None of us intend to cause or allow a child to get hurt emotionally. Ideally, when a child comes to our classroom, we want them to feel safe to make friends with other children and trust the leaders. Above all, we want to create a safe haven where children can come to explore the mysteries of God, and discover his goodness.
Use these simple tips to help you create an emotionally safe environment in your children's and youth ministry.
What to Avoid
- Ignoring. Whether physically or psychologically, the parent or caregiver is not present to respond to the child. A child feels ignored when his teacher fails to make eye contact or call him by name.
- Rejecting. This is an active refusal to respond to a child's needs (e.g., refusing to touch a child, denying the needs of a child, ridiculing a child).
- Verbally assaulting. Children feel verbally assaulted if they are belittled, shamed, ridiculed or verbally threatened.
- Neglecting the child. This abuse may include educational neglect, where a parent or caregiver fails or refuses to provide the child with necessary educational services; mental health neglect, which denies or ignores a child's need for treatment for psychological problems; or medical neglect, in which a parent or caregiver denies or ignores a child's need for treatment for medical problems.
What You Can Do
- Promote emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy manner. Children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy tolerate frustration better, get into fewer fights, and engage in less self-destructive behavior than children who do not have a strong foundation.
- Never be afraid to apologize. If you lose your temper and say something in anger that you shouldn't have said, apologize. Children need to know that adults can admit when they are wrong. These situations are also a great time to explain how Jesus asks us to forgive—and that even adults need his help.
- Bolster self-worth and confidence. Kids need adults who can identify and encourage their strengths. The message "I believe in you" can serve as needed affirmation today and an investment in a more confident tomorrow.