My childhood was spent trying to find the job that followed the trajectory of my childhood aspirations. My final occupation had nothing to do with that list and, although I am no longer asked this question, it has been replaced with: “So what do you do for a living?” We are constantly asked by others to give an answer to a question that reflects whether we have succeeded in life through what we do. If we are honest, we’re all constantly moving forward, trying to reach the points that show we’ve done well in life - buying a house, getting married, having a well-paid job - and this affects what we communicate to the children we work with.

What does success look like for us and the children in our care? What is the message we are conveying to children in our homes, in our churches and in our communities? What is success, anyway?

If you spend time around parents of young children, you will often hear discussions about how their children are developing. Whose child is the first to crawl? Whose child’s babbling sound most clearly resembles a real word? Whose child sleeps longest through the night? These comparisons are often subconscious, and are usually caused by parents and carers who want to make sure their child is ‘normal’.


Fast forward to parents’ evening at primary school. A class teacher sits in front of an anxious parent describing whether his or her child is meeting the school’s expectations. Move forward once more to GCSE results: the day where all is revealed, and a young person’s success is easily comparable with those around them through the grading system. Children are exposed to tests and comparisons that determine whether they are succeeding or failing in every area of their lives. How can we enable the children we interact with to have a healthy relationship with the concept of success through all of this?

As children’s workers, we are so uniquely placed to tell children of their true success. The answer is found in the core of our Christian faith. The reality is that we all only ‘succeed’ in life because of Jesus. Our main reason for being is because Jesus redeemed us. We are made in his image. Our success has nothing to do with what we do.

Children need to know that who they are right now, as they are, is enough. They need to know that God formed them so intricately, and that he thought of them before the beginning of the world, just as they are. If we keep conveying to children that there is something to strive towards that, once reached, will mean they are successful, they will believe they are continually failing. Success is not a destination, and our children need to know that. We must intentionally provide spaces within our children’s groups that remind them of their identity in Christ.

As a child, my idea of success was often linked to making people happy, and one of the ways I believed I could do this was by getting a career that would make people proud of me. This need to succeed in the eyes of others is something I have been continually working through over the last 15 years, and I have finally reached a place where I am actually excited about how God has made me!

Imagine, though, how I could have been as a child if I had taken my eyes off the successes conveyed by those around me, and instead focused on (and believed) the truth that I am a success in Christ. Fortunately, God is so loving that I have had an incredible journey with him as I have learned to accept his truth. Now I know that journeying with God every day is the beautiful story.

As children’s workers, we need to find ways to celebrate this journeying with God, as opposed to rewarding those with the ‘right’ answers. One of the easiest ways to do this within the limited time we have to interact with children is through the language we adopt. When a child answers a question, we can praise and encourage the way they answered, even if it’s wrong. We could ask them why they gave that answer, allowing them to share their perspective and experience. We can explicitly comment on aspects of their nature or personality that we see as a result of their answer, and identify positive or encouraging aspects of their answer without drawing attention to what they don’t know.

When we show children that success is not something attained through ticking the never-ending boxes in life, they will experience the freedom Jesus came to provide. Jesus came to set them free, which means children who are constantly ‘failing’ in school or society because they aren’t reaching milestones or behaving in a certain way can experi­ence the love and acceptance of being a child of God and a redeemed individual.

The truth is, we also experience these feelings of pressure to succeed as children’s workers. How many children come to your holiday club? Do you write your own curriculum? Do you run Messy Church? We create our own success barometers, which cause us to work harder to prove to others we are ‘success­ful’ children’s workers. So my prayer for you as you read this is that God will show you the success that you are through Jesus, so that the way you speak to, treat and love your children will be changed. We want children and young people to know they are winners today, and what­ever they do will never change that. That is true freedom indeed.

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