Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week Paula Dannielle, Family Ministry Director at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to share three tools that can help parents win—as well as the power of a well-placed diaper sticker.
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
Kellen welcomes us back for the final episode recorded in the depths of the Infinite Energy Center at Orange Conference 2019!
Today’s secret host fact: Mike Clear’s full name is Mikael Randolph Clear. We’re gonna stick with Mike.
Now it’s time for everyone at home to clap along for today’s guest: Paula Dannielle!
Gina claims sisterhood with Paula. The younger sister. Paula accepts with grace, pointing out the older sister is always in charge.
Paula is fresh off the stage from an Orange Conference breakout on helping parents win in the early years. She covered three key points we’re going to dig into today:
You want to care enough about parents to:
1. Unpack what it means to LISTEN to parents.
Paula: It might seem like a very elementary concept. Of course we want to hear what parents say. But there’s a difference between just hearing and truly listening. It’s listening to the heart and the context of what is behind what they’re saying. To care enough to say: How are you and your family doing? Where are in you in life? Where do you live?
When you’re parenting in the early years, people soon forget you are a person in and of yourself. You become Timmy’s mom or Suzy’s dad. You lose your identity. If we want to help parents win, we have to remember that they are a person first. They have their own faith that they have to navigate and grow and keep healthy. Then they can pour into their kids.
We have to care enough to listen to how that parent is doing, not just how that kid is doing.
Gina: As a ministry leader, I’m guilty of making assumptions about a child who is less than well-behaved, especially if it’s a trend. I tell myself a story about their parent based upon the child’s behavior. I’m forgetting they are an individual that has needs and a story themselves. If I don’t stay curious about that, I lose sight, and inevitably, I can’t help that child either.
Mike: Is listening to parents a reactive thing or a proactive thing? Is this systematic or just checking in on a Sunday morning?
Paula: It’s both. It’s accidental and it’s strategic. If we don’t carve out space to listen, we’ll forget to implement what we hear.
One company that’s mastered this idea: Disney. They value the opinion of families so much that they set up listening pods: intentional spaces to get feedback from the families that they serve.
As the church, we have practical places to get feedback, as well as places we can institute. Your listening pods:
- Drop off time
- Pick up time
Listen to how the parent is feeling in the moment. Pick up is a busy time, but assign someone simply to be present and listen when the opportunity arises.
You can also set up parent phone calls every week. Schedule them into your calendar, just like any other appointment. When you call, ask them three specific questions:
- How are you doing?
- How is your child doing?
- How are we doing?
Push them to answer each question. A parent’s tendency is to assume you’re calling about their kid. But your first question is “How are YOU doing?” That’s gonna take your parent partnership to another level and get them to buy in.
Mike: How determine how many calls and who to call?
Paula: I do three each week. It might be someone I ran into on Sunday. It might be someone a small group leader mentioned. It might be the parent of a kid who is having a birthday.
Nothing travels faster than word of mouth. If you are calling three parents a week, those parents are talking to other parents about it. People know you care.
Mike: I love that it’s a phone call. I don’t have the time to answer an email. I feel like you hear me in a different way when you call.
Paula: It’s personal to get someone on the phone.
Kellen: It ties back to listening. When you talk on the phone, you hear tone, inflection, sighs, gaps. In an email, it’s easier to simply say, “We’re good.”
2. What does it mean to care enough to SHARE?
Paula: Care enough to share what we know about their child today and what we know is going on in our environment.
One of the most impactful things we do is diaper stickers! People underestimate the importance of a well-placed diaper sticker. That infant can’t tell you the last time they were changed. Or a potty trip sticker for a toddler who is potty training.
As they get older: Use daily reports. They don’t have to be long. Let the parent know what Johnny’s mood was, whether he ate snack, and did he play with other kids. They just want to know if their kid was okay while they were with you.
If you are going to do a craft, make it intentional. Make sure the memory verse or what you learned that day is on the craft so the parent can process it with the child at home.
As they go into elementary school, kids began to talk to parents less. The relationship with the small group leader, when done well, can serve as a bridge for when the child may or may not be talking to the parent. The small group leader can give the parent a heads up about something they may be missing regarding their child, like bullying at school.
Mike: As a parent, I would love to be part of a church that was that intentionally communicating all this information.
Gina: How do you equip small group leaders to share information about the child in such a way that is life-giving to the parent? I can imagine, as a parent, feeling like I’ve done something wrong or I’ve missed something.
Paula: I use coaching sessions during huddles, Sunday morning before everyone goes to their spots. I will pick a topic and we role play as a group: “Pretend Suzy’s mom is going through a divorce.”
Paula calls herself out for her lack of 21st century names for examples. The group decides on Zachariah.
I and my coaches have conversations with inexperienced small group leaders the first few times they do it. Having coaches is vital! You cannot be everywhere as a ministry leader on Sunday morning.
Once- or twice-a-year trainings are great, but if you don’t use it, you lose it. On-the-job training seems to stick a little more.
Gina: We encourage small group leaders to imagine conversations in advance. You’re giving them a chance to do that.
Mike: Do you encourage your small group leaders to be on the lookout for something to share with parents every week?
Paula: Yes. People forget. If I haven’t mentioned it in several weeks, I remind them to pick at least one kid to say something about to their parent this week.
Mike: One kid. If I have twelve kids, I don’t have to do it for all of them. Narrow it down.
Gina: I love the practicality. Let a parent know: you’re doing a good job. You’re on the right track. Isn’t that what we need as a parent?
Gina is parenting teenagers. She needs affirmation! A lot.
Paula: Parents need affirmation. We can’t tell them enough that “you’re doing a good job and we appreciate you!” Because there would be no families to serve if parents didn’t bring their kids to church.
Even when they bring a difficult kid, they are giving you the opportunity to do what God has called you to do.
Kellen: When a parent tells me their kid woke they up excited to come to church, I turn it back to the parent. Thank you for listening to your child. Thank you for bringing them.
Gina: I like the inherent celebration. Because as a parent, I can feel like dropping my kid off somewhere is self-serving.
Everyone takes a special moment to shower Gina with affirmation. Great job, Gina!
3. Talk about what it means to care enough to PARTNER.
Paula: “Partnering with parents” has become a nice catch phrase over the last few years. It’s everywhere. But partnering with parents is more than just giving parents information. It’s a two-way street that says “how can we do this together? How can we help each other?”
It’s understanding and respecting the different roles that adults play in a child’s life. It’s one step past sharing to say, “I really need you, and I recognize that you might need me too, to help you win as a parent.” Parents do not feel like they are winning when their child feels like they are failing.
Mike: As a parent, I am for anyone who is for my kid. I need someone who cares enough to listen to my kid. We get that from teachers and coaches. The same is true for church. When it comes to the faith component, whether the parent is a believer or not, they need help. The kids our things are dealing with today are things we are not equipped to deal with. I need a champion to say, “We don’t know it either, but together, we’ll figure this out.”
4. What are the one or two things someone can do this week to implement CARE, SHARE and PARTNER?
Paula: First thing—Role play with your volunteers. Come up with a suggestion to do during huddle time to talk through a way they could have a conversation with a parent at pick up.
On the parent side: Make a couple phone calls. If you’re nervous about the phone, start off with one! Parents will appreciate you reaching out.
Mike: That huddle time is important. If you’re not familiar with what a huddle is:
HUDDLE: Gathering all volunteers for 5-10 minutes before they need to be in their places in order to cast vision for the day, pray and/or take a minute or two for a brief training moment.
If you’re not doing that, create a huddle! Bribe with donuts or whatever it takes.
Mike: Re: phone calls, simply ask, “God, who should I call this week?” You’ll probably get a name pretty fast. It’s a great first step. That relational equity you build can change things.
Gina: Phone calls to parents have a cumulative effect over time and builds trust with the parents in your ministry. It says, “This is a space where somebody cares.”
Paula: It says, “I don’t just care about you coming to me Sunday morning. I care enough to come to you during the week.”
Mike: At Orange, we say it’s vital to partner with parents because we, as church leaders, have limited time with kids. The new stat is that most kids come 1-2 times per month. You get 30-40 hours a year with a kid, while parents have around 3,000 hours of potential influence.
This week, focus on helping parents win. Implement CARE, SHARE, and PARTNER by—
- Making at least one phone call to a parent this week.
- During your pre-service huddle with volunteers, set up a brief role play scenario to help your volunteers think through a potential conversation with a parent at pick up