If you volunteer in your child’s school, Church Bible classes or even their extracurricular activities, you have probably realized there are entirely too many children living in crisis. Often, these children will never turn to an adult for help. Instead, they will share their concerns, fears and problems with a peer.
If your children are loving, kind and supportive in their interactions with other kids, they may be the ones to whom these hurting children turn. Unfortunately, no matter how mature and godly your kids may be, they just don’t have the training and life experience to handle this vital task fully.
You can however, teach your kids some important Christian Life Skills that will help them step in and give their peers some hope and direction while facing life’s problems. So what are the skills most children should be able to handle when trying to help a peer? Here are some of my favorites.
- Active Listening. Teach your children how to stop everything if at all possible and really listen when someone is hurting. They should be able to look the other person in the eyes, nod their head or give some other sign they are listening, and ask questions to confirm or clarify details. Active listening at this point is to make sure they know all of the facts and have allowed the person to vent their emotions a bit. This information is important for your child to understand clearly in order for an adult to help – especially if the situation is serious and the hurting child is afraid of telling an adult.
- Expressing Empathy. Your children need to understand they don’t have to agree with the person’s interpretation of events to express empathy. They merely need to say they are sorry the person is hurting and offer a hug, tissue or some other type of support for the emotions the hurting child is feeling. Tell them to think of the other child’s emotional pain as a scraped knee. Just like they would give that child a bandaid, they need to figure out how to provide some immediate support for the emotional injury until they can help the child find the appropriate adult they may need.
- Encouraging Adult Intervention. As I often tell young people, some problems are above their “pay grade”. They just aren’t equipped to help a child with depression or suicidal thoughts. Nor are they equipped to help a child who is being abused, neglected or experiencing some other serious trauma. Teach your children the appropriate adults to ask for help. (Hopefully you are first on their list, but you may not always be available quickly enough to help.) Encourage them to offer to go with the hurting child to tell the appropriate adult (teacher, school counselor, minister, you). I would not suggest they go with a child to that child’s parents to give them “bad” news. Your children need you to give them boundaries of whom you would feel safe for them to approach with another child who has a problem (and to whom you don’t want them to go).
- Keeping “Secrets”. Teach your children the hurting child’s problems are theirs to share – not your child’s. With the exception of getting help for a child who is in danger, what a hurting child shares with your child should never be shared. This “news” should never be shared with their friends and everyone they know without the hurting child’s permission. Your children should not be the gossip center of their peers. Telling things which should be private can actually add more pain to the life of a child who is already hurting.
- Getting Emergency Help. Teach your children that when someone’s life is in danger – either immediately or possibly in the near future, they need to get help for the child in danger as soon as possible. List the types of emergencies needing immediate help from an adult. Explain that in situations when someone’s life or health is in serious danger, they can inform the person they are scared about what has been shared and are contacting an adult to provide immediate support. This may include physically walking the other child to an appropriate adult, calling you for advice or in extreme cases calling 911. (Child has admitted taking an overdose to commit suicide, etc. The hurting child’s parents should be called at the same time as 911 if your child has a way to reach them – if not your child should call you.) If another child’s life is in danger, your child needs to ignore the other child’s possible protests and get immediate help.
- Sharing God. For most issues, your child might ask the hurting child if they would like to pray or have them pray for them. Maybe your child can share a Bible verse or suggest a scripture or Bible story that would encourage the child. Not every hurting child will accept this extra spiritual help, and that’s okay. Although secular schools have boundaries on faith sharing by teachers, students are usually exempt – especially if it is done quietly and empathetically.
Teaching your kids how to help hurting people is one way of teaching them how to love others like God wants them to do. It can also make a huge difference in the life of another child. It’s definitely worth the time and effort.