The last few weeks have been a time of real turmoil as the country, its schools, businesses, charities, community groups and churches respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While many churches have been great at jumping on board with a practical response of food, phone lines and online services, how are we needs of our children and young people and what are our priorities?
This has been, and still is, a time of great uncertainty and more so for children, many of whom are anxious and fearful. Schools, clubs and churches have closed; they can no longer see their friends or extended family and many may be worrying if they will ever see them again, particularly their older grand parents or people who are already sick.
Children and teens will often bottle up their worries, not wishing to burden already worried parents, sometimes they are not even aware they have these worries themselves. Not being able to process what is happening to them allows anxiety and fear to grow and be exhibited through difficult behaviour or by becoming withdrawn, both adding pressure and tension to already stretched family situations.
Sadly, many will also become victims of fear and anxiety from others in their home and many charities are fearful of the emotional and physical aftermath, particularly for those stuck in already abusive homes.
So, as children’s workers, church workers and club leaders, what can we do ?
This is a time to reach out to the children we work with and let them know we care.
The truth is however at a time like this what children need to hear is that they are loved and not forgotten. They need connection, honesty and authenticity. They need to know you are there for them.
After all this is over, if we have ignored our young people in this most vulnerable time of their lives, when they need us most, then quite frankly, we don’t deserve them!
Many churches up and down the country are going online, offering online services and prayer meetings but it is important to not forget the children’s work! After all they are probably more digitally savvy than most church leaders!
Staying engaged is hard but not impossible.
So here are a few top tips to stay engaged and continue to build strong relationships with your children and young people during, and who knows maybe after, this current crisis.
1. Say hello.
Get in touch! A letter, a phone, an email - call just to check up on them. Obviously when you call you ask permission to speak to the child but it also gives you a chance to speak to the parents. Are they okay too? Children seldom get phone calls, while teens are never off the phone, and it can mean to much! Obviously only call numbers you have permission to call and teens may be better contacted through a messaging service. Make sure you follow your safeguarding policy, and calls and messages should only be made from an organisational phone or account so that there is traceability and accountability, safety comes first, but there are ways to contact them including good old fashioned snail mail. A personal letter is still a lovely thing to receive for all ages!
2. Activity packs
A fun way to say you care. Make up activity packs with crafts, paper, a ball, a story book, colouring pencils, playing cards and some chocolate. The temptation for churches here is to drop off a load of Christian resources and colouring but what message does this give? That we care about their spiritual wellbeing but not about anything else?
Let’s make sure whatever we send out is something that kids WANT to receive. Include some challenges, a personal letter but be creative – colouring is well down on my list of activities for kids – and if you are giving them craft and activities – don’t assume they have glue or coloured pencils or Sellotape at home, so provide it – everyone loves stationary anyway!
It doesn’t really matter what you put in your pack just don’t make it over religious!.There are a million ways to show kids that God loves them and they don’t all involve a paper plate and some cotton wool! Then drop them at the door, ring the bell and run away – well, stand well back and wave through the window. Children will be delighted to see you and talk from the garden gate. You can even do it as part of your 1 hour exercise a day!
Ugh birthday on lockdown! Find out when your kids birthdays are and drop off a gift or send them something by Amazon..or post a card..or even drop off a supermarket birthday cake. This is really special and personal and helps them feel valued.
4.Zoom kids club
With parental permission you could set up a zoom club – its free for small groups up to 40 minutes long. Play a game ..charades, bingo, cahoot..there are lots that are possible and help kids see each other and just making connections. Still follow your safeguarding policy..ie at least 2 adults in the meeting..parental permission etc You need to be extra vigilant and accountable. There are other platforms you could try too.
Why not set fun challenges and engage with kids, youth and families through social media. Ask them to send in or post pictures, videos etc.. Its just another fun way of engaging. Eg: Most inventive use of a toilet roll inner, loo roll keepie uppies, recreate famous painting, climb Everest step challenge, the tea bag challenge ( See www.ykidsonline.co.uk)
6. Social action
Helping others is good for our mental health..but what can we do when stuck at home? The NHS rainbows in the window and Clap for the NHS are great examples of things kids can do that make a difference. Other ideas people have taken up include messages to refuse collectors on social media and letters on bins. Encourage children to write letters, draw pictures to workers on the frontline.., delivery drivers, supermarket workers, farmers, cleaners, careworkers and those who are isolated or in care homes. They can send them to their places of work or post them on social media for everyone to see.
Encourage children to connect with their wider family.. perhaps a penpal scheme particularly for older members of the church self isolating for 3 months.
Letters to older members of church at this time could be really encouraging. Set out a basic terms and conditions ie: parental permissions, open letters that can be read before being passed on etc. Under GDPR and safeguarding you cannot share addresses and may need to broker the letter swaps as a sort of clearing house. Encourage children to ask questions about people’s lives. They could get some very interesting answers!
8. Share resources
There are shed loads of ideas and resources appearing online from PE lessons to free audio books. Why not choose the best and share them with your kids and their families. Part of Ykids response to lock down was to do just that, setting up a website collating challenges, crafts, mental health resources, freebies and some of the best online resources for churches and their Christian kids groups that our out there... all for free with new resources added every day. Check it out www.ykidsonline.co.uk
And there is so much more that can be done. We are all in uncharted waters. We need to be creative with our ministry and cater to the whole child. It is difficult, but not impossible and could even build relationships we never would have thought imaginable with our normal programmes.
Embrace the change and the opportunity we have been given. Steward it well and demonstrate your love as best you can. We will all make mistakes, look stupid and have technical glitches but lets not take ourselves too seriously.
A little humility, a lot of laughter and demonstrating our genuine concern for our young people will go a long way to helping them feel loved and valued and able to not just cope – but thrive through these difficult times.
Claire Morgans, Ykids CEO