Zello Leads BCM/D Churches in Preschool Training

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Editor’s note: BCM/D is excited to have Josh Zello lead a preschool training series online! Josh will be sharing about the magic of gospel-centered preschool ministry. Josh is also the owner and founder of preschoolpastor.com. Early childhood proves to be a critical stage of life. Preschoolers learn an incredible amount in such a short span, presenting a prime opportunity to present the teachings of Jesus in tangible and pragmatic ways. The online training is open to anyone within BCM/D churches who works with preschoolers! Registration is now open and includes a “Jesus loves preschoolers” t-shirt!

Josh will be sharing about the magic of gospel-centered preschool ministry. Josh is also the owner and founder of preschoolpastor.com. (Photo provided)

Separation Anxiety and the Gospel

We’ve all seen it. A parent walks in with an uncertain and apprehensive child. As it becomes clear to the little one that mom or dad is about to leave to attend church… it begins. Tears. Screaming. Yelling. Flailing. Separation anxiety is common in preschoolers, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not scary to see unfold. This emotion can be daunting to the parent dropping off, the other kids in the room, your volunteer serving teams, and even yourself.

A preschool pastor’s primary role is to teach parents how to disciple kids who know and love Jesus.

Yes, that includes showing parents how to lead devotionally, but this also includes showing parents how to display the gospel in everyday parenting. Every day, parents get to show their kids what the Heavenly Father is like in how they handle the little things, like separation anxiety. This reality may petrify some parents. How am I supposed to show my kids what the Father is like? The good news is that parents don’t have to do this alone. Jesus has ordained the church community (including you!) to come alongside them to help in their time of need. Here are some ways that you can help.

1. Allow parents to stay in the classroom for the first week.

It’s a kindness to both the parent and the child for you to invite the parent to stay the first time a child is dropped off. This way, both the parent and child see that your church is a safe place to experience Jesus. I recommend having a special parent visitor tag available and talking to the parent beforehand to ensure they’re only interacting with their child. If they decide to stick around for more than one week, then they need to be background checked and trained like your serving team members.

2. Make a plan with the parent for a quick goodbye.

There are two things worse than a quick goodbye: the parent sneaking off while the child is distracted, or a drawn-out and uncertain farewell. Let the parent know that the best thing they can do for their child is to say a loving goodbye, promise precisely when they’ll be back, and then leave. When the parent sneaks away while the child is distracted, the child is shown that neither you nor their parent can be trusted. When there’s a drawn-out farewell, the child isn’t being led to accept the drop-off for what it is or to anticipate a return. It’ll be like peeling off a band-aid… give a quick goodbye, promise a return, and leave.

3. Affirm the child’s feelings.

When a child is in a puddle of tears at drop-off, they don’t need to hear “It’s okay.” It’s not! Their parent just left! When you tell them it’s okay, you’re telling them you don’t understand their feelings after all. If you don’t understand their feelings, there’s a good chance they’re not going to see a reason to listen to you when you tell them about Jesus later. Instead, use phrases like, “I see that you’re sad,” or “Sometimes I get sad, too. I get sad when the people I love leave, too.” Show them the understanding heart of the Father in your waiting.

4. Give them space to have their feelings.

They don’t need to stop crying right away! Their tears aren’t necessarily something that you have to correct right away. Hug them when they want hugs. Cuddle them when they want that. But the child may need space to lie on the floor and cry. As long as they know that you’re available when they need you, that’s okay.

6. After an allotted time, contact the parent with an update.

Before the parent leaves, work with them to come up with a time that you’ll update them. This could be 10 or 20 minutes. Having an update plan also prevents the parent from “checking in” and upsetting their child further. If things are going well and the child has settled, consider sending them a picture. If their child is really struggling, be honest and let them know. Parents don’t want to find that their child has been crying for an hour after church.

7. If it doesn’t work, try again next week!

Sometimes kids truly aren’t ready to be dropped off yet. That’s okay! Let the parent know not to give up and to try again next week. Consistency is key. If the parent wants to eventually drop their child off, they need to try and try again.

8. Have a consistent team.

Lastly, it’s important to have a consistent team in preschool ministry. If you have a little one who settles and then returns next week to find a new volunteer, it’s likely they’re going to start from ground zero again. If they don’t settle and have to try again next week, this is going to be even harder with a new serving team member who doesn’t know that child. Think about your own small group. You wouldn’t feel as safe as you do if it was led by a different stranger every week. How much more is this true for young children? Again, consistency is key.

When handled well, separation anxiety can be an opportunity for you to partner with parents to show kids the gospel.

We serve a God who never leaves us. He proved this to us by sending His Son to live, love, die, and rise so that we could have life with Him eternally. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with Us. Jesus is the One who told us that He will always be with us, even to the end of the age. Help parents teach their children this… even when mom and dad leave, Jesus is always there! Jesus never leaves us, and we can find our ultimate comfort and peace in that reality.

Josh Zello is the Family Ministry Pastor at Redemption City Church in Baltimore. Register for the Preschool Cohort Training through the BCM/D!

Feature Photo: Adobe Images