Are you a parent of a special needs child? Do you go to a church that welcomes you and your child?
Are you a Sunday School Teacher who wants to reach as many children for Jesus as possible…but there is that *one* child that can be difficult…
My new friend Sara (www.saraborgstede.com) is a parent of children who have special needs. She has some wonderful words of wisdom for those of us who teach children and desire for them to have a successful time at church.
Dear Sunday School Teacher,
Thank you for your willingness to teach children about Jesus. Thank you for your willingness to teach my children with special needs.
Thank you for your willingness to give me an hour for my own spiritual refreshment. That alone is one of the best gifts you are giving my child.
While some large churches have a specific special needs ministry, the reality is that most churches do not. With some planning and creativity, it is possible to meet the needs of many of our children. Even if your church does have a special needs ministry, the following guidelines will be of benefit.
I’ve been fortunate that our church’s Children’s Ministry Director is incredibly supportive and understanding of our children’s special needs. She has made a world of difference in creating an environment of welcome and positive experience for our children, and I’ve learned from our positive experiences over the years.
- Communication at drop-off time is essential. Ideally your children’s ministry program should have a registration system, but it’s so easy for information to get lost in the shuffle. Questions such as, “Is there anything special about your child I should know?” with eye contact with Mom or Dad is a good question to ask. Sometimes special needs parents will quickly drop off a child, afraid you will not allow the child to stay, or expect the parent to stay (when Mom really wants an hour to herself!) and neglect to share important information with you. While I understand parents’ desperation for a break, this is a dangerous way to handle getting an hour of respite. If you notice Mom acting evasive, be encouraging. Smile and say, “I know kids can have all kinds of differences. Are there any tips that work especially well for your son/daughter?”
- Keep a firm hand with classroom discipline. It might be tempting to think, “This is Sunday School. I want the kids to have FUN,” but the reality is that if the classroom is in chaos, it’s not fun for anyone. This isn’t being mean, but you are the adult and you set the tone for the situation. Children with behavioral needs need more structure than other students, but all kids thrive with firm structure. Once the tone is set that you are the adult, then there is room for games and fun time within that structure.
- Eliminate or carefully choose snacks and food treats. Gone are the days of giving all the kids Goldfish crackers and apple juice every day at Vacation Bible School. These days, more children have gluten sensitivity, food allergies, and other diet restrictions. Do not hand out snacks or treats without parent permission.
- Be creative with strategies. If something isn’t working, be creative for ways to regroup! What’s awesome about church ministry is that we can try all kinds of adaptations. We aren’t limited the way a school situation might be. Perhaps a retired army captain might be just the right person to help with a challenging elementary school boy (instead of the sweet teaching volunteer we usually think to ask). One of our sons with significant behavioral issues became good friends with a young man at our church who is developmentally delayed, and they even attended Sunday School together. We saw our son’s behavior calm when he was with his new friend.
- Cover all in prayer. We have the most powerful tool of all when we pray for our children and families. Our problems do not disappear, but God provides us with amazing resources and meets our needs when we ask.
Thank you for helping the least of these.
In Jesus Name,
Sara Borgstede is a triathlete, speaker, and writer. She has been maintaining a 100 lb weight loss for 10 years, and runs an online faith and fitness program for women, www.faithfulfinishlines.com. She is mom to 5 kids through birth and special needs adoption, and she and her husband Mike, who is a pastor, were foster parents to 35 children.