In Part 1, we considered ways to create an environment that encourages and supports children with learning and behavioral challenges. But what about parents? How can we have supportive and encouraging conversations with them about what we’ve observed in their child?
To answer that question I went to the folks at the Christian Learning Center Network. They emphasized that when you begin a conversation with a parent/guardian it’s important to highlight the positives about the child before mentioning the other behaviors you have observed and to ground your approach in the understanding that “each one of us has areas of strength and need, and that we all are an essential part of the body of Christ.” Here’s their example of how to have a loving — and inviting! — conversation with a parent:
"Hi Lynn, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy having Tyson. He is an amazing lego builder. He is so creative. In fact today he had 3 children standing around watching him build. He brings great joy and energy to our room and he offers such beautiful prayers. I also noticed that he doesn't always know how to interact with other children during play. Have you noticed that?"
Then, mom can say "yes" at which point you can brainstorm together including (if appropriate) handing her a name or two where she might get further information.
[Or] mom can say "no" at which point you may need to consider if it's something at the church environment. I might then say, "I wonder what is happening here at church. Can we chat for a few minutes so we can see if there is something we can change to allow Tyson to be more successful with peers here?"
CLC Network points out that whether a parent answers yes or no to your questions you’ve opened the door for further conversations while learning about ways to create a welcoming, pleasant and “less triggering” environment. They also add this caution: NEVER use labels such as “I noticed your child has ______.” That’s not the leader’s role! Notice observable behaviors and leave diagnosing them to the experts.
CLC Network has on their website a free downloadable parent/family member survey as an example of helpful tools leaders can use to get to know the children in their group. At the end of the survey is a sample “Welcome Page” letter to leaders about a child named Ben. Written by Barbara J. Newman, author of the excellent resource Autism and Your Church, the letter ends this way:
As with every child of God, however, it’s important to remember that the Autism is one part of His God-given knitting pattern. [Ben] is a boy, created by God, with many joys in his life along with challenges.
How can Providence Church best support Ben? Provide a place where Ben will know that he is wanted in a church community, a place he can integrate with others who love the Lord, and a place where he can connect with God and experience His love.
What a wonderful goal for all our ministry environments!