Don’t Spill the Beans!

May 18, 2011

Building Relationships

Have you ever noticed that the little irritations in life can accumulate to cause unexpected stress? It’s sort of like a game of “Don’t Spill the Beans,” isn’t it? The beans are added one by one, until the whole pot spills over…and no one knows which bean will cause the overflow!

Families affected by disabilities are often engaged in a perpetual game of “Don’t Spill the Beans.” One mother tearfully told me that she’d had a horrible week: her child had gotten in trouble at lunch, she had forgotten it was her turn to volunteer in the library, her baby had a cold, and the DVD player needed repair. “None of these things are horrible,” she shared, “It’s just that all together, they have made me really stressed out!” As we chatted, she said that she had really overreacted during a meeting at her child’s school. When she reflected on the meeting, she said that her emotions were probably a result of her stressful week rather than the outcome of the meeting.

This example, unfortunately, isn’t uncommon for such families. We’ve all probably been on the receiving end of the overflow of these emotions, and  we’ve likely  been bewildered as to why a small thing, like a change in the Sunday School schedule could cause such a ruckus. It’s important, as we seek to welcome families into our churches, that we understand that we might just have put that last “bean” into the pot of stress that the family is carrying…causing it to overflow.

Consider this scenario:

Mrs. Jones arrives at Sunday School, ready to check in her son, Jeff. You smile and say, “Hey Jeff! It’s great to see you this morning. We’re doing something special today…we’re going to the kindergarten class to help them with a project!” Jeff’s eyes well with tears  as he clings to his mom. Mrs. Jones sarcastically snaps, “Oh, that’s just great. Thanks SO much for the notice about this…”

So, what can we do? We’re certainly not mind readers, nor do families come to church wearing a “Stress-Meter” that indicates they’re likely to lose it! Below are a couple of tips to manage such situations with grace.

  • Don’t take it personally. This is difficult, especially because as church staff and volunteers, we’re wholly invested in creating a positive experience for all kids. However, it’s important to remember that the hurt or anger being expressed is very likely NOT directed at you, or anything you’re doing.
  • Reflect what you’re hearing. Instead of defending yourself or your program, reflect back to the parent what you just heard them say. “Gee, it sounds like a schedule change really wasn’t on your radar today. I’m really sorry.” By providing sensitive, responsive feedback, you will help the parent to feel more at ease, and hopefully, more willing to share information with you.
  • Demonstrate flexibility. If your schedule change (or whatever issue seems to have pressed the parents’ buttons) can be avoided or minimized try to accommodate the child or family’s needs. If that‘s not possible, try to offer another solution. “Spending the morning helping the kindergarten class doesn’t sound like a great plan for Jeff today. I have some great puzzles in my office, and I know he likes those. Jeff, would you like to work on a puzzle instead?”
  • Follow through. Plan to contact the family during the week to offer support and encouragement. Express your gratitude that they are part of your church family, and, in particular, praise their child.  Proverbs 12:25 guides us here: “Anxiety weighs down the heart,  but a kind word cheers it up.”

Responding kindly in situations like these isn’t easy! However, we’re called to bear one another’s burdens…even if they’re in the form of “spilled beans!”

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