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Last Updated March 07, 2000

A Message to Pastors: How to Talk with Children

by Roland A. Smith

This article is especially for you, pastors--to encourage you to get acquainted with the boys and girls who are part of your congregation.

Children are people, too. There was a time when a different attitude prevailed: "Children are to be seen, not heard." Children are capable of communication which is alert and responsive. Moreover, they are perceptive and sensitive to attitudes that adults have toward them. Quite often they are better able to read the adult than the adult may realize. Imperative in all attempts to communicate with children is the expressed genuine attitude of love and respect.

When talking with children we should not be concerned about whether we are coming through, but how we are coming through. We also should be concerned that our approach and that content is positive. Some much needed consideration of ideas and principles may be very appropriate here.

Not only is it essential to recognize children as people, but it is essential to recognize them as important people. One never knows what potential of greatness lies in a particular child. Nor does one know fully whether the child's lifelong attitudes have been formed. It is likely they are still in the making, and we adults are influencing them daily. We may encourage a child to desire achievement or failure, greatness or obscurity, honesty or dishonesty, reliability or indolence, trust or suspicion.

How can one best talk with children?

Always extend the assurance of your love. It may not be necessary to verbalize that assurance, but it must be conveyed in the way we talk and in what we talk about. Spend a few minutes talking about happenings in the child’s world and his interests. We can rejoice with him in his having received a new toy or sympathize with him over his skinned knee. We can share his disappointment that the family picnic was canceled by some reason important to grown-ups. We can share his joy of anticipating a visit by his grandmother or his disappointment in not making the ball team.

We can always say a word about the Lord's concern, too. One of our favorite verses is "He caret for you" (I Pet. 5:7).

Recognize the child as a person. Manifesting such interest as described earlier will evoke the desired response from the child. He will become more open and trusting in his relationship with you because you see him as a person. While too many times he is forced to believe that in an adult world he is not fully appreciated.) In too many instances we are not aware of his world during those days we do not see him. His world may be one of hostilities and insecurity.

Regard the child as a person with worth. If he senses in us a lack of respect, he will respond in the same manner. Call him by name when talking with him. Let him know that you are glad he is in the world and that you have the opportunity to work and play with him. That is why it is important for us who work with children to remember that life-long attitudes are formed during childhood.

Condescending is not necessary. Using words he understands, speak as you would to anyone else. Avoid "talking down" to a child. Use your natural tone of voice and manner of speaking.

Use words the child can understand. One should remember that the mind-set of a child is literal. He has difficulty with abstractions and symbolic words such as "The wise man built his house upon a rock." The logical conclusion for the adult is to avoid using too many words that require explanation. Time available to spend with the child is extremely limited; therefore, the adult should use the most effective communication techniques. Words used should be those in the child's vocabulary.

Use an approach that calls for response. The leader wants the assurance that communication has been established. A verbal response may be the easiest way to indicate effectiveness. A question might serve as the tool. An incomplete statement sometimes might be appropriate, not as a test but to get response.

Do not remain in a standing position. Sitting or squatting to retain eye-level contact shows your real interest in the child. It removes any aloof attitude and encourages the child to openness and trust. He will respond to your interest and love. When talking with a group of children it is always best to sit down among them or in a circle with them.

Play games the child enjoys. A child demolishes most barriers when an adult joins him in play. Quite often the adult will become physically exhausted before the child does, but after a period of play the fellowship has been established and openness prevails. It means one must enter the child's world.

The greatest mystery. To think of the potential in one child is enough to stagger the imagination. What greatness, then, lies unrevealed in a typical group of children? What sorrow and disappointment? What abilities and usefulness will go neglected, unchallenged, and undeveloped? How many will be Nobel Prize winners, missionaries, teachers, preachers, presidents, or sneak thieves, pickpockets, prostitutes, and drunkards? Who has God called to help unlock the answer to the mystery? Hopefully it will be you--and me?

Roland Smith, retiree, Church Architecture Department, The Sunday School Board
Reprinted from Children's Leadership magazine, October, 1988.   Copyright: The Sunday School Board.

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Updated: Tuesday, March 07, 2000