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 the past three years, we have all experienced the trauma of COVID-19 and the resulting effects from isolation; job loss; and huge social, emotional, and educational changes. For many, it has caused a sense of (or real) loss of control.
Kids especially had no choice about ending their school years early, not seeing their friends, watching family members become ill and possibly even die, no longer visiting their favorite places, and so much more. This is all on top of the “normal” things kids have absolutely no control over such as divorce, moving, bullies, their parents, etc.
Why Giving Kids Choices Is Important
The children you minister to most likely have had at least one experience in which they felt absolutely out of control. Though we can’t “fix” or change these circumstances for the children we teach, we can give them a place where they have a choice.
Giving kids choices helps establish independence, allows them to practice making decisions, fosters a sense of accomplishment, and allows them to feel respected without giving up your authority.
How to Give Kids Choices in the Classroom
How do we do give kids reasonable choices in a church classroom setting? We can do this in two ways: (1) by focusing on the goal of an activity, not how the goal is accomplished and (2) by inviting children into the process.
Focus on the Goal, Not How It’s Accomplished
One way to give children a choice in your activities is to focus on the goal, not how the goal is accomplished. Or, to state it a different way: You are not giving children a choice about whether or not they are going to do something but a choice on how to do it.
For example, if your goal is to get children to create a card for a ministry, start by asking them “would you rather use crayons or markers?” Or possibly, “would you rather make the card before or after snack?” In both situations, the card is getting made.
When adults focus too much on the process, we micromanage when we don’t need to, which can lead to more resistance from children and getting absolutely nothing accomplished. Ask yourself, how much does it really matter if Johnny is sitting or standing while reading, as long as the passage is being read?
Invite Children into the Process
Another way we can give children opportunities to make decisions is by inviting them into the process. Find appropriate opportunities to allow children to problem solve through issues or planning. Be mindful, however, of only inviting them into the parts of the process where their choices can be heard, used, and they can (ideally) feel successful.
Therefore, when planning, it may be helpful to think through areas where you can allow children to collaborate with you and make choices, and also where that may not be feasible. Also consider your own feelings and capacity. Don’t let them choose something for which you can’t handle the outcome! If you really need something done in a particular way, find another activity in which children can participate in the decision making.
For instance, if you are planning an outreach activity in which you want children to participate, think through several ideas and how the logistics would work to accomplish them. Once you have narrowed down the possibilities, present to children the ones your group can realistically accomplish. Let them choose one, and then let them help provide ideas as to how they might advertise the outreach, gather supplies, or even what they could do or say during the activity.
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.