Hey Buddies! Imagine a scenario for a moment. For some reason, your special LifeKid is rolling all over the floor during the Konnect lesson video, and she won’t stop despite your best attempts to convince her. She’s bumping into other kids and is causing them quite a distraction. You’ve tried using physical touch and fidget toys to help her feel more comfortable, but nothing seems to be working. What do you do?
I’ve been there! And I’ve got ideas to help you. And don’t worry—you don’t need a PhD in child behavior to implement my ideas. My name is Addison, and I’m actually a high school senior who also happens to have a sister with special needs. I’ve learned a lot from working with her. It’s helped me work at my church to help other kiddos with different needs to feel comfortable in the church environment. Don’t stress out. Take a deep breath, and get ready to sharpen one valuable tool in your Buddy toolbox: Quick Distractions and/or Redirection.
It can sound odd to say it’s a good idea to offer a distraction to a child in LifeKids, but there are times when distracting a child is the easiest way to redirect their attention back to where it needs to be.
Okay, back to the log-rolling. At this point, you might start to feel a bit stressed, but don’t worry, it’s just time to try another tactic. As long as you know when and how to use distraction, it can be very effective. It could even be a game-changer in the way that the child responds to you during the service. I know it might sound strange to hear it said that it’s a good idea to offer a distraction to a child in LifeKids! Counterintuitive for sure. But there are a lot of times when distracting a child is the easiest way to redirect their attention back to where it needs to be.
When can I try distracting my special LifeKid?
There are way more situations than I can possibly describe, but a good time to distract the child is if the behavior is severe or escalated and you need an immediate response.
- Screaming and crying, for example, is a huge distraction to the other kids in the room, so we want to do everything we can to limit it.
- Another example of when to distract the kid would be if they are using inappropriate language or actions that could be harmful for the other children. In this case, we want to guide the child to make better choices, and distracting them can be such a helpful way to shift their focus and redirect them to something more appropriate.
- Also, always be on the lookout for signs that the child is experiencing anxiety in the room. Even if you don’t know where it’s from, diverting their focus could help them calm down.
How do I offer a great distraction when I recognize one is needed?
So now that you know when to distract, how do you actually do it? This is when your personal creativity comes into play. Your toolbox is as big as you make it, meaning, every idea is a great idea! Here are some things I’ve tried before with success—and some other ideas I’ve got ready to try in the future should the need arise!
- Find something colorful in the room and take the child to look at it. Act excited! Gasp and say, “Oh, look! What a fun shade of yellow over there on the wall. I love yellow. It’s like the sun. Let’s go see it! Can you find it with me?”
- Once you’ve moved your child away from where they weren’t having success, you can talk about the amazing yellow thing you found. You can ask them what color they like. You can ask them to find something yellow in the room, too. Ask them to find something in a color they like. Eventually, you can try to redirect them back to where they need to be. “I see some beautiful colors on the kids’ shoes back in group. Let’s go sit with them again!”
- Sing a song. If it’s a free play or group time, you can sing with decent volume and ask your child to join you. If not, you can sing quietly with your child.
- Some children instantly become calm if you sing to them. You could just jump into a song they know from the room they’re in (a worship song from Konnect, a teaching song from Mr. Music in the Early Childhood rooms). You could jump into a well-known children’s song if you’re not sure your child will recognize a song from the weekend curriculum. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is a favorite to try. See if they’ll join you.
- When you’ve distracted them from whatever was causing an issue, then you can try singing your redirection to them. Use the same melody, but insert the words you need. Instead of “twinkle, twinkle, little star” you can sing, “Let’s go, let’s go sit with friends. Now it’s time to sit with friends.”
- Play a silly, unexpected game. Move around them so that they look for you like a quick game of hide-and-seek, saying, “Where did I go? Can you find my eyes? Once they’ve had fun trying to find you, celebrate their great job at making eye contact.
- When you’ve got their attention again, you can take it a step further. Look toward the area of the room where you and your special LifeKid need to be. Ask, “Where are my eyes looking?” When they recognize what you’re looking at, show them how excited you are that they figured it out! “Yes! I’m looking at small groups! Let’s go join our friends!” (Or, “I’m looking at kids cleaning up, playing with toys, singing and dancing for Jesus, sitting watching the movie,” etc.)
- Change their direction. This one can be a super quick way to move a child, literally, away from something you know isn’t going to be a successful activity or time for them.
- Example: Your special LifeKid is walking toward a group of kids who’ve been fighting over a toy. You can just turn them away and say, “Oh look over here. I see some cool toys here.” Help your special kid avoid situations that are challenging by literally moving them to less stressful areas of the room as needed.
- Change the subject. If your child is complaining or loudly saying how they want to leave, you can try quickly acknowledging that you’ve heard them, then change the subject.
- “I heard you say you’re ready to leave. You will soon. Do you like cats better or dogs better? I like cats!”
- “You do sound like you’re sad. I’m sorry you’re sad. Jesus always makes me feel better. I like that Jesus is so kind. Do you know anything about Jesus? Did you know He is God’s son? He loves you! What would you like to say to Jesus right now?”
- “I know you’re hungry. I’m hungry, too, but we need to wait until LifeKids is done before we get a snack. Let’s make some pretend pizza. What should we put on top?”
- Give a quick compliment. Our special kiddos might be running on a pretty severe compliment deficit. They may be more used to hearing what they’re doing wrong than what they’re doing right—especially when they’re in the middle of a challenging time for them. Just a quick phrase like, “I love your smile! Show me your teeth.” can go a long way toward creating a quick distraction that can help you redirect a challenging behavior. Imagine back to our rolling girl scenario. What could we say to distract her from rolling and help her to think a positive thought?
- “Look how strong you are! You roll just like a log! Show me how strong you can sit, too. Can you sit as strong and still as a big rock?”
- “My goodness, I love when you sit right here next to me. It makes my heart so happy!”
- “Oh, look at your cool shoes! Those shoes look like they’re very good for walking. Can you walk over here with me for a moment?”
All these things can cause kids’ brains to change directions and start thinking about something good instead of whatever they were struggling with. We want every kid to be comfortable and feel loved, and distraction is just one way we can help these kids see the love of Jesus.
Remember, you are full of incredible ideas, so you’ll be able to try things I’ve never even thought of. If you’re feeling nervous about serving as a Buddy, pray that God would help you love the child in the best way you can, and trust Him to give you wisdom and awesome ideas. You can do this!