This week Kim Botto, Director of Kids’ Club and Student Ministries at the multi-site Crossroads Church in Ohio and Kentucky, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to share strategies for including kids who may not fit in elsewhere.


Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, Kim Botto, Director of Kids’ Club and Student Ministries at the multi-site Crossroads Church in Ohio and Kentucky, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to share strategies for including kids who may not fit in elsewhere.

Gina goes all radio DJ as she welcomes you to this episode of the OK Podcast.

Mike tries the soothing voice, too, but we’re all mildly disturbed by it.

Time to move on to something much more uplifting—today’s guest, Kim Botto!

Here’s the truth: we all know what we mean when we say “that kid.”

Gina points out that she’s looking at two former “that kids.” Mike confirms he was a youth pastor’s nightmare, but Kellen protests. Do we buy that Kellen was squeaky clean back in the days before he topped six feet? Unclear. Feel free to add your voice and comment.

Gina recently visited Kim’s church. She was impressed with the practical resources for volunteers. When she talked with volunteers, they would use Kim’s phrasing.

When a volunteer is repeating the things the ministry leader is telling me, that tells me they have well-integrated those processes.

Kim: That is so encouraging. Common language is important. I don’t have to say a paragraph to a volunteer. I can save five words and it resets, or that volunteer can say it to another volunteer. They know what those five words mean.

Mike: It delighted my heart when I would walk past a room and hear a volunteer telling another volunteer something I said. That was a win.

1. What do we mean when we talk about working with “that kid”?

Kim: We work all week making preparations for Large Group and Small Group—and it’s the kid who interrupts, distracts, or makes something inappropriate out of the Small Group materials.

Like a paper airplane. …Or other things.

We have no idea how God is going to use “that kid” in the future, so we want to set them up for success.

Kim points out there might be a little Kellen in that room—and then quickly adds out she wasn’t saying anything about his stature. Our hosting trio is delighted to point out to Kim that Kellen is approximately nine feet tall.

Kellen: I love reinforcing with leaders that none of us are perfect. We all had situations growing up, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You weren’t the person who knew all the stuff you know now. Someone in your life needed to give you grace and direction.

Gina: Somebody loved us enough to see more, to see us beyond where we currently were. That was the case for me in middle school. I needed someone to see more than what I was putting on display. It was not pleasant to be around.

Kim: I was that kid, too. Some people say I may still be that kid. It’s looking beyond the behavior in the moment. We’re not trying to get you to comply in the moment. We’re actually looking at the long game. We want to build character and equip you to do everything God has called you to do. We’re not just trying to get you to use the paper an appropriate way in small group.

2. What is a starting point for training volunteers to work with challenging kids?

Kim: This is absolutely a team effort. It’s a change in the DNA of who we are.

It started with kids from really hard backgrounds. With their behavior, they were trying to communicate to us. We wanted to make a place for them because they were being told to leave other churches.

We discovered that the strategies used for kids who have experienced trauma are excellent strategies for every kid. They’re even good for adult relationships.

We started going to school on what’s behind the behavior? How do we train?

We build up empathy among volunteers for these kids with challenging behavior. Then we start teaching practical things. If a leader thinks a kid is a bad kid, they won’t be open to trying new strategies.

This kid is trying to communicate with us. Their story didn’t just start when they walked in the room. We don’t know what happened on the way to church or in the weeks or even years before.

It starts with empathy. Then you give volunteers a couple strategies to use where they’ll see success. Then they’ll start coming back for further strategies.

Gina: I love that you start with empathy. Help the volunteer look at the kid in a different light.

Kim: Sometimes people who have worked with kids for a long time are the hardest to get to change their strategy. “I’ve worked with kids for thirty years and you’re going to tell me something new?”

Is there anything in your life you’re doing just like you were thirty years ago?

We all agree thirty years ago was the Dark Ages. Before Chik-fil-A.

We want to create an environment in which every kid can learn and change in order to hear about Jesus and grow in their faith. Which means we might have to change.

3. How did you start with teaching empathy?

We started telling stories of kids. Not their names. But here’s a kid we have in Kids’ Club right now. It helps build empathy, because people realize: “I had no idea.” We also told success stories.

Offer options or a choice. They had twins in preschool who always wanted to be on stage. Kim told them: you can put your feet against the stage or your hands on the stage. It changed everything.

Instead of telling kids “don’t do this,” give them two choices. You are still in control.

Bottom line: Tell stories of the kids and what they are dealing with outside your walls. Then share success stories.

Gina: Stories are one of the best ways to build empathy in your volunteers.

Kim: Keep it short. Boil it down to the few words that really matter. We train our team on how to tell stories.

Everyone hears stories over and over. Short, concise. We send weekly updates or tell a story through social media.

With our staff, we train and practice. It’s like speed dating where we’re given a situation and tell a story in one minute.

4. Talk about some of your key phrases.

Offer an option or a choice. (We try to make it funny.)

We see what you did there, Kim.

Connect before you correct. (This one comes from Karyn Purvis, a pioneer in working with kids who have experienced trauma. It’s a great principle to use in any relationship.)

If you go into a room and a kid rips up another kid’s project, go up and say, “It seems like you’re really frustrated. Can you tell me what’s going on?” If you do this instead of yelling, it forms connection. Correction immediately builds a wall.

By connecting first, you really hear what’s going on. They you go into the correction part and find a way to make it right. Make sure it’s a safe place for everyone.

5. How do you follow up with a parent or guardian in a correction situation?

Kim: It depends on the situation. If it’s a one off, we don’t talk to the parent. If we do, we have a video training for volunteers.

1) Never discuss it in front of the kid; you pull the parent off to the side.

2) Talk about just the facts. Then ask the parent: We want to partner with you; have you seen behavior like this at home or school? How can we best help care so she/he can get the most out of this time? What are some strategies that have worked?

Gina: I love this resource. When there’s a challenge with a child, the ministry leader usually has to have the conversation. You’ve given volunteers a way to do it.

Gina trolled and found Kim’s YouTube channel. One of those videos shows how to approach a kid who seems nervous. So—

6. How do you approach a new child or a kid who seems nervous?

Kim: For new kids, get down on their eye level, speak their name, and give them a high five. Then connect them to somebody or something, whether it’s a kid, a leader, or a specific activity or toy.

New kids get a slap bracelet that’s fun, but communicates they are new. Leaders know they need some TLC.

7. In what situation would you remove a child from the room or call a parent?

Kim: We have an inclusion team (formerly special needs team) that is available for anyone who needs help to be fully included, like a biter or runner. We get them a buddy.

We are always communicating facts to the parent, including what they are doing well. Instead of “bouncing off the walls,” say you love that they are full of energy and excited to be here.

If they need a buddy, the buddy knows what the child needs and is there to help. If the kid doesn’t do great during worship, they might take them out into the hall to burn energy to setup for win during Large Group time.

I know people are saying, “I don’t have enough people.” Actually, the inclusion team is an easy ask. People want to help kids fit in. Also: you’re just working with one kid. It feels easier than leading a whole small group.

Tell stories for the inclusion team. One weekend, Kim told the story of a child with autism and what his buddy meant to him. The team actually started getting too many volunteers!

The buddy is also great as an extra support for the Small Group leader during Small Group time.

Gina: When I visited, I remember the team celebrating that one kid who started in inclusion room was good to go into Small Group now by himself.

Kim: Our whole team shares stories and celebrates together.

Gina: There’s a great info graphic to reinforce these practical strategies. (See Resources below.) Can you talk through some of those?

The power of YES. NO cuts off a conversation.

If a kid says, “can I have my goldfish now,” say, “I’m going to put them in a cup with your name and you’ll get them first when you get back from Large Group.”

Gina: You’re saying “yes,” but you’re framing it.

Another one we use a lot: REDOS.

If a child is leaving Large Group, runs, and knocks down five kids, you coach them. Instead of “stop running!” show them the appropriate way. “Hey, we walk from Large Group to Small Group. Let’s go back and do that over again.” They do it. We celebrate. High five and let everyone know.

Sometimes we’re telling them what not to do, but they don’t know the right way.

We have a safety script printed. This is a safe place—we want to keep you safe and we can’t let you call names, etc. so that other kids can be safe, too.

These are both printed, and communicated in short, 1.5-2 minute training videos.

Kellen orders you to look at the show notes. But you already are, so you are way    ahead of the game.

Kellen: Often there are leaders with a heart to lead kids into a growing relationship with God. But when it comes to the parenting guardrails, they pump the brakes because they’re not sure how to handle the situation. These phrases are so helpful.

Gina: You have leaders hesitant to discipline, and you have leaders who think they know how to handle it and discipline as if it was their kid.

Kim: These strategies are effective with our own kids, too. Older discipline techniques build a wall.

Kim shares the story of teenage students at camp who decided to climb up on the roof of a utility shack at night in the rain. She was ready to yell, but chose to connect first. When she did that, they ended up coming up and talking with her throughout the week. She heard things they were dealing with she never would have had she yelled.

That’s what Jesus does. We don’t get punished every time we do something wrong.

We’d all be in time out in the corner a lot.

Let’s look at how Jesus interacted with people not behaving in a socially appropriate way. He connected. And he told stories!


This week, choose the story of one child in your ministry to share (no names) with your leaders and volunteers as you start to build empathy. Then share some of the phrases from Kim’s info graphic for simple, practical strategies your volunteers can begin to implement.