Ask the Experts: Fighting, Online Safety, Transition
Our experts answer your questions on children's and families ministry.
Q: There are two boys in my group who keep hitting each other. How do I address this?
Firstly, try and ascertain why they are hitting each other: there may be jealousy or competition; they may be angry about something else completely unrelated; or it may be that they are bored and / or need to release some energy. For many people, and in particular boys, touch is a very prominent communication tool because it is instant, does not involve complex words, and can give a sense of surety when feeling confused and out of your depth. This ‘hitting’ may be nothing to do with anger, or a sense of insecurity in this group but rather an expression of connection and friendship.
If it is the latter, then find other ways of giving these boys, and indeed all the children in the group, the opportunity to communicate their
friendship and connection physically. What songs can you sing that require big actions that can be developed to include leaning on each other or joining outstretched arms, etc? Even in small rooms you can add physicality to your activities; for instance, for your prayers reach up to the sky on tiptoe in praise (you could even stand on chairs if you have risk assessed it!), huddle together under the table to talk to God about the things that you are sorry for; or wrap each other in bandages to pray for the sick and needy in your community.
Encourage games that require those ‘hitting’ hands to be involved in other forms of touching, like thumb or arm wrestling.
If it is conflict then either address it generally and non-specifically in the group, ‘I feel this when someone does this’ or find a space to
have a conversation with the boys outside of the group (try all three of you leaning against a fence or a wall so that you can say difficult
things without making eye contact). If it is anger then in the short term you can help them to express this without damaging each other: hitting cushions or popping balloons is good. But you do need to consider having a conversation with the parents or your child protection officer if you think there are some deeper underlying issues.
The key thing to remember is that for most boys what we adults might describe as ‘hitting’ is actually a sign of affection and that they are
expressing their God-created humanity that needs to connect and belong on an intellectual, emotional and physical level. The really important part you can play, as they learn that there might be more socially acceptable ways of expressing their affection, is to ensure that they know that they are 100% accepted and loved for who they are – hitting and all!
Q: How can we teach children online safety?
We need to teach children how to stay safe, based on their age, understanding and environment. Children are being introduced to technology at a far younger age than ever before. Primary school children are using mobile phones (if mainly for games), and tablets – and all have internet access.
Children are growing up online, so much so that it comes naturally to them, as it may not to their parents. Children’s workers and parents
can help children by encouraging them to go online and explore on age-appropriate sites.
One way to help is by setting boundaries in the online world, as you do in the real world. This includes ensuring that parental controls are set on all devices that connect to the web. It is a myth, however, that adults are generally scared of the technology and that young people are more technologically adept. Yes, children are accessing every type of media, at a younger age, but they lack the maturity they need in order to handle some of the situations, and we need to help them understand the risks. These include losing control of pictures and videos, cyberbullying and coming across people online who are not who they claim to be.
Children’s workers can be better resourced in helping children stay safe through getting involved in the annual Safer Internet Day. They can also look at other excellent resources which have been developed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), ThinkUKnow and CBBC:
Finally, workers should know that mastering the technology is nowhere near as important as putting in place boundaries and developing
consistent child safety strategies. Yes, it can be good to know what Snapchat, Tumblr and Whatsapp are – but, come tomorrow, there will
yet another new innovation to get to grips with.
Talk to children about staying safe. If you are adventurous this may even mean doing so online (with clear safeguarding guidelines in place).
Q: How can we smoothly transition children from children’s groups to youth groups?
As a Church we are not great at retaining children and young people through to adulthood, and there are certain places where the drop can be most pronounced. One of these is at the transition between children’s and youth ministry so we need to get this right. The children are at a time of significant change in their lives; remember all that uncertainty you felt changing from being at the top of a primary school to bottom of the big school?
Their brains are changing too: the lovely child who once hung on our every word is beginning to engage their newly acquired critical thinking
to tear apart all our ideas. So what can we do to help?
1. Avoid a September switch. There is a lot of change for children every September that can be very unsettling. We often mirror this by moving children around our groups at the same time when they would really benefit from some consistency to help them cope with the other changes. With smaller groups you may even decide to move children up when they are ready, rather than at an arbitrary point.
2. Break down barriers. It can be argued that the best way for a church to nurture the faith of a child would be to have the same leaders throughout their journey through the church. This is rarely possible, but we should aim to blur any lines that exist between our groups so that transition is seamless. This could include joint sessions with all ages together, having as many leaders as possible working in multiple age groups and having older children from the youth group dropping down to help lead sessions in the younger ages.
3. Think outcomes. Something that youth ministry has become quite adept at is thinking long term about the kind of adults we would like our youth groups to shape. We need to think about what kind of young people we want to send to the youth group. For example in the youth
group there’s going to less teaching and more discussion and exploration.
Make sure that you are engaging in that process with the children in your group so that they are mentally equipped to do this before they join the youth group. That way as they begin to experience the doubts that will come in their teenage years they know that church is the place to discuss them, not hide them.