There are only a handful of examples that come to mind, but I remember them vividly.
- A boy—normally well behaved—was suddenly in his second “time-out” in twenty minutes.
- A typically talkative girl was silent for most of small group.
- A boy acting out Call of Duty during prayer by pretending to “shoot at” others with their heads bowed and eyes closed.
While boys will be boys and kids have bad days, there will be moments like these—moments that are not just the result of a bad day but a signal that something is wrong. As an SGL, you have the awesome privilege facilitating the joys of the spiritual growth of your few children. Along with that awesome privilege, though, is an even greater responsibility to mentor them through the times when life is less than perfect.
But how can you tell the difference between a bad day and a cry for help?
1. Build relationships with your kids.
You are not an SGL simply to lead activities and ask discussion questions. As an SGL, you are called to invest in the lives of your few. You need to get to know them: what they like and dislike, what home looks like, or what the pulse of their family life is. If you know what “good” is for this child, you’re more likely to know what “bad” is as well.
2. Recognize the inconsistencies.
Like the examples above, most of the time when a child is facing stress, they act contrary to their normal personality. If they’re quiet, they may be noisy. If they’re usually assertive, they may take a backseat in the discussion. Often children don’t have the words to express what they are feeling. They can only act out. And while sometimes this is just bad behavior, it can be a byproduct of something stressful below the surface.
3. Ask open-ended questions in a safe setting.
If you feel a child may be under stress, take them aside to have a conversation with them. Don’t single them out publically and possibly cause more issues. Rather, ask open-ended questions that allow the child to share what they are feeling and why they are acting a certain way. Don’t lead them to give you answers you speculate may be true.
4. Seek help.
Of course with any situation that is stressful for a child, you will want to seek help from someone on staff. Even if the matter is something you feel you could handle on your own, keeping appropriate church staff in the loop is important not only for the child’s safety but your safety as well. Each child is different and will demonstrate stress individually. However, having a good rapport with each child will build the trust needed for a child to turn to you when they are in distress.
Has a child ever shown distress to you? What did you do about it? Please share your story in the comments below!