“That doesn’t belong in your nose.”
“Can you please sit down?”
“Do not put that in her hair.”
“Raise your hand, please.”
“You can do that in the bathroom if you need to.”
These are just a few of the things we find ourselves saying to those EGR (Extra Grace Required) kids. We see them coming a mile away and everything in our being wants to find a dark corner, curl up, and suck our thumb while rocking back and forth saying “No more, no more.” But then we hear that still small voice whispering; in your weakness I am stronger. WE can do this.
Let’s face it – some kids are a challenge. As human beings, we tend to be reactionary and respond to these kids based on their actions. But as small group leaders, we have a unique opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these special cases.
Tyler was the perfect example. I was a new leader and the previous leaders gave me a heads up about one of the kids I would be inheriting in my small group. They used words like “difficult” and “distraction” among others. These, I soon found out, were gross understatements. Tyler was almost impossible to work with. He monopolized all of my attention. I was constantly micromanaging or disciplining him. On the rare occasion I had an opportunity to focus on the other kids, it usually ended abruptly with the sound of something breaking. To say this kid was a challenge was just the tip of the iceberg.
After one particularly… eventful Sunday, I went digging. I found out that Tyler had a tragic story: one parent was in jail and the other struggled with drug addiction; he had been adopted a couple years prior by his grandparents and things were finally peaceful for him. Then suddenly, Just like that – his fragile world was shattered again when Tyler’s Grandpa passed away leaving his Grandma to take care of Tyler and all the finances alone.
We literally had a widow caring for an orphan here.
It was after this realization that my heart broke for him. The house of God needed to become a place of love, safety, comfort and acceptance in a world full of uncertainty for Tyler and it just so happened that these words were the antithesis of how I felt towards him.
With the strength of the Holy Spirit, I tried something counter-intuitive: each time I saw Tyler I would deny the urge to run to the hills screaming and would automatically stop whatever it was that I was doing and go to him, get down to his eye level, smile and squeeze him tight. Conversations were interrupted to greet him. He received special attention. He was allowed to do things the other kids weren’t. He received more time and more affection from me. He was chosen as a volunteer almost every time he raised his hand. He was given praise at at every turn for even the slightest thing. He was set apart. In time, Tyler became my favorite distraction.
Yes, at first the other kids raised an eyebrow but soon they actually began to model the behavior they had seen. They began choosing him to play with. They laughed at his jokes. They were nice to him. He actually made friends.
Over time, I saw the love of God begin to turn this kid from a dark, angry, wounded kid into a new creation. And better yet, the small group leaders that had developed a nervous twitch began to breathe easy again. No longer did I find them wandering aimlessly in dark hallways muttering to themselves; I found them loving on Tyler, being the hands and feet of Jesus. I’m not going to lie; there was no over-night transformation here. He didn’t become the model of perfect behavior or anything. Instead, he just became a normal kid, complete with behavioral ebbs and flows but with fewer sharp edges.
Difficult kids need a little something extra – and they are going to get it one way or another. As the small group leader, choose to make the tone of that extra attention proactive positivity instead of knee-jerk negativity and watch life-change occur!
What counter-intuitive action can you take to make challenging kids feel special this week?
By: Abigail McCormack