How Do We Teach Children Safety, Without Making Them Afraid?

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter, 1 John 3:1-7; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

I really wanted to focus on the joy of the first verse in this reading:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

1 John 3:1

Unfortunately, there is more to the message of this passage that needs to be addressed. Our world is full of wonder and goodness, but there is evil here too. There are people who refuse the designation “child of God” and choose instead to hurt others and destroy creation. Our children need to know that not everyone is trustworthy. It is imperative that we teach them to stay safe.

In our age of 24-hour news channels and instant disaster updates sent straight to our phones, stories of evil can be difficult to escape. As adults, we can filter this information with what we know of the goodness of the wider world. Children cannot. The world can seem to be a very frightening place when the adults around them discuss murder and mayhem within earshot.

Michael Leannah’s book Most People is a simple and comforting antidote to that kind of fear. It gently explains that while there are some bad people, most people in the world are kind, helpful, and safe to be around.

Most people want to make other people—even strangers—feel good. Most people are very good people.

Michael Leannah

Jennifer Morris’s illustrations back up this message by depicting an impressive array of diverse people doing good things in a variety of circumstances. She draws people of all sizes, colours, abilities, and lifestyles, which gives readers an opportunity to talk about the expectations we have about certain groups of people.

This book does not deny the existence of evil, and I don’t suggest you do with your children, either! Until God’s will is fully done on Earth as it is in heaven, we need to teach our children ways to keep safe without making them fearful. We are all children of God, and most people live up to that calling. Let’s give the children in our care a message of hope along with our necessary messages of caution.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What should you do if you get separated from your parent/family/caregiver?
  • Look through the illustrations and ask the children what they think about a few different people, and ask them why they think that.
  • Do you think people are mostly good or mostly bad?

Discussion after you read:

  • Go back through the illustrations and talk about people the children had earlier said looked mean, scary, or bad.
  • Can you tell if a person is bad by looking at them?
  • What is the difference between being cautious and being afraid?
  • Remind children that if someone makes them feel unsafe, they should always find an adult they trust.

Please be mindful of your audience when reading this book. If you work with children who have experienced trauma, this book could help them understand that not everyone is as scary as they might think, but they might also feel like their experience is being minimized. If you know little about the children in your care, please make sure your questioning is gentle and that you in no way try to minimize or dismiss any child’s experience of trauma.

This book is really one of a kind, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s tough to talk to our kids about staying safe without also making them more afraid, particularly of people who look different from their family. Most People can start important conversations in your home, church, or wider ministry.

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Leannah, Micheal. Most People. Tilbury House, 2017.

We Are Not Defined By Our Sins

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter; Acts 3:12-19; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

When I was a child, sin terrified me. I was a Very Good Girl, and there was a lot at stake to keep it that way. While far from perfect, I wanted everyone, including God, to think I was. If I wanted to go to heaven, I had to be perfect, right? Once, shortly after my grandpa taught me how to make the sign of the cross, I did it with my left hand. That was it, I was sure I was going straight to hell, even though God had made me left-handed. I prayed and prayed for forgiveness, but I feared it would never be enough.

I lost my faith as a teenager, partly because I couldn’t keep up the perfection game. I didn’t understand how God could have made me so flawed and then wanted me to follow all these rules! I didn’t have enough scriptural understanding or guidance to survive that paradox. Rather than feel the shame of failing to meet God’s expectations, I rejected Him altogether. I was a sinner, so I gave up.

Eliza J. Murphy is also a Very Good Girl. She’s even captain of the Worm Rescue Team! But in Abigail Rayner’s book, I am a Thief!, she does something no good girl would ever do: she steals a sparkly green stone from her classroom. Eliza feels terrible about being a thief, but when she starts asking family members about their checkered pasts, she discovers that many of them have stolen things too — but that doesn’t make her feel any better.

Eventually Eliza realizes something important: even if someone is a thief, they are many other things too. Their mistakes do not define them, especially when they make amends. The children in our care need to know that they will mess up, make mistakes, and yes, sin, but that they are more than the sum of their deficits. They are beloved children of God. No matter what they have done, all they need to do is turn away from their mistake and back toward God to have their sins wiped away. There may still be worldly consequences for their actions, but God’s love and forgiveness are assured.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Have you ever stolen something? What happened?
  • How do you feel when you know you’ve done something wrong?
  • Does someone in your family write down all the mistakes you’ve made? Do you think God does?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Why do you think Ms. Delaney tells Eliza that she’s brave?
  • Does this book tell you it’s ok to steal?

I loved reading this book, and I think you will too. Click on the book image to purchase it through amazon and you’ll be supporting my work on this blog. Thanks for reading, please subscribe so you always have a book suggestion ready for your ministry!

Rayner, Abigail. I Am a Thief! NorthSouth Books, 2019