“Shut up! I’m just a bad kid!” He screamed, beginning to cuss, as he hit the walls surrounding the “time out space.” I had to hold his arms down so that he wouldn’t hit me, meanwhile positioning my body in such a way to avoid his kicks as well. He had lashed out in anger and hit another child, resulting in me sitting with him as he continued the angry outburst.
The situation wasn’t new to me. In fact, it happened a couple times a week while I was his teacher this year. Although it was challenging to deal with, I couldn’t say I blamed him. You see, this little 5-year old doesn’t believe anyone loves him. He was separated from his mother for the first few years of his life. His father is in jail most of the time. He’d rather not see his father anyway since “he’s really mean.” Because he doesn’t have these normal attachments, his brain didn’t develop the way it was supposed to during the first few years of his life. He doesn’t seek comfort like most kids when they’re hurting. He’s often violent and irritable. He’s been told that he’s a bad kid, and now he believes that he’ll never change. He’s angry, and he doesn’t know how to verbalize his hurt and pain.
My initial reaction was to be angry and irritated whenever he would act out, run around the room, rip up classroom materials, stab me with a pencil, head butt and punch me. However, I started asking Jesus to give me His heart for this child. I asked Him to show me how He sees this little boy (as well as all the children I teach at school and disciple in the Section 8 outreach ministry I lead). Jesus revealed several things to me.
Love without reserve. Be willing to let your heart break. For a long time, I’ve had a tendency to hold back a little in my relationships with people, even children. I’m afraid of getting hurt so I try to not get too attached, especially if I’m not sure how long someone will be in my life. However, Jesus’ love demonstrates a different pattern. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:15, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”
Kids who have been through a lot of trauma and have never truly experienced unconditional love probably won’t know how to love you. They may be affectionate toward you one moment and the next moment try to beat you up. Be willing to love them no matter what. Their situations will probably break your heart. You may get attached to them and then have to say goodbye. Don’t hold back because you’re afraid of getting hurt. Even though it may be painful, they’re worth every ounce of that pain.
Below are five ways to show them God’s love.
1. Live it out. Kids, especially older ones, will be a lot more willing to listen to you when you tell them about Jesus and His love if you’re already modeling it for them. Many may not have even a basic knowledge of the Bible. Start from the beginning. It’ll be a lot easier to explain concepts such as forgiveness, reconciliation, and serving others if you’re seeking to model that behavior for them and toward them.
2. Be consistent. Invest time. Kids need consistency in their lives, especially kids who are hurting and have been through trauma. If you’re going to be involved in their lives, be involved. You’ll just cause them more hurt and pain if you’re there for a small amount of time or are in and out all the time. They get that from their parents so they don’t need it from you as well. It might mean you don’t get to do something you’d rather be doing, but in regards to making an impact for the Kingdom, what matters most?
The children will probably seem cold and indifferent at first, especially if they are older. Don’t give up just because they don’t respond right away. If you consistently reach out to them, they’ll likely open up. And if you’re willing to just spend time with them and hang out, they’ll be more willing to listen to you when you talk to them about Jesus. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or costly. In fact, it’s probably better that you don’t spend a lot of money on them. This has the potential to create hostility in their parents, who you’re also trying to minister to. Take them to the park or to get $1 ice-cream cones at McDonald’s. It’ll mean the world to them simply because you’re with them and investing time into them.
3. Keep your word. They likely have trust issues. Remember, you’re seeking to demonstrate the character of God to them. If you tell them you’re going to do something, do it.
4. If possible, provide a consistent, godly male role model for them. This is true especially for boys. I’ve found that the young boys I work with often aren’t receptive to me at all. They just aren’t taught to respect women, and as a result, refuse to listen to me. It’s also highly unlikely that they have fathers involved in their lives. I have seen many of the boys I work with do a complete 180 and begin to thrive as a result of having a male role model consistently invest in their lives.
If the ministry you’re involved in is anything like the one I lead, godly men may be hard to come by. Begin to pray for God to raise them up. He is faithful.
5. Love their parents. You can try to reach out to a child as much as you can, but it’s unlikely much will change in that child’s life until you begin to reach his or her home life as well. Let their parents know you care about them as well. Start conversations with them and seek to build relationships with them.
Choosing to work with hurting kids can be very difficult, and you may feel like giving up at some point. I recently read a quote that stated “The kids who need the most love will often ask for it in the most unloving ways.” This is how Christ loves us, and it is a privilege to love His children in the same manner.