It was a few years ago, when I was working at a large church, on a busy Sunday morning, with many new families visiting the church every Sunday. Part of my job was helping the new families find the right classroom, and that includes asking their age (since our preschool rooms were age-based). I asked an innocent question and made an innocent (and common) comment.
I asked the mom, "How old is she?" The mother said her daughter (who was very tall!) was four, and I commented cheerfully, "Oh, well you're a big girl! Here's your classroom!" and the mother LOST IT. She flipped out in the middle of the hallway, in front of her daughter and other families. She started yelling about how "...my daughter is perfect! She's not too tall! She's wonderful JUST how God made her! She hears everywhere we go that she's too big for her age, and she's JUST RIGHT! Don't you say she's a big girl!" I stood there, dumbfounded, unsure of what to even say, except for mumbling something like "I'm so sorry... you're right, she's perfect...."
It may have crossed my mind during that scenario that the mother overreacted, and maybe she did. But it's not my place to judge, because I don't know what that mother and daughter had been through in their lives. I don't know what their weekend or morning had been like before church, or what kind of bullying or struggles the daughter may have experienced. I do know as a parent that I am fiercely protective over my kids, even to the point of responding irrationally when I feel they might be threatened. I've been the overreacting parent before. Parents protect their kids. So if a parent does overreact, we give them grace.
As children's ministry leaders, it's our job to keep our cool even when others don't. When parents or kids react in loud ways, it's our job to remain collected, and respond with grace and kindness.
I learned that it's not ever our place as children's ministry leaders to comment on a child's appearance. Even innocent observations or comments about a child's appearance aren't necessary or helpful, and may bring up feelings, memories or experiences with negative connotations, or may be misconstrued.
Some things NOT to say to OR about a child:
It can be tempting, especially when you're not sure what else to say, to comment on a child's appearance. And many times, we are all guilty of saying these things. Most of the time, they are taken well, but we must remember: you don't always know what a family or child has been through or what a child is feeling, or what they've been told.
And we know that while man looks at the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). It's important to focus on a child's heart. Encourage their effort, their character, their hearts, their faith; instead of their appearance.
Things TO Ask or Say to a Child:
Speak God's truth and His Word over the kids in your ministry any chance you get. You might be the only one to tell them God has great plans for them. Your encouragement might breathe life into their soul and inspire them. When you have an opportunity to speak to the heart of a child, even if only for one minute, don't waste it. Speak words of life and truth over them.
Our words are powerful, and they can make a difference in the lives of kids. I learned that lesson the hard way after that experience with the mother in the hallway. And I wish I could say I've never commented on a child's appearance again, but I do catch myself. We all (myself included!) need a keen awareness of the importance of our words to kids. This quote is from one of my favorite books, Just a Minute by Wess Stafford:
"If God stands a child before you, even for just a minute, it is a divine appointment. You have the chance to launch a life. You never know when you are making a memory. With each child you encounter, you have the power and opportunity to build up . . . or, sadly, to tear down. A life can literally be launched with as little as a single word . . ."
*Disclaimer: Keep in mind, there may be instances in which you need to ask a child's age or medical needs, or ask if they are sick (if they are showing symptoms of illness), or assess if signs of abuse are present. This post isn't about those situations, which must be handled with tact and wisdom.
Children are a Gift
kidmin leader, mother, and servant of the Lord.
These are the views of Lynne Howard, and are not necessarily the views and opinions of David C Cook or any church.