A few weeks ago, a new family visited our church with their toddler. I just happened to be helping in the toddler room and had to physically peel his arms from around his mom’s neck. I could see the anguish in mom’s eyes as she handed her little treasure over to me.
He cried for a few minutes and then wrapped his arms around me and buried his sweet head into my shoulder. He stayed that way the entire hour. No crying, but definitely still and not sure about what was going on.
The next Sunday I just happened to be walking by the toddler room as the same family was checking in. The cute little fellow was crying, but reached out his arms to me and snuggled in close, still a little weepy. He stayed on my lap the entire hour, but sneaked a look at the Ollie video and seemed content to remain in my arms.
A week later the family returned and this time I wasn’t around at check-in time. When I walked past the room, my little friend was standing there crying and when he saw me he raised his arms as if to say, “I know you! Can you come comfort me?” Of course I stopped what I was doing and entered the room, scooped him up and sat in our regular rocking chair and snuggled. This Sunday, he actually turned around on my lap and watched the Ollie video. We read books and played with toys while he continued to sit on my lap. I was able to encourage the mom with how well he did while she was gone.
This scenario continued for a few more weeks.
Fast forward to this past Sunday. I was walking by the toddler room once again as he was being dropped off. His mom made the comment to him, “There’s Miss Kathy!!! You will be fine now!” I took him in my arms and into the room we went. He sat on my lap for about ten minutes and then the next thing I knew he had hopped down and crossed the room to play with a toy. He looked back at me with a huge smile on his face and waved his little hand. Success!!!
My little friend finally felt safe.
Often what we call “separation anxiety” is at its core – FEAR. How we handle this fear will set the stage for future situations and how a child is able to trust the adults in his life and ultimately God.
First, having the trust of the parent is key. When a parent consistently sees the same face week after week, it breeds familiarity and comfort. The leader knows my child. The leader cares about my child’s well-being. The leader is committed to serving my child and my family.
Second, the trust of the child is built over time. It took several weeks for my little friend to finally feel comfortable enough to leave my lap and venture across the room to play. Not rushing him was important. Giving my little friend all the time he needed to feel comfortable was imperative.
Familiarity breeds comfort and comfort breeds trust. Our desire is to cultivate an atmosphere where trust and comfort are felt every week.
Isaiah 40:11 is such a beautiful picture of this – He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.
I encourage us all as leaders in preschool ministry to take the time to gather our little ones in our arms and gently lead the parents of those little ones.