I had the opportunity to ask one of the most creative guys I know some questions about engaging our kids during this new season. I worked with Dan at a fast-growing church in Michigan over a decade ago. Since that time, Dan joined the team of the ReThink Group –the creators of the Orange curriculum many churches use in their kids ministries. Dan serves as the Director of 252 Kids & Preteen Curriculum and is the author of, Caught In Between: Engage your Preteens Before They Check Out.
Dan, thanks for joining me for this conversation!
Let me kick this off with that little issue I started off with. Most of us used to complain we didn’t have enough time with the kids. Now we do. So how should we make the best use of the time?
We do have a TON of time with our kids right now, yet at the same time, it’s not like we’re on vacation. Lots of parents, including myself, are struggling with this. We want to spend time with our kids while we’re all at home together. But my wife and I still have jobs. Our kids still have school work to complete. The biggest help for us has been managing the expectations of what that all looks like, how much we can accomplish, and when we’ll actually get work done. I’ve been getting up early to get one thing done off my own to-do list. Then I can be available while my sixth grader is doing school work. I’m not as frustrated by spur-of-the-moment questions because I’ve already anticipated they will happen.
A lot of it, regardless of their age, is just being available for when they need or want to talk. During a time like this, work needs to take a back-burner to our kids. If they want to chat, they get to chat. If they need help with school, they get help with school. Work can wait.
As you have downtime though, make it intentional. Let everyone know that it’s game night, movie night, or family dinner. Let your kids choose the activities, and go along for the ride. The more we can include our kids in the decision-making process, the more they’ll be willing to hang out—especially those teenagers.
As a veteran pastor, I hear people regularly confess they just don’t feel equipped to lead their kids spiritually. They just don’t feel like they know enough. How would you coach those parents?
I’d love for all parents to understand that passing on faith to the next generation doesn’t look the same for any family. We tend to put an unrealistic version of “Christian parenting” on a pedestal. We hope to achieve it, but more often than not, we’re intimidated by it and do nothing. I’d encourage parents just to do something. Maybe it’s watch on-line church together and talk about it over lunch. Maybe it’s putting slips of paper and a question jar out for people to write down the questions they have about faith. The truth is, right now, spiritual parenting might look like counseling our kids through anxiety and fear of the unknown. It might look like comforting them as they wish they could hang out with their friends. It could be making sure they continue to enjoy life during unprecedented times. All of those things can be sacred and lead towards encouraging authentic faith in your kids.
My family is reading through C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia book series. What are some of your favorite resources for parents? Websites?
For parents, check out Parent Cue from Orange. We have been posting all sorts of up-to-date resources to help families navigate difficult questions during this time of crisis. And throughout the year, they feature fantastic articles to help parents make the most of each phase of their kids’ lives.
One of the things that’s been fun is having our kids connect their devices to the speakers so they get to choose the playlists. It makes them feel valued and gives us insight into the music they enjoy. Same goes for movies and shows too.
This is a scary time for adults and it’s easy to forget the kids have their own concerns. You're a parent of a teens and tweens. How are you helping them navigate their anxieties during this season?
We check in on them regularly. Jenna, my wife, is great at this. She sat down with our girls for hours one night and just listened. Sometimes it’s best to go into these conversations with a list of questions rather than an agenda. They may not need what you think they need, so ask open- ended questions that lead you to find that out. Start with lighter questions to break the ice and follow where the conversation leads. But don’t be scared to ask hard questions. You’re the parent, and it’s part of your role to care for your kids this way.
Along with that, pick up on the cues they’re giving you. If they’re acting differently than normal, make note to follow up. It doesn’t mean something is wrong, but it could give you insight into how they’re processing this time at home.
Our kids are old enough that we can be honest with our anxieties right now. We can model what it looks like to process them and put our trust in God during uncertainty.
Lots of small groups have suddenly discovered the joy of meeting using a video platform. What are some ways groups with kids can include the kids in this new medium?
What a fun question. I haven’t seen much of this actually. Most small groups I’ve seen have put kids to bed before hopping on-line to chat with their group. And while that is definitely important, we all need a chance to talk this out with our community, it might actually be freeing to get the kids involved. Families will get the chance to see that they are really all in this together.
To make it fun, try hosting a video scavenger hunt. The leader calls out an object from around the house. The first family to run, grab that item, and show it to the camera on screen wins. You can make the prizes as big or little as you want. Or just have the satisfaction of being the COVID-19 Scavenger Hunt Champions!
You could also read through a Psalm with the kids reading out loud for the camera. Or do popcorn prayers from screen to screen. It’s amazing how much you can do even though you’re not in the same room.
How would you coach these small groups to adapt their studies and discussion questions to engage the kids?
The biggest thing here is to remember how your kids and teens process information. Some studies and questions just wouldn’t be appropriate. Others might be harmless but the concepts are too abstract for concrete-thinking children. If you choose to meet as families, it might be worth suspending the study you were doing in favor of something that’s more kid or teen-friendly like the stories of Jesus or Old Testament heroes with clear applications for everyone, regardless of their age.
Also, be sure to check in with your church family too. Right now Orange is offering our teaching videos for all ages along with expanded parent guides for leading activities and discussions at home. This could be a great way for families to connect during this time.
Finally, what didn’t I ask that I should have asked?
You know, I think these were great questions. I’d probably just say to parents to remember to give yourselves grace right now too. They might feel like they’re making this up as they go. But we all are. We’ve never lived life in quarantine due to a global pandemic. We’re figuring out the rules as we go. If we’re honest with ourselves about that, honest with our kids about that, we set ourselves up for a better experience while we’re home for extended periods of time. Be sure to reach out to other parents and check in on each other. We can’t do this alone. That’s the power of small groups, no matter what’s happening in the world.
Dan, we can’t thank you enough for sharing your expertise with us.