At a church service, I was asked to make a children's emphasis, so I did—with puppets. One five or six-year-old decided he liked the parrot puppet very much, so he carried it around, flapping its wings, pretending it was flying. He didn't want to let go of it—when his mom made him do so, he pouted but didn't tantrum—has apparently outgrown that. But later, after I had told the children, 'The puppets have to go to sleep', and I had packed up and the church was now having fellowship dinner, the kid wanted me to bring the possum puppet back from my car and he said, 'Would it be possible to wake up the possum.'
I asked friends, ‘How do you work with children's imagination, not slight/blunt their creative leap, let them understand that they are important to you, and at the same time not have to drag out everything at every moment's impulse, since that is simply unreasonable? This one child was really fixated on the puppets, came and asked me again and again about them. Anyone have suggestions what to do if it happens again?’
One lady, a Sunday school teacher for ages 6-12, said, ‘Those kids are old enough to understand when things are put away but we will bring them out again soon. Now, we do have some kids ages 2-6, and when i bring something out that they want to keep playing with when class or service is over, I tell them firmly but a nice way, “I have to put these things away now but next time we can play with them, we have to put them away so we don’t lose them for next time."’
Since I was visiting, there wouldn’t immediately be a 'next time.' But then he got caught up in playing with toys that they have in their children's ministry room, so I think it turned out OK.
A genius I know suggested, ‘Use the sleeping line and then include something like, "I know possum will be really disappointed that he didn't get to see you again before we have to leave. If you'd like to draw him a picture I will give it to him in the morning so he remembers he has a friend here." Sometimes an act that simple can help kids work through their sadness of losing even a temporary "friend" like this. Bonus points if you know that someday you might come back, hold on to that note and bring it out when you visit. An act like that can be really meaningful to someone.’ I’ll use that outstanding idea. Because I do some cartooning use that. And because I do some cartooning myself, I can exchange art projects with kids.
A college friend remarks, ‘Some kids (of all ages) get caught up in theatrics and don't distinguish them from reality.’ True.
Another person says, ‘You did great! Some children are on the autism spectrum or have ADHD. Your kindness makes a great impact on them and their parents.’ Yes, one five-year-old kid in that church is really outstanding—she communicates with people across all age groups—I saw her having a friendly conversation with a quite elderly gentleman seated next to her, teasing him, asking questions, commenting—total friendship. She was a scintillating conversationalist, also eating healthfully—drinking lots of water and totally forgetting her nachos.
One lady said, ‘I can go from telling a riveting story (voices and all) to disciplinarian and back again to story without missing a beat. Haven't traumatized a little darlin' yet. Once a puppet is not being used, it's probably a good idea to tuck safely away.’ I had to put all the puppets away below fellowship time because the puppets are good ones, hence not cheap, and can be torn apart in fights between kids. Or, as I saw one baby wiping nacho cheese all over his hands and into his hair...I would really be cheesed off if he got his hands on my gorgeous parrot or bobcat or fox or possum or raccoon puppets.
One pastor commented, ‘Those puppets if they are the ones I'm thinking of are expensive. Ours are, too, we use the puppets early in our kids services before the main message and they are put away well before the altar call so most of the time the kids focus are off the puppets by the end of service. We have two fake dead chickens we use one that is expensive and one is cheap. If the kids want to see something we let them play with the cheap dead chicken. That poor dead rubber chicken gets abused.’
Another person said she tells the kids basically the same thing I did—that it’s bedtime/nap time—and then places the puppets in a case moved to a safe area. ‘We've learned if kids get to them it's usually a problem.’
An experienced mom and children’s minister says, ‘We don't let the children handle the puppets at all unless they are actually acting in the presentation as puppeteers (or are old enough to act as such). Little hands don't know how to properly handle them and can easily damage them without intending to. Thanking the child for his/her interest in the character and then letting the child know that the puppet has had to "go to bed" and "rest" is the best way I have found to handle it. After that, a simple, "I'm sorry, no" is all the response that should be given.’