Leading Children Who Learn Differently: Emotional Conflict

Sometimes you will have a child in your ministry whom you do not feel equipped to handle because you haven’t been trained in that area. Volunteers in churches working with children with disabilities often feel this way. It is especially difficult to know what to do when a child has emotional or behavioral issues.

First of all, do not be afraid to seek help from someone in your church with more experience or education in the matter. Make sure you have enough volunteers in your meeting each week. If the child is putting him- or herself or others at risk, seek help immediately. Often, however, this extreme is not what you will face each week. You might have a child with unpredictable angry outbursts or one who shuts down unexpectedly and refuses to respond to you. What do you do then?

Before any children enter your meeting space, you should have a plan for how the meeting is going to run. If you have clear expectations and a defined schedule, you will be a step in the right direction to meet the needs of a child with emotional conflict. A happy but peaceful meeting space helps calm a child with emotional needs. The child will need to know your expectations and the consequences for not following them. Allow the child to take appropriate breaks between or during activities.

Children experiencing emotional conflict need to feel safe, secure, and loved. They need to have some control over their environment, so offering choices of activities is a good teaching strategy. A child struggling with this often responds well to rewards and other motivational strategies. One idea is to help the child set goals for his or her accomplishments. You can use GA Journey, RA Trek, or Missions Expedition to set goals for badges or patches for the child to earn.

As you work with a child with emotional conflict, you will find out what works and what doesn’t. There are many online resources with ideas as well. As difficult as it is, always give the child a fresh start every time you see him or her. Love and pray for him or her. The child needs you.

By Jennifer Smith

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