There are a few situations you’ll encounter when working with special LifeKids. These situations will cause challenging behaviors. You’ve already loaded up your toolbox with tools to help you handle whatever comes your way. Let’s talk about some common scenarios and how you’ll use your tools to help a child cope with the stress, energy, fear, or discomfort they may be feeling.
A Child Tries to Run out of the Room
- Enlist help. Ask other leaders in the room to position themselves in front of any and all doors in your room. They need to be aware that your special kid has a tendency to run.
- Remember the child might feel afraid in your room and want to go back to where they last saw their trusted parent or guardian. Do what you can to reassure the child that parents come back. Show them a picture schedule. Use the picture schedule on the wall or ask your LifeKids staff to create a small one you can use individually with your child. This will help them understand they won’t be in the room forever and that “Mommy comes back after Story Time!”
- Position your child with as little view of the door as possible. Help them to look away from the door by getting them busy with a game or toy they show interest in. Use the “out of sight, out of mind” phrase to help you remember to keep the door out of your child’s thoughts.
A Child Throws Toys or Plays Too Roughly With Them
- Offer a substitute. If your child is particularly interested in watching things fly through the air, find a toy that won’t hurt anyone. You can even use a tissue to create a ball to toss at the wall.
- Offer more sensory input. Some kids don’t realize they’re crushing toys or are using their throwing arm in an inappropriate way for indoor play. They may be seeking sensory input to help them feel their arms or hands. They may play too roughly because they literally can’t feel their toys well. Give them a sensory toy to squeeze and stretch instead. Soft sensory balls are often a safer toy to play with if the impulse to throw returns!
A Child Won’t Stay off the Climber When You Transition to Movie and Music Time
- Give a warning. Let the child know when it’s almost time to stop playing on the climber. Say, “Almost all done.” If your child is more verbal, tell them to play with it really well since it’s almost time for the toy to “go to sleep.”
- Say good night. Pretend the toy needs to go to sleep. Create a routine you can do with the kid every time it’s time to stop playing on the toy. You can push it against the wall and pretend that’s their bedroom. You can even put a small blanket over it to tuck it in. Be sure not to obscure the whole toy, though. This could create a hiding place for kids that would not be safe. If your child is less verbal, you can just say “goodbye” or “all done” to the toy instead of “good night” so as not to confuse the child into thinking they are the ones who need to take a nap now.
- Take a break. If your special LifeKid just can’t resist the climber, it might be time to take them on a walk. Tell them we can’t play on the climber, but we can use our legs for a lot of steps before we go back to the room for small groups. Maybe count up to 100 steps. You can ask the child to do 100 hops instead. This can help them to feel more ready to sit when you return to the room.
A Child Crawls in or Under the Deflated Bounce House
- Give a warning. Let the child know it’s almost time to stop playing with the bounce house. Say, “Almost all done.” If your child is more verbal, tell them to bounce really well because it’s almost time for it to “go to sleep.”
- Say good night. Pretend the bounce house is going to sleep as it’s deflating. You can watch it deflate together. You can even say good night to it. Then you can tip-toe away from it as you attempt to join small groups for Movie and Music time. If your child is less verbal, you can just say “goodbye” to the bounce house instead of “good night” so as not to confuse the child into thinking they are the ones who need to take a nap now.
- Offer a substitution. Some kids love to crawl inside the deflated bounce house because they’re looking for the calming pressure of the heavy canvas on their bodies. Offer a weighted blanket (or even a non-weighted blanket) to use instead. “We can’t lie in there because it’s not safe when it’s sleeping. But when you come over here, you can wrap up in this blanket instead.” If your child is less verbal, you can put the blanket on the ground, and say, “Want blanket?” Then you can have the child lie down on it and wrap them up as much as you can.
A Child Won’t Sit Down for Movie and Music or Story Time
- Offer a choice. The child may be demonstrating their need for some control. Control helps kids feel safer and less threatened. You can offer a choice like, “Would you like to sit with this group or by ourselves over here?” Or, “Would you like to sit on the ground or in this chair?”
- Offer some comfort. The child might feel stressed at the idea of joining a group of kids. Offer a sensory toy to fidget with while they sit.
- Offer a way to block out stimuli. Movies are full of surprises. Some movies kids are used to watching have sudden noises or lights that can be frightening or uncomfortable to kids who have sensory integration issues. Some kids will prefer to watch the videos if they can have a softer version. So, offer noise-reducing headphones to help the child block out sound. Sunglasses can be offered to kids who show signs they dislike the glow of the screen.
- Offer some light. Some kids feel especially unnerved by the dimming of environmental lights. In Konnect, the room gets fairly dark during the video portion. Some kids have trouble keeping track of their own body’s position in space. For these kids, difficulty seeing their body can feel as if they’re actually losing their body. Talk about stress! Offering a simple lighted toy can help the child to keep track of where they are and help them feel more in control of themselves. Sometimes, it’s best to sit toward the back with a tiny lantern so the child can be removed from the dark without distracting the kids around them. Small lanterns can be purchased cheaply at big-box stores that sell camping goods. They work better than flashlights because they create a small amount of light without creating a beam of light that can become a distraction to others.
A Child Is Melting Down
- Give some space. If a child is absolutely inconsolable, they need some space to recover. Resist the urge to scoop them up or enter closely into their space. Ask a coach or an on-call Buddy to take the child out for a walk with you. If you’re at an experience that has an empty LifeKids room, the two of you can bring the child there so they can decompress in a quieter environment without distracting all the kids in their room.
- Stay calm and quiet. Do not become a mirror of the child’s distress, but rather show the child a picture of peace and self-control. Slow down your movements. Lower your voice. Make sure your face looks as calm and pleasant as possible. Softly pray out loud, asking the Holy Spirit to comfort your special LifeKid.
- Don’t talk much to the child. There’s no point in reasoning with a child if they’ve reached the point of meltdown. They won’t be able to process what you’re saying anyway. Try gently humming or singing. If you know a song they love from LifeKids, try gently singing it. You can even just say their name in a sing-song voice using only a couple of “notes” like a doorbell making its ding-dong tones. “Ja-den, Ja-den, I’m here with you. Ja-den, Ja-den, Jesus loves you.”
- Offer comfort toys. If you already know what the child’s favorite toy is, offer it to them. Say, “Want Legos?” while showing some. You might have to both ask and show because the child’s verbal skills may be reduced while they’re this upset.
- Offer comfort items. Now is the time to watch sensory toys do their magic. Place a weighted blanket over the child, offer a lighted toy, offer a squeezy toy. Whatever you have that can be calming—now is the time to offer those items.
A Child Is Running or Wild During Worship Time
- Do a sensory check. Some kids will become wild when they’re overstimulated. Try offering noise-reducing headphones or sunglasses to help them block out some of the sensory input they’re receiving. (And be sure to offer them before music or worship next time.)
- Change positions. Try moving to the back of the room, away from most of the kids to see if your LifeKid just needs a little distance. Or, try moving to the front of the room to see if the child feels better with fewer visual distractions from the crowd of children in front of them.
- Move the child into the behavior you want to see. Some kids simply don’t know how to copy the dance moves they’re seeing, so they just try doing any movement that comes to their mind—including running. Try literally standing behind the child and gently moving their arms to copy the dance moves. This kind of hand-over-hand training is very effective for some kids. You may even be able to back off once the child has mastered the move. Be prepared to jump back in as the moves change.
A Child Refuses to Join in With a Small Group
- Offer choice. The need for control is a big issue for many kids. Our special LifeKids typically have far fewer opportunities to exert control over their choices than their peers. Offer them the choice to sit at two different groups. Or say, “Would you like to sit here with just me or sit with that group?” Offer them the choice to sit on the ground or a chair.
- Try “when then.” Think of something your special LifeKid loves. Get it in your hand. (Example: a few bristle blocks, a sensory toy, a special toy they brought with them, a weighted pillow, etc.) Say, “When you sit here with me, then you can play with ____.” Sometimes, it can help just to remind the child that sitting with a group (even if it’s just the two of you) is what’s expected of them. “When we finish cleaning up, then it’s time for small groups.”
- Remember, you two can be your own small group as needed. Some of our special LifeKids simply can’t tolerate participating in a small group yet. Remember that the two of you are a small group. You can tailor your group to the level your child is on. You can do the Konnect game or project one-on-one with your child if they can. You can sit together wherever your special kiddo feels most comfortable—even if that means creating some distance from the other kids. You can say your Bible verse together. You can play with sensory toys to give your child a break as needed. Note: Keep it as a goal to help your child increase their ability to tolerate working in a group as much as possible because the other kids will benefit from having you both in their group, too. Maybe you can only stay in a group for five minutes without becoming too disruptive one week. Aim for six the next!