My son appeared fine when I picked him up from his Sunday school class. As we descended the stairs to the main floor, I was stunned when he adamantly and loudly insisted he was never coming to this church again. We quickly quieted him and asked if something had happened. He denied anything occurring, proclaimed he did not like it, and restated his refusal to return.
With emotions conflicting between embarrassment and concern we made it through the parking lot, children in tow, and securely into the car without a further outburst. Like any good parent, we immediately reacted by raising our voices and telling our son it was inappropriate to make such an outburst around others that consider this their church home. The look of frustration on his face, and tears welling in his eyes, was my first indication we had just lost the parent of the year award.
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It was a while before my son was able to find the words to share his experience. He didn’t want to participate in the activity of the lesson but was told it was required. He shared he had felt threatened with being in trouble when he tried to decline to participate. When I pressed him, he said he had not felt safe.
We knew searching for a new church would not be easy. There are no guarantees. Being a Christian is not safe. Being in church is not safe. Despite my knowledge, my mother’s heart was crushed and angry by my son’s words. I never want one of my children to not feel safe. Especially at church.
With much prayer and gathering additional facts, I ultimately knew my son had not been unsafe. Regardless, his feelings were not dismissed.
It’s important for children to understand and respect boundaries. It is equally important that they develop the ability to set boundaries. My son’s experience set me on a quick trip to our local library.
Our lesson began by re-watching The Safe Side – Stranger Safety. This is a great video, using silly humor and practical examples, to teach kids how to respond to people who are “don’t knows” and “kinda knows.” With kinda knows defined as friends of parents, coaches, babysitters, teachers, etc., my children were quickly asking questions.
When other adults are involved in our children’s lives, a sense of false trust can develop. Children need help to recognize where there should be boundaries in a relationship and know how to set them.
Once my kids watched and practiced a LOUD way to set boundaries and stay safe, I wanted them to also learn when and how to set respectful boundaries. There are times when they may feel uncomfortable and simply need to speak up in a respectful way.
Boundaries With Kids is a great resource for parents wanting to teach their kids to take responsibility for their behavior, attitudes, and feelings. It teaches parents the importance of setting healthy boundaries, and how to set them while remaining a loving parent. When healthy boundaries are modeled, children will learn to set them in their own lives.
Additionally, the book offers suggestions on helping children set boundaries. I found this especially helpful. As a homeschooling family, it is common to interact with individuals of varied ages, and my children have always felt comfortable conversing with adults. As they are getting older and more independent, I want them to know how to respectfully set boundaries regardless of age. Using some suggested boundary words, we have been doing some role play.
As for my son, he’s learned that fear of being in trouble is far better than not feeling safe. Even if it’s during Sunday school, he knows he can always say, “No, I don’t feel comfortable! Please call my mom!”
Although I want to equip my children to soar and fly to amazing heights, my mother’s heart sometimes wants to clip their wings, hold them close, and provide a continual covering of protection. I teach them, I train them, I pray over them. Most importantly, I must entrust them to God.