Have you ever noticed that kids can read adults like an open book? There is no fooling them. They know if you are happy to see them. They know if you are irritated. They know whether you want to be with them or not. They know if you are ready for them! Kids—by nature—are authentic. They have no reason to hold anything back… so they don’t. When they are happy, you know it. And when they don’t want to be there, you know it!
But in order for us to build relationships with the kids that have been entrusted with us, we need to be authentic. What does that look like with a group of 8 year olds? It probably does not mean talking to them about your latest struggle—the fight you had with your boyfriend, or the problem you are having at work. Don’t get me wrong; that would be very authentic but may not be helpful to your kids. We want to be open and honest—to let them see that God is doing a work in us… but in small doses, when it fits directly with what’s happening in their own world. Instead of focusing on what to share and what not to share we should turn the tables and let it be about them.
Maybe authenticity with our kids is more about how we interact with them and less about us. We have a limited time with these kids each week, so how are we going to use it? If our goal is to build relationships, then the first thing we need to do is build trust. Maybe instead of being concerned about the things we may or may not share, we should think about how we can show our kids that we genuinely care. When they need prayer about a tough situation, we don’t only say that we are going to pray, but we do it and then ask them the following week what happened. We show them that we are genuine. We are not showing up on Sunday morning for the free donuts, checking our phone every few minutes. We are engaging them in a conversation about the things that are on their minds. Sometimes those things may be about the lizard they caught last Saturday at the park, or sometimes those things may be about what to do when their friends are watching a movie they know they shouldn’t.
Being authentic means you care about the little things. When they are excited you are there to celebrate with them, when they don’t seem to be quite themselves, you ask them about it. It means knowing the little things about them: their birthday, their favorite color, what they love to do in their spare time, who their best friend was last week and who it may be this week. And as time goes on they see our authenticity, our genuine care for them, and that builds trust. And when they see we care about the little things, it’s the beginning of a relationship that will ultimately draw them closer to their Heavenly Father.