At church last weekend, I was walking around after service, and a little 4 year old ran up and hugged my leg. I picked her up, swung her around, and then asked her about her life (which in that moment consisted of finishing the pizza crust in her hand). One of the older ladies in the church saw this and remarked, “That’s a surprise! I didn’t know you were good with kids.” I laughed and was about to reply, but then the girl’s mom appeared and said, “Oh, yeah. Josh is great with all the young ones, probably because he’s still so young himself!” We all chuckled and then parted ways.
That conversation made me wonder. Was that lady surprised because of my incredibly rugged and tough exterior? (Joking!) Or is there a general perception that young people, and perhaps young men especially, have trouble interacting with kids?
After asking around and doing about 15 minutes of research, I think it’s probably the latter. While I grew up in a family where both my brother and I started doing children’s ministry when we were 11, I’ve come to realize that for many adults — especially, but not only, men — children are a bit of an enigma, who have the potential to scream, poop or get hurt at a moment’s notice.
So to prepare for this, time to get training.
Many Christian couples will raise kids, and the Bible calls children a blessing to any family. With that in mind, if there’s a chance you’ll have kids one day, one thing you can do now as a young adult is start practicing the skills needed to relate with and raise them properly. This familiarity and practice can set you up for the future, and hey, even if you don’t end up with kids of your own, I can almost guarantee you’ll have friends or family who will.
Ministry + Ongoing Education
Perhaps the best place to learn the basic skills of interacting with tiny humans is in your church’s children’s ministry. Long before a youth group shows up, churches usually start with a form of kid’s church, and they always need volunteers. Start small and ask the person in charge how you can help. Stack chairs, pour drinks, hand out snacks and maybe even give some instructions about crafts. Try to imitate the mannerisms and tones of the experienced leaders around you. Or perhaps ask them for tips on interacting with kids.
One of the most important skills, especially as children grow older, is the balance between discipline and fun. I always lean on the side of being extra strict with any explicitly stated rules and any behavior that distracts from what’s going on. How you balance discipline and fun, you’ll have to figure out for yourself. Talk with your leaders and see how they do it!
Children’s ministry is a great place to get started, and it’s usually at most only a two-hours-a-week commitment. You’ll get supervision, training and hey, there are usually other young adults there, too. And it doesn’t hurt to grab a cup of coffee afterward with that cute and single team leader — to get some further tips on how to minister more effectively, of course.
Family and Friends
When your friends start having kids (one of the great benefits of having older or married friends) is also a great opportunity to learn and to invest in the lives of the next generation. Young parents always need help, whether with cleaning up messes, opening doors, carrying things or simply holding the baby and entertaining the kids. Unless they’re like the dad in the new Paddington movie, they’re going to want your assistance. Here’s your chance!
Two years ago one of my close friends had their first child, and holding him at just 7 days old was TERRIFYING. I couldn’t even close my eyes when I prayed for him ’cause I was so scared of dropping him. However, as he grew up, I got used to it, and after a while, it wasn’t so bad. Then they asked me to give him a bath at 3 months… *sigh. It’s challenges like this that have helped me learn, and grow, and eventually give me the confidence to face new ones.
In short, use your young adult years as a chance to learn some new skills and ways to minister. You never know when that training will come in handy.
How ’bout you? What skills do you think are most helpful to learn regarding kids? How have you gone about learning them?