Around here {February edition}

Around here, we’ve all been wishing for more snow.

Around here, we’re excited about Annie’s decision to attend Calvin College next year. She’s been busy applying for scholarships and connecting with other “Calvin admits.”

Around here, the warm weather has meant mid-winter basketball in the driveway. (but the beloved net will need to be replaced in the spring)

Around here, I’ve been in the middle of several writing and teaching projects…and this is what my desk looks like…


Around here, Bill is studying World War II in history, and he is fascinated. His class is using this book as a supplement.








Around here, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with chocolate, flowers, and meatloaf in the dining room.

Around here, we love each other.

Communication and Confidentiality: Say THIS, not THAT (+ win a prize!!)

I love those segments on the “Today” show featuring David Zinczenko, author of Eat This, Not That.  It’s fascinating to me that a few changes in a meal can transform it from gluttonous to good-for-you. It seems that the main idea (based on good, common sense) is to focus on what is nutritious and necessary to the body, and leaving out the excess ingredients that promote disease. By doing this, you end up with a healthy body and a good taste in your mouth.

What a good word-picture for communication about children and families…

When working with kids and families who have special needs, we must choose our words carefully. We want to include accurate descriptions of behavior that inform, rather than judge. Our communication with parents is a time to build up relationships and offer solutions.

A few guidelines:

  • Report what you SEE and HEAR, not how you FEEL
  • Don’t editorialize; leave your opinions out.
  • Focus on working together and finding a solution
  • Pray before you speak. Ask God to guide your words
  • Remember that parents of kids with special needs are all-too accustomed to hearing negative reports about their children. And it hurts. Try to focus on a positive aspect of the student’s character.

SO…let’s play “Say THIS, not THAT..”

Instead of this…

We were playing a Simon Says game after our Bible story today. Eric didn’t get the first turn to be “Simon” and he just started having a big old fit. He had big crocodile tears running down his face and then he started being a really bad sport about the whole game. It just ruined it for everyone else, so we took him out in the hall. He really needs to learn to take turns…he’s old enough to know how to play a game!


Our class played a game of Simon Says after the Bible story. Another student was chosen to be the first leader. Eric appeared frustrated and started to cry. During the game, he began to yell while the other students were playing. After three minutes, his buddy took him into the hallway. He calmed down after two minutes, and chose to draw a picture instead of playing. I can’t wait to see him again next week; he adds so much to our class’s community!”

Can you see the difference? Same “ingredients” but a much healthier description.

Here’s another example:

Instead of THIS…

Jillian showed up for tonight’s youth event in a foul mood. During our break-out session, she kept sassing me as I led the discussion. Every time one of the other girls made a comment, she totally trashed what they said. I had to make her leave the group. We really like Jillian, but she can’t keep ruining the discussions for everyone else.”


“When Jillian arrived at youth group, I noticed the expression on her face immediately; it appeared that she had been crying, and her brows were furrowed. During our discussion, she rolled her eyes when other girls made comments, and she also used phrases like “Yeah…I see how you treat people in real life…” or “Seriously?” four times. When I asked her to please be quiet, she said that she doesn’t like following our rules and she doesn’t like church. I asked that she take a walk with one of our other volunteers, which she did. I wonder how we can work together to help Jillian feel more comfortable in our group; she has a tremendous sense of fairness, and that is something some of the other girls need very much.”

The emphasis is on working together, and using the student’s strengths for the Body.

Okay…now YOU give it a try…and win a fabulous prize!

Here’s how to play:

  1. Read the “Instead of THIS” quote below
  2. Create your own “Say THIS” revision
  3. Email it to me at by THURSDAY, JANUARY 26 at 6 pm EST

I will review all entries…those that meet the criteria for Body-building communication will be entered in a drawing…and the winner will receive a $10 gift card to Panera or Starbuck’s (winner’s choice!)

SO…instead of THIS…

” Robert showed up at our respite event in a really bratty mood. He totally didn’t want to be here, and he was using the nastiest language I’ve ever heard…right in the church building! He got away from his buddy and ran around trying to make everybody really mad. Then he went in the games room and knocked over everyone’s board games just to make them mad. We just can’t have that kind of behavior here…he knows better than to do that! My volunteers are completely frustrated.”

Okay…give me your “Say THIS…” entries!

Looking for words that build a healthy Body…

Stay tuned: Confidentiality and Communication that honors parents of kids with special needs.

Communication and Confidentiality: Defining expectations that edify

The following is a conversation between three Sunday School volunteers. Volunteer #1 works in the third grade room. Volunteers #2 and #3 work in the fifth grade room…Let’s listen in on the conversation they had in the hallway after Sunday School…


Volunteer #1: “Have you seen Mrs. Cooper’s third grader? He sure is in a bratty mood today…”

Volunteer #2: “I know…and I heard that her preschool child knows some VERY colorful words. She is really mean to the other kids in the room, too. She’s a handful. At least that’s what I heard.”

Volunteer #3: “Oh, are you talking about the Cooper kids? Wow. They’re headed for trouble when they’re teenagers…”

Volunteer #1: “Yeah. Mrs. Cooper told the pastor  that the third grader takes,” (lowering her voice to a whisper) “Medication for controlling anxiety. I’m only telling you that so you’ll pray for them. Don’t tell anyone else…”

Volunteer #3: “Oh, of course. Mrs. Cooper is really challenged by those kids.”

Volunteer #2: “Bless her heart.”

Think for a moment. What is wrong with this conversation?

If you answered, “Just about everything,” please give yourself a gold star, a pat on the back, and a piece of Dove dark chocolate.

Here is a summary of what bothers me…

  • The conversation is taking place in a public area of the church
  • Only one volunteer works directly with the Cooper children
  • Volunteer #1 is spreading information given to a pastor
  • Words like “bratty” and “mean” are not edifying or respectful
  • The conversation focuses solely on the perceived problems
  • The whole conversation is gossip
  • The gossip is wrapped up in “Christianese” that is supposed to make it acceptable: “…pray for her” and the tagline, “bless her heart.”

What if Mrs. Cooper, or one of her children had overheard this? What is the likelihood that they might return to church?

Good communication in the millennium requires thought and effort. We need to choose our words carefully, with the goals of maintaining safety, improving our teaching and behavior management abilities, and nurturing the child’s and family’s spiritual growth.

We encourage each church to develop some guidelines for communication that will edify the Body of Christ while maintaining the dignity and confidentiality of each family. This document is one way to communicate this policy to volunteers and family members:


We will be talking more about online training and communication later this week; we’ll discuss how to do this in a positive way, who to include in these groups, and how to manage and moderate the information that is shared. Do you currently have an online training or communication group for your ministry? Email me at  and tell me about it! I’ll be interested in your ideas!

And, remember what your Grandma told you: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”


Stay tuned for information on Communication rights and responsibilities, using technology effectively, and choosing words and phrases that build up rather than tear down.