How many times as a small group leader of preschoolers have you thought to yourself when a child is acting out, “She just wants my attention”? The accurate response to that statement is, “Yes, she certainly does!” She wants your attention and she needs your attention. The power of attention cannot be overstated. The behavior you notice and respond to is much more likely to be repeated.
So, should we just ignore biting, screaming, and running around the group space during Bible story time? Not exactly. But, we can adjust the way we focus our attention in situations like that. We can overtly and in a dramatic way focus our attention on the child who was bitten, the boy who is talking at an acceptable volume, the girl who is sitting quietly and listening to the story. The child who was bitten gets to have the special ice pack to hold on the wound while you sympathize and love on him. The boy who talks and doesn’t pierce your eardrums gets to lead the group in saying the Memory Verse. The girl who pays full attention during the Bible story gets to hold your very special Bible in her lap.
Verbal praise is another effective form of attention if the words are specific and descriptive. Avoid judgment words like: good boy, bad girl, great job. Instead of saying, “You are being so good today” try “You are being as quiet as a mouse! It makes my ears feel so good when you use that voice.” The difference is that you are describing a behavior that the child understands and will be able to remember and repeat.
Your preschoolers love to be noticed by you! Whether you share a hug, make eye contact, sit on the floor, or comment on how hard they worked to cut-out a project, you are letting them know that you see them – really see them.