Several years ago, my family and I went to work with a small church in a very small town in Texas. When I brought my kids to their children’s environment our first Sunday there, I was overwhelmed. It was one room. All of the adults present (I think there were two) were checking kids in outside the door. Inside, kids of all ages were running around, out of control, virtually unattended. One little boy was standing in the corner, facing the wall, trying unsuccessfully to hold still.

The next week looked exactly the same. Adults outside. Kids inside running and screaming. Same little boy in the corner. I asked my daughters if they knew why he was in the corner two weeks in a row. They said he knew he was going to be in trouble. He was just saving his leaders the trouble of sending him there.

Very soon after we arrived, the church began the change to a small group model of ministry. We experienced plenty of resistance to new ways of doing things. But we pressed on, determined to make this a better environment for kids.

As facilitator, I would be in the hallway every Sunday to help. My first goal was to get that boy out of the corner. Riley was beautiful, with bright eyes, and a big smile. He just couldn’t hold still and couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Using the “good for active learners” activities was helpful, but teaching Riley was still a struggle for his small group leaders. We had to reframe our expectations if we were going to help him succeed.

Rather than disrupting the class to deal with his behavior, one of Riley’s small group leaders would walk him to me and return to the classroom. In the hallway, Riley and I would talk about principles. (He had had enough punishment!) We talked about treating others the way we wanted to be treated and making wise choices. I showed him how his hands always wiggled before he was about to do something that would get him in trouble. (He was convinced that his hands had a mind of their own.) I taught him that they were his hands and that God had given him control over them. God had given me a huge love for this kid.

These “helps” and principles stuck with Riley. And others in our ministry learned how to talk with him, too. Eventually, instead of complaining about his bad behavior, we would celebrate how long he could go without getting in trouble on a Sunday morning. We would celebrate that time, even if it was only five minutes. “You went five minutes without climbing under a table or distracting your class. Give me five. Let’s talk about how we can make it 10 next week!” Pretty soon, he was making it almost all the way through class, and the difference in him was dramatic. He was seriously proud of himself. He knew he was getting control over his own behavior.

One Sunday, my family went on vacation and missed a Sunday at church. The next week, he came running up to me. “Where were you?” He was mad because he had worked on a memory verse all week long, and I hadn’t been there to hear him recite it. He had expectations of me now! I asked him to say his verse for me that Sunday instead:

“’Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Set an example for the believers in what you say and in how you live.’ 1 Timothy 4:12,” Riley said.

“Well done, Riley!”

By: Jill Turner

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