How to calm a “Reluctant Child”

We have all encountered a reluctant child.  You know, the one who is hanging on for dear life to their Mom or Dad’s leg.  Okay, that is a bit of an extreme mind picture for you.  But at times we will find children who are reluctant to enter our church class. 

Many times it just pops up.  A child who has been coming to church excited, and all of a sudden may burst into tears when dropped off.

You and your team can be prepared for this, by keeping a few simple things in mind.

How inviting is your classroom?

  • Take a step outside of your classroom.
  • Put your “Visitor” hat on and take a look at your drop-off window or door. 
  • What does it look like?

Many times, I have been caught up in the preparation of my class time, that I needed to take a step back to see what others see. 

  • Is my room inviting to preschoolers (and their parents)?
  • Can I de-clutter my class entrance?

It does matter, so take a moment and check out your room.

Do you take a crying, reluctant child in your classroom?

This was my policy, “If a parent can get their child into the class, I would take them.” 

What that means is that I would not drag their child into the class.  But it also meant that if they got their child in the class, I would do everything possible to keep them there.  This is a phase every child has gone through.  It will pass.

What do you say to the parent?

The worst thing to do when a child is reluctant to enter their classroom, is allow a parent to come in and sit with their crying child.  The child will calm down quicker without a parent, than with a parent sitting with them.

Simply ask the parent to say a quick “Good Bye” and then go. Reassure them that you’ve got this, but if you need them to come back, you will call them.

What not to do.

Don’t have a parent bring their reluctant or crying child in your classroom and then sneak out. As tempting as it may be, leaving without saying goodbye can make kids feel abandoned.

On the other hand, a long farewell, might only reinforce a child’s sense that your preschool class is a bad place.  So, quick and short.

What do I say to the child?

Start by calling them by their name.  Then, if at all possible, get down on their level.  Look them eye to eye.

You have no idea why this child is reluctant to come into your classroom.

It could be:

  • The child trying to manipulate their parent
  • A brother and sister tussle on the way to church
  • They are really dealing with something sad

What you want to do is comfort them, and then direct their attention somewhere else. This is where your room setup comes into play.

Play time or not play time? Is that even a question?

Having fun toys the children can play with when they arrive will help the little boy or girl who is having trouble leaving Mom and Dad so much.

Toys that are great are Legos (by the way, boy and girl Legos), puzzles, Barbie type dolls, cars and trucks, a coloring table with color sheets, blank paper and crayons or washable markers.  You get the idea, but make sure your toys are fun for kids and that you have a lot.

Side Suggestion: make sure you have a bin for each grouping of toys.  This way the kids can pick up the toys when it is time to start class.

Here is what you do?

1. Find out what they like

Now that you have greeted the child the next thing you can do, is to find out what they like to do. The idea is to get their mind off of missing Mom, to something they like to do. Diversion. Point to the tables you have set up with drawing, Legos, cars, dolls. 

2. Steer them toward an area they would like

Once you find out what they like to do, then steer them to that area.  At the same time, you can eye out who the other children are at that activity.  Look for one of your more outgoing, regular kids and introduce them.

3. If that is not working, then what?

Sometimes the cool toys and activities don’t do it for them.  So another option is to ask them to help you with something.  Anything.  You will be communicating with them, that you need them.  It will also give them a sense of importance that they are at church today.

As a last resort!

If there is nothing that you are doing that will help the child settle down, then by all means call the parent.

What you don’t want, in your classroom, is a child who is crying and (screaming) for more than five minutes.  This causes a huge distraction and also causes the other children to be concerned.

You also don’t want to give up one of your team members to have to sit with a crying child for an extended period of time.

You can decide if this is a distraction one simple way, “Is this distracting your class to the point you cannot teach?”  If it is, then you should call the parent.


I wanted to bring up another point about having cool toys for kids.

When kids started coming back to church, after Covid-19 had shut everything down, at our church, Mark and I wanted to create a fun place for kids to interact with other kids. 

Mark noticed, that even with the older children (Grades 1-5 years) that Covid-19 had affected them.  Children had been separated from their school friends, their sports games and practices, and basically any interaction at all with other kids. 

So when our church opened back up,  we made a huge effort to create time for play in our elementary class.  The kids have playtime at the beginning, when they are dropped off, until the start of church and then 20 minutes at the end of class time. 

We created a space for them to just be kids.

The type of activities we have for the older children are: Gaga ball, 2 Foosball tables, a large Connect Four.  We also have activity tables that include color and drawing, Legos, Giant Uno cards and several other table games.  (When we have a big service we pull out a six-foot table and put the big Solo cups on it for them to make the pyramids.)

Be creative and watch your kids be kids.

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