They are a bit of a handful.

Yesterday, TJ came early to VBS and got to hang around during our leaders’ meeting and prayer-time.  We invited him into our group, and I pulled him aside and helped him come up with a short prayer for our day.  It took a couple of tries for him to remember it, but he did great, and was excited afterwards about how easy it could be.  I’m always glad when kids can realize how simple prayer actually is.

Later in the day, it seems TJ had stopped enjoying himself.  During our memory challenge time, he came up to me.

“I think I’m going to head on home,” he calmly stated.  I asked why he wanted to go.

“I’m just not having fun.  No one lets me do anything.”  I ask him to explain.  “Well, I wanted one of the leaders to take me to the store next door to get some food, but no one will.  But all the leaders go over and get stuff for themselves.”

Tough sell – I’m always sympathetic to kids to don’t think something is fair, because they’re usually right.  I try to explain to him that the leaders aren’t supposed to be going, either, and talked about why we can’t take everyone to the store, other people would get jealous if he was able to, and so on.  He nodded as if he understood and walked off, and I took that to mean that he was fine and would hang out.

Until one of my crew leaders came up a couple minutes later.  “Um, TJ just walked out the door.  I think he went to the store, he was asking about it earlier.”  I realized that, thinking TJ had gotten the point, I had neglected to explain that we couldn’t let him leave without his mom’s permission or a leader as an escort.  Doh.

I sent someone over to find him in the store and bring him back, but he wasn’t there.  I called the house he was staying at, and got no answer.  So, I walked over there instead.  It was hard not to laugh at his surprised expression when I showed up at his back door.

His grandma and I talked with him about why he couldn’t leave without permission, and his grandma was understandably upset because she didn’t realize no one had let him go.  Oops.

Turns out, though, that I’m just a big softy.  I walked over all ready to come down hard on him to just walking off on us.  Talking with him, though, he impressed me.  He’s only 8 (he acts like he’s 11), and from an 8-year-old’s perspective, was probably being as mature and responsible about leaving as he could have.  He talked to me, he asked another leader if he could call home, and because no one explicitly said that he had to stay, he assumed he could go.  (Life Lesson #856 – Be clear with kids!)

Afterwards, he walked back to the church with me to get permission slips for today’s field trip (which I gave in and decided he could still go on).  We had a great chat on the way back, I introduced him to a friend we met while walking, and we were able to end on a very positive note.  And, he understood why he can’t leave on his own… so next time, he’ll be in a lot more trouble!  When we got back, he called his grandma to let her know that he was going to stay the rest of the day.

It was a good day.

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~ by Peter on June 27, 2008.

One Response to “The balance of reaching out”

  1. you r doing good and one day u will succeed i very like it

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