Allow me to set the scene.

Really loud “indoor” voices
Running wildly around the room
Screaming—especially in an unnecessarily high pitch
Responding with crazy answers about something we weren’t talking about
Hiding under the table
Talking over and over to a neighbor while I am talking
Intentionally not participating
Picking their nose and refusing a tissue
Doing anything else besides what we are supposed to be doing

This is just a small list of behaviors that drive me crazy when I’m leading my small group. If you are an elementary small group leader, I bet you can relate! Seriously, the one child who has decided to scream everything in the highest pitch voice possible makes us think we have ten extra kids in our group. Am I right? And how am I supposed to create a safe space for kids to discuss and learn about God in the middle of six or seven totally different wild behaviors?

I have a wide range of diverse kids in my small group as I’m sure you do too. And depending on the day—and possibly the amount of candy they won in my early arriver game—I can get the whole gamut of these behaviors in a single hour.

I am also really great at coming up with simple answers that make me feel better about why they have crazy behaviors—like “Oh, they ate too much sugar” or “Oh, it’s a full moon!” While these situations certainly affect kids sometimes, I’ve noticed I often need to do a better job of looking for the real reasons why kids behave a certain way, and work a little harder to pay attention to what is beyond the craziness. I like to simplify situations because simplifying means I can come up with just one amazing way to make these behaviors disappear with a magic wand. But the thing about kids is they are each unique individuals formed by our Creator to be amazingly complex. And they have remarkably diverse daily experiences.

There is nothing simple about any child which means there often won’t be simple answers to the behaviors, struggles, and issues that I face with my students in my group—no matter how hard I try to simplify the situation. However there are a few regular steps I can take to help myself better address these behaviors for each of my wild little individuals. And these steps work to make my group a safer place for my students to open up and discuss life and lessons together.

Here’s what I’ve been working on to create safer space in group in the midst of the craziness, and I hope you’ll find it helpful:

  1. Figure out the simple things that are helpful to everyone in your group such as rearranging our rooms to eliminate some behaviors or structuring our lessons in a way that helps students stay focused better.
  2. No matter the behavior, let’s all take a moment and try to figure out what it’s like to be the children we’re addressing in the moment. We need to put ourselves in their shoes long enough to empathize and do our best to see beyond the behavior.
  3. When the craziest moments happen, let’s all look for ways to amplify the moment to show students why following Jesus is so amazing. The more we can redirect the wild moments in our group to emphasize how a situation relates to what we know about Jesus, the better we can make lasting impacts and create safe spaces in the midst of craziness.
  4. We need to recognize that these diverse little humans are individuals and need us to know them individually. The more we can create and take advantage of moments to interact with those in our groups individually, the better we can help them learn as unique individuals.
  5. Let’s all take time to partner and talk with parents and guardians about their kids. Parents and guardians spend a lot more time learning about their complex children than we do. Inviting them into conversations about their children can really help us to more effectively empathize, understand and respond to their behaviors in a helpful way.<%

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