When they were babies, they came along in the baby carrier. When they were toddlers, each couple hired a babysitter. (If you need a list of Knox youth that are willing to provide paid childcare, please send a note to Phil Wong.) That wasn't cost effective so we tried hiring a babysitter or two to join us at the home where small group met. As the number of toddlers increased, so did the stress on the babysitters.
We tried a rotation system where we would all gather at the hosts' home and each couple took turns watching the kids in another room. I remember being a new parent and not really having a good understanding of loving discipline. Here's what I wished I knew then....
Johnny grabs a toy causing Jane to cry. Uncle Phil tries to comfort Jane and tells her that everything is going to be all right.
Uncle Phil: “Johnny, could you come over her please? I'd like to talk with you.”
Uncle Phil: “Johnny, could you please tell me what happened?”
Johnny: “Jane took my toy and I wanted it.”
Uncle Phil: “And when you took it, how do you think Jane felt?”
Uncle Phil: “Did taking the toy make things better?”
Uncle Phil: “Do you think you should tell Jesus that you are sorry for hurting Jane's feelings?”
Johnny: “Sorry, Jesus.”
Uncle Phil: “And do you think you could tell Jane that you are sorry for taking that toy?”
Johnny: “Sorry, Jane.”
Uncle Phil: “Jane, do you think you could be friends again with Johnny and forgive him? How about give him a big hug?”
Uncle Phil: “That's great! Now how could we play together so that everyone has a good time? Maybe we could take turns? Or maybe we could play a game together? What kinds of games to do you like to play?”
Here the overarching goal is to help the children see that their behavior is hurting others and that repentance towards God and towards each other is needed and leads to restored relationships.
When some of our kids got older, we would ask them to be in charge of the younger ones. This takes some instruction and coaching as we found out when one of the kids got lost as the larger group moved from the playground to indoors!
At other times, we included the kids during our worship times so that they could learn the songs with us. On some occasions we had a fun day where the parent and the kids all played together. It was humbling indeed to be beat by our children in a game of capture the flag. We also have played whiffle ball together.
As the kids got older, they often played together without any supervision. But keeping a watchful eye is still helpful. Sometimes they would encounter a situation where no group activity was of interest to everyone. Here we had to brainstorm with them. Could you defer to one another and do something that you are not especially excited about? Could you use some diplomacy and say something like, “Last time we went along with your idea to do XYZ so maybe this time you could try going along with our idea?”
As the kids get older, the church will encourage them to join a small group lead by an adult volunteer. But what if that took place in the context of a small group where parents took turns leading the kids in bible study? You could have the benefit of other adults speaking into your children's lives. The other added benefit is that you don't have your family running around in 5 different directions. Plus the kids are getting trained in bible study. Perhaps you could delegate the leadership of one of the bible studies to them? Then come along side them for the debrief and coaching?