In churches everywhere this Friday night, we’ll see little kids dressed up as angels, parading in and creating a Christmas tableau. Chubby fingers will clutch shepherd’s crooks, and toothless grins will be on the faces of Wise Men as they seek out their parents in the congregation.
And, in churches everywhere on Friday night, parents of children with hidden disabilties will be praying fervently…”Dear God…Please don’t let my kid have a meltdown…Please calm his nerves so he can play his part without crying…Please help her control her self so she doesn’t smack the little blonde kid…Please, God. Please let us just get through this performance. Please.”
So much tension surrounds this season! Changes in routine, lack of sleep and social demands can create a Bermuda-triangle effect despite the most careful planning. It seems that this is often a time for re-grieving as parents cope with their childrens’ special needs, all the while attempting normalcy at school, in the neighborhood, with relatives and at church.
Here are a few things that might make Christmas Eve services go more smoothly~
~Ask your Children’s Ministry director if you can bring your child to the church some time this week and review the pageant. Be clear that all you need is access to the building…just an opportunity to practice quietly and prepare for the service. Try to schedule this when someone is already at the church, with the knowledge that it’s a very busy week for church staff, volunteers and parents alike!
~Arrive early for Christmas Eve services so that YOU can find “preferential seating.” This way, if your child is showing signs of needing a break or a quick escape, you have easy access to him/her and can assist without compromising your child’s dignity.
~Write a social story that outlines the experience of participating in the Christmas Pageant. (Please email me if you need help with this!)
~Be kind to yourself~ and heed the words of our friend, Barb Dittrich: “Good enough is good enough.” The pageant WON’T be perfect…not just because of your child’s behavior, but for a variety of reasons! And remember: with a bunch of sheep and some bewildered shepherds, that first Christmas probably didn’t feel very perfect, either!
~As you finalize your preparations for Christmas Eve, consider recruiting a couple of extra volunteers…sometimes just having a few extra bodies near the kids as they find their places can provide the structure and safety needed. This is NOT a time to introduce a new buddy to a child with special needs, nor is it necessary to host a training. The objective here is to help keep the peace and order. Many times, high school or middle school kids are willing to pitch in for this small time commitment.
~Reserve a few seats, strategically located, so that kids who have anxiety or who may need a break can easily spot and escape to their parents.
~Remember what our friend and Key Ministry Trainer, Sheri Halagan says: Kids don’t know as much as we THINK they know about how to interact.” Be specific and succinct with your directions, using encouaraging language: “I notice that our fifth graders really know how to keep hands to themselves. I see that the choir remembers our two rules: hands to self, quiet voices backstage.”
~Offer to help with driving to the church. Sometimes kids who have hidden disabilities need a bit of quiet time or 1:1 time with a parent before a performance; sharing a car ride with an excited set of siblings or friends can upset the applecart. An opportunity to “divide and conquer” with carpooling can set everyone up for success.
~If participation in a Christmas Eve service is not possible for a family because of a child’s disability, offer to watch that child in church or even at home while the parents enjoy worshipping with their other children. This is a small “respite outreach” that can create a special night for a family who needs a chance to focus on Jesus.
~Show appreciation for ALL of the children’s efforts. Kids (and their parents!) love when grandmas and grandpas gush over a job well done. Be generous and specific with your praise, knowing how much effort has gone into participating in worship!
Those of you who have attended my workshop on hidden disabilities know that I LOVE a Christmas pageant, not just because it’s cute or because it helps us understand the meaning of Christmas. I love Christmas pageants because every single child is necessary to the story…from the child who has a solo or reads scripture, right down to the tiniest angels and shepherds. To me, it’s a picture of how God wants the Church to be. It’s the Body of Christ: everyone matters, regardless of ability to make eye contact, sit still or read fluently or be quiet. We need ALL of these kids–and their families–in the Body.
It may NOT be a “Silent Night” at your Christmas pageant…but with God’s family together…it will be a holy night.
Wishing you comfort and joy~