How Can Your Child Minister to the Troubled Kid at School?
- Whitney Von Lake Hopler Crosswalk.com contributing writer
- 2007 17 Aug
Shortly after I handed a birthday party invitation list to my daughter Honor, I watched her scratch out one of the names.
“Jocelyn (name has been changed to protect her privacy) isn’t acting like my friend anymore,” Honor said in a soft, sad voice. “I don’t want her to come to my party.”
“Why not?” I inquired, startled because Honor hadn’t mentioned any trouble in their relationship before.
Tears escaped from Honor’s eyes as she blurted out the story of how Joceyln had suddenly started acting completely out of character, transforming from a kind girl who proactively helped others into someone who told lies and bullied other girls in their elementary school class. Honor finished her account by declaring, “Something is really wrong.”
“Well, why don’t you ask her what it is?” I replied, trying not to let the alarm I felt come through in my voice.
“I have, and so has Meghann,” Honor said, referring to her best friend who was also in same class. “But she just gets a funny look on her face when we try to talk to her about it, and then she walks away.”
As a concerned parent, it would have been easy for me to just advise Honor to avoid trouble by avoiding Jocelyn. But I couldn’t shake the sense that God wanted my daughter to reach out to this hurting girl, no matter what the cost. And when, after prayer, Honor and Meghann decided to do just that, God used their efforts to bring much-needed help to Jocelyn. It turned out that Joceyln’s lies and bullying were pleas for attention; her older brother – upset that he was forced to care for Joceyln after school while her parents were at work – was physically abusing her at home.
The process Honor and Meghann went through benefitted them as well as Jocelyn. They became more compassionate, learned how to seek God’s wisdom and trust Him more when faced with a crisis, and gained the confidence of seeing that their faithfulness made a significant difference in someone’s life.
Here are some guidelines you can share with your own kids to help them help their hurting classmates during this new school year:
Pray. Encourage your kids to intercede for their hurting classmates regularly. Even if they don’ t have much information about what’s causing the trouble, they can pray for God to bring the truth of the situation to light, to deliver their friends from evil, to comfort their friends through His Holy Spirit, and to bring people into their friends’ lives who can provide the practical help they need.
Keep in contact. Although it’s tempting for your kids to just ignore classmates who bother them, it’s crucial for them to keep interacting. Too often, just when hurting kids need friends the most, their classmates walk away. Honor and Meghann made a point of continuing to sit with Joceyln in the cafeteria at lunch, and included her in their games on the playground. Honor decided to invite Joceyln to her birthday party after all, rather than excluding her. The time your kids spend with hurting classmates, while not always enjoyable, will give those classmates the gift of unconditional love they desperately need.
Respond with kindness, no matter what. Help your kids understand that they shouldn’t take hurting classmates’ mean words or actions too personally. Explain that people who are unhappy themselves often lash out at others. Remind your kids that Jesus calls them to love their enemies and bless those who curse them. Recognize that this will be a challenge for your kids, but pray for them to be able to see their hurting classmates as God sees them – people made in His image and in need of love. Encourage your kids to be peacemakers who soothe their classmates’ hurts with kindness.
Listen well. Urge your kids to listen carefully to the thoughts and feelings their hurting classmates express. Have them practice their listening skills with you, so they’ll know how to give their classmates their full attention without getting distracted. Encourage your kids to ask questions to clarify information or gently lead their hurting classmates to open up more. Explain the importance of respecting their classmates’ dignity by not laughing at them or gossiping about their troubles. Tell your kids that their hurting classmates need relationships with other kids whom they know they can trust.
Seek help from a teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. Let your kids know that they should feel free to openly discuss the situation with one of their teachers, a school counselor, or another adult whom they trust (such as their pastor or youth leader). Tell your kids that they should always report alarming information – such as alleged abuse or suicide threats – and take it seriously. After Honor and Meghann went to a school counselor with some concerns, Jocelyn revealed her brother’s abuse to the counselor and got the help she needed to end the abuse.
Be patient. Help your kids realize that it’s unrealistic to expect a quick fix or simple solution to the situation, since most serious problems take significant time to work through and require lots of thought to resolve the complexities that brought them about in the first place. But, as your kids go through the process of helping their hurting classmates, discuss the progress they see and point out how God is answering prayers to help both them and their classmates grow.