This blog is part of a series on Fostering Healthy Minds in Children at Church that provides strategies children’s leaders can use to foster healthy minds in children to whom they minister. And, hey, you may even pick up a tip or two to help those in your personal circles! If you’re new to the series, we encourage you to check out the introduction here.
In this blog, I am going to discuss how to model positive behaviors for children at church. But wait! you say, I am always being a good role model! Do I really need to hear this?
While we are always striving to put our best foot forward when teaching and discipling, we need to be aware of the full impact our words and actions have on the minds of little ones.
Have you ever wondered why you yawn when watching someone else yawn? Or when you see someone scratching, you start to feel itchy? Maybe you grimace or flinch when you see someone get hurt. You can thank our friends, mirror neurons, for that!
So why is that relevant? Mirror neurons in the brain fire when we watch another person perform an action. These little guys play a huge role in our empathetic response. They allow us to not only focus on the actions of others but also the intention and emotions behind those actions.
As children watch our actions and interactions, they are not only soaking it in on a superficial level but also on a neurological level. That’s a big deal! We want to make every effort to model positive behaviors and intentions that allow others to “feed” off of and, hopefully, elicit a similar positive response.
What can we do to put this into action?
The foundation for modeling positive behavior is making sure your heart is right! Children have an almost sixth sense for identifying mood and genuineness.
If you don’t have a passion and heart for kids, consider if God is leading you to another ministry (hard pill to swallow). However, if leading missions discipleship is part of your spiritual growth, despite kids not being “your thing,” pray God will give you the patience (scary!) and heart to be open to all that is to come.
Kids know when you feel like they are a burden, unwanted, or irritating. All things that absolutely do not foster a healthy mind. And let’s be real, sometimes kids in your group are going to irritate you. Some days, doing ministry is going to feel like a burden and a half. Did you know that you can feel these things and still model positive behaviors?
Tips for Modeling Behavior with Kids in Your Group
Share your feelings: While keeping your age group in mind, share your feelings! This can be huge in normalizing with children that emotional expression is OK and even adults have feelings. Healthy modeling may look like saying, “Today has been hard and I am feeling a little sad, but I am so happy to be here with you all.” Or, “Wow this craft is super hard. I am getting frustrated. I think I need a break.” Tip: Do not use the kids or your time with them as a negative example (i.e., “You are irritating me”).
Apologize: No matter our age, we are all humans created in the image of God who deserve love and respect. Time after time, I hear adults say “But I am the adult!” Ah, you are, which means you are in charge of teaching children healthy communication. You do not lose power by apologizing; you gain respect. You teach kids it is OK to own up to mistakes and take responsibility. When you get upset, the power is in the repair of the relationship more so than the rupture.
Check your drama at the door: Tiny ears hear it all! Make sure you aren’t talking about your personal issues, irritations with other ministry leaders, etc., in front of children. Even if you don’t think they hear you, they can sense it. No matter the situation, talk to your peers the way you want the kids to talk to theirs.
Positive self-talk and coping skills: Many kids have a hard time knowing what to do with their big feelings. One huge way you can help is by modeling this for them. When something is difficult, audibly voice your positive internal dialogue. This may sound something like, “Ugh, I can’t seem to get this to work. This is frustrating, but I know if I keep trying I can get it.” Or, “Hmm, this is difficult. I think I should ask for some help.” You can also voice possible coping skills such as taking a break, asking for help, getting some water, or talking to an adult when needed.
Excitement: If you are excited, your children will be more likely to be excited! Remember those mirror neurons? They’re back! The more enthusiastic and excited you are about an activity or event, the more the kids will be! Let your love and passion for missions be an example to children of how we are to view and engage in God’s work to reach the nations for Him.
Brooklyn Hancock is Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, former Certified School Counselor, and a mom. Her passions are working with children, adolescents, teens, adults, and parents to navigate life’s toughest challenges.
Disclaimer: The information shared on wmu.com is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.