14 July 2008

How Not to Talk to Children (courtesy of Sunday morning)

Sunday School Leader (SSL for short) is running our family service at Church this week. Family Service is really great most of the time, but sometimes seems a bit like a lovely opportunity to herd all the tinies up to the front and make them tell everyone what they've been learning about (with loud prompting and an adult repeating everything they say "to translate"). Clarification: this isn't a jibe at my Church, just at the way one or two of the grown-ups seem to think about the youngest members. There are that sort of adult everywhere, believe me.

SSL: What kinds of animals went on the Ark? (Clue, no she didn't mean "clean and unclean," she wanted the answer, "pets, farm animals, and wild animals".)
Kids: Elephants! Tigers! Dogs! Snakes!
SSL: No, what TYPES?
(answer is eventually gotten out of them by a combination of sharp correction of their "wrong" answers, wild guesses from the kids, and adult prompting of the, "F FFfff? Fffar Far..?" type)
Jenna (loudly): And horses!!
SSL: And what type of animal is a horse?
Jenna: A big round one? (ripple of laughter from adults, despairing look from SSL)
SSL: No, it's a farm animal. What other kinds of farm animals do we know?
Jenna: (giving up) A zebra?
SSL: NO, like sheep. And cows. Look, here's a picture of a cow. Don't touch the picture, it's going to fall over.

Anyhow, this was followed by another reminder of the huge vote of No Confidence we place in our little ones by following them around all the time, treating their fears and feelings as stupid, and generally not letting them own their own bodies. A little girl was helping to hand out some little strips of paper with promises from the Bible on them, when her mum appeared looking annoyed. She saw her child dithering about whether to approach us or not, scary looking strangers smiling at her, and said: "What are you doing? You're meant to GIVE them OUT, can't you even do a simple job like that? Come here, I'll do it."

What's worse is that I use these examples from my weekend knowing well that I say things like that ALL THE TIME and I really have to stop!

Anyway, we decided to walk home because the sun was shining and I hate hassling people for a lift even though it's well over an hour's walk. Along the way tried not to hurry, and it made a huge difference. We said that Jenna couldn't go to see the ducks before realising that we were slipping into anti-child gear again and took the route past the river anyway. Watching her run around all over the river gardens turned into the highlight of our weekend. Finally we helped her to float a fallen pink blossom down the river under the bridge, watching until it went out of sight (with her shouting, "goodbye flower, I'll miss you!").


  1. Doesn't it make you mad! OUr church has a weekly Family Service, wich is basically an excuse to have a poorly prepared talk (actually that's a bit harsh - no one who gives the talk has had any training, despite requests!), an activity which the children have absolutely no interest in and several "action songs", during which children are either dragged up to the front and forced to take part, or adults are browbeaten into doing ridiculous actions in the vain hope that the children might "join in".

    When they are left alone to worship God in their own way they have insights which we really could be learning from - I have heard some wonderful prayers from friend's children who haven't been "forced" to talk to God, but have experienced their parents praying, and have imitated, but with their own concerns and praise.

    I have ranted - again! But I really care about this - we lose so many of our kids because we fail them at church. In a recent survey of church leaders, the leaders were asked what they would do if a child or young person tiold them they were bored during a service. Comments ranged from basically telling them to shape up, to suggesting that the Sunday School was longer so that they spent less time in the service, but NOT ONE leader said that they would look at working with children & young people to make changes nto the service.

    I hope that if I make it to priest I will remember all this - I intend to have comment cards for children and young people in all the pews, so that they can pass comments on the services as well as the adults, and have a group drawn together from ALL ages - right from the tinies reviewing services. We have such a valuable resource in our kids and teenagers, and currently we are just letting it slip though our fingers!

    Sorry, rant over! :)

    The Broken Man


  2. Ok, the rant isn't quite over - I have had yet more thoughts on this - but they are short thoughts if that's any help!

    When church doesn't meet the needs of children and young people, we don't only fail our children (as if that wouldn't be enough!), we also fail the church by denying them the contribution of the children.

    See, only a short rant...!

    The Broken Man


  3. I totally agree (lol with both rants) - it is absolutely NOT about investing in "the future of the Church", it's about the Church here and now missing an entire segment of our population, and the children here and now being hindered from building a healthy relationship with God. :(

    As for the way we talk to children, I think we're all guilty of the Correct and Invalidate method of talking from time to time. I guess when I see it from people in Church I think they should care enough to change, though. ;)


Penny for your thoughts? :)