The kids I teach in Children's Liturgy oft range in age from about 4 to 10 years old, and they are all full of stories--sometimes on point, sometimes not so on point. This Sunday, two of the boys had the honour of walking up the Advent candles during the welcome procession at mass. So, I asked them about that and asked the other kids if anyone lights advent candles at home. This led one of the kids to tell me about the time someone set his father's church on fire. His dad told him, it's because the man was a Muslim.
I had to very quickly and mindfully correct him without trying to flat out tell him his father was wrong. I told him that, while the man was Muslim, he didn't set the fire because he's Muslim; he did so, because somewhere down the line he learned hate. And I reminded the class that Muslims, and Jews for that matter, are like our cousins. We're all one big family. And when one of us does something bad, it doesn't mean all of us are bad. Many Christians also do bad things, but that doesn't mean all Christians are bad.
This discussion reminded me how mindful we need to be with our choice of words around our children. How we speak of and about other people is how we teach hate and love in our children. Different events and different situations stir up a lot of emotions in us, which can lead us to make over-dramatic statements, and whether we intend for it or not, our children are listening and picking up on what we say and what we emote.
I don't know the parents of most of the kids I teach, and at most I've met some of their parents only briefly, because I simply lead the kids out of church on Sundays for 20-30 minutes at the beginning of mass, and then bring them back just ahead of communion. But their kids reveal more about them than they may realize--their politics, family dynamics, dietary habits, and more.
A lot of times the revelations are quite funny coming from their kids' perspectives, but every now and then when there is a teaching moment I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to momentarily be more than just a church babysitter.
We're never all going to say the right things all the time to our children or in front of them, and sometimes (or even many times) we will struggle to know what the right words are. But if I've learned anything from the kids in church, it's that honesty is the best policy. As my husband and I step into parenthood, possibly the scariest and most exciting hood of all, we have had several discussions on how we will raise our son. There are obviously many things we'll figure out as we go, and we can only plan so much only to have it all derailed I'm sure. However, honest and open conversations is the one thing we are absolutely dead set on. Honesty creates a safe space for conversation with your kids, and teaches them how to deal with conflict, emotions, and humility.
So remember, kids pick up on everything, and even if you aren't a parent, they're watching you, too! I know, kind of scary, but also pretty incredible.