One of the most difficult aspects of student ministry is learning to meet the needs of each individual student. Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at assessing and addressing the general needs of the larger group, but getting past the “one-size-fits-all” mindset is tough.
One need that we struggle with is giving the right kind of attention to each student. Some students want to be on stage. Others like the five-minute conversation that happens while you’re setting up chairs. Some students are happy with a high five every week and an occasional heart-to-heart when things aren’t going well in life. But some students seem to need all of your attention all of the time. And if these students aren’t getting enough attention, they will do whatever it takes to get you to stop whatever else you’re doing and focus on them. And only them. No one else.
We want to show every student appropriate care and encouragement, but do you ever worry that giving attention to overly needy students (and parents) is actually reinforcing their behavior? Or do you worry that if you reduce the attention you’re giving them will lead to more attention seeking behavior? What do you do when you find yourself in a situation like this? Here are a few of our thoughts that are sometimes helpful to us.
- Teach students how to interact. Help students understand that not every conversation has to be about a problem. Some students believe relational closeness means sharing all of their struggles all of the time. Students need to know that relationships are about sharing and laughing, crying and goofing off, selfies and selflessness.
- Give positive attention. Look for ways to give attention to students when they are demonstrating positive behaviors. You may have to dig deep for some of these moments, because some students do not know what healthy relating looks like. Giving attention to appropriate behaviors helps students discover more effective ways for getting their needs met.
- Ask the right questions. We have one student who rarely says anything positive, so we rarely ask him questions that would lead him to give a negative response. We have another student who fears that if she has a good day that we’ll stop caring for her, so we only ask her how she’s doing if we have time to really listen to how she’s doing.
- Avoid avoiding needy kids (and parents). We’ve been guilty of ignoring needy people, but our heart isn’t to ignore anyone. Ask God to give you a heart for the attention-seeking students in your group and the wisdom to know how to love them well.
Loving students is one of our favorite things to do, but it’s also the most challenging. Meeting the needs of students isn’t easy, but it’s always worth it.
What do you think?
– Tim and Tasha