One of the most amazing things any children's pastor can have is a room full of kids. Yet….one of the hardest things any childrens pastor can have is a room full of kids. If we aren’t prepared, our Sundays can bring stress as we serve. One way to combat that stress is by being prepared with a discipline strategy. Easy? No. Necessary? Absolutely. Below we discuss ten tips to best handle discipline as you serve the kids in your church.
While this feels like it may be obvious, for many, it isn’t. Yes, we tend to have our rules for classrooms. But we don’t always communicate them to the kids. The best way to do that is in a way they can understand. With kids, consistency is key. A great way to do this is to pick three or so rules and integrate them into your morning. For example, the SOW model works well for one church that has a large group:
S- Stay in your Seats
O- Obey Your Leaders
W- Whistle Means Quiet
Followed up with a super loud, super fun countdown? Almost every kid is quiet when the whistle blows. Rules can be fun if we use them in a way that sets the kids up for success. The goal is always to help them to know what to expect.
Explain the Why
Inevitably, kids will always ask “why.” As an adult, we get that way too. We want to know why things are the way they are. We can sometimes forget that when it comes to our expectations of kids. One way to help them accept the rules is to explain the “why” behind the rules. For example, a direction to stay in their seats may be to protect the teachers, the volunteers, and perhaps other kids when teachers are moving around the room with props, etc. While there should definitely be time for kids to play games and have fun, lesson time should be one where everyone is free to listen and learn without the risk of getting hurt. Talk through the rules, whatever they are, in a way that the kids can understand. This can go so far in helping them to learn how to trust you as their leader.
Pray: Establish Authority in the Room
Sunday mornings are busy; we get it. Taking the time to pray can make all the difference. It’s so easy to get caught up with all the serving that we can forget why we are doing it in the first place. Taking the time to pray will do two things. First: It will establish the space and the time as set apart for God’s glory. Many churches share their classrooms, sometimes even public space, so this prayer time can be a way to sanctify the area for “God moments” with the kids. Second: It will establish hearts. Whether it is you, your staff and volunteers, or the kids themselves, everyone comes in the door with things on their minds. This time to focus hearts and minds on what God wants to do is so valuable. Make prayer a regular tool in your toolbox of classroom discipline.
Boys vs. Girls
One tip that is often overlooked is an easy one. Separate the boys and the girls. Although this will happen naturally with most ages, at a certain point, it can be a really helpful tool to engage the kids. When they are with their peers, they tend to listen more intently and are less concerned about getting the attention of the opposite gender. This can also lend itself well when it comes to things like classroom competitions, games, and sometimes a good old worship song challenge.
Older Boys Up Front
For many of us, putting the older boys up front is not the obvious choice. In fact, it’s typically the opposite of what we usually do. We tend to put the younger children up front, close to the teacher so we can keep an eye on them. And then what happens? The older boys in the back tend to disengage. Putting them up front is a good idea for a couple of reasons. It keeps them up close so they can see what is going on, engaging them differently than if they were in the back. This is really important at an age where they are getting ready to transition into Big Church. We want to grow kids that are used to being engaged and paying attention in church. The other aspect of this is the power that the older boys have within any group as natural leaders. Most of us know that they can either make or break a lesson. If the older boys are into it? Everyone else tends to be, too.
Reward: Don’t Overlook the Kids That Behave
Sometimes we can be criticized for offering candy or prizes as rewards for good behavior. However, one of our roles as Children’s Pastors is to help the kids learn how to function in the world around them. And in that world? Kids get good grades for working hard in class. Adults get paychecks for doing a good job at work. Learning to act responsibly and within the bounds of the authority God has placed over them is a lesson worth teaching. In addition, there can sometimes be so much attention and effort given to the children that are misbehaving that we can overlook the kids that aren’t. In addition to perhaps motivating some kids towards better behavior, offering a reward as simple as a candy bar helps the “rule followers” know that they are seen. BONUS: Hand out a candy bar to an unsuspecting child that is doing a great job of listening and participating… without explanation. You can even do it during the lesson. Kids will scramble to figure out why and will model their behavior. You can even have one specific volunteer to have the job of monitoring the “quiet seat prizes.”
Give the Worst Behaved Kids the Best Job (At Least Once)
For some kids, it can be really hard to be part of a large group. It’s overstimulating. Or they are tired. Or they are hungry. Or they just really need attention and try to get it any way they can. It’s hard for them to behave because there is so much going on. Sometimes, they feel like they will never be able to measure up to the expectations placed on them. If you can get their attention, get them involved in a desired classroom job, this can make all the difference. Maybe it’s playing the classroom drum during worship or popping the balloons at the end of class. Perhaps it’s praying for the class on the microphone… whatever that job is in your classroom, engage a child that normally has a hard time with rules and routine. You may have just found your new sidekick.
Time In vs. Time Out
In the same vein as the previous tip, classroom discipline sometimes has to look at something deeper than the surface behavior. There are so many variables in the lives of the kids we serve, that sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint what is going on. Many classrooms, especially for younger children, will use the “time out” model. A great tip? Do “time in” instead. What is “time in?” Exactly what it sounds like. Bring that child close. Give them jobs to do. Take them with you when you go get more fishy crackers from the closet. Have them help you pass things out. This can radically change the relationship you have with that child.
Sometimes classroom suspension is necessary. If there are severe behaviors that just cannot be controlled within the limits of your time and classroom, this may be necessary. Perhaps instead of excluding the child, you can invite the parent to participate along with them. This may not be accepted by the parent, which is ok. But at the very least, it can communicate to the family that you care about their child and desire restoration so they can come back into your classroom. This can go a long way in helping that family to understand the biblical concepts of consequence, forgiveness, and restoration.
Relationship: Rules Without Relationship Lead to Rebellion
Children learn through relationships. Establishing firm rules within a classroom takes time because it takes relationship first. Having a steady teacher, as opposed to rotating teachers, will go a long way towards establishing the kind of relationship that can speak to the areas of respect and discipline. Beyond that, things like attending a ball game or sending a birthday card can help push that relationship to a level of mutual care and respect.
Rachael Groll is often found with a child at her side, using the “time in” method when she is serving at her church in Meadville, Pa. You can connect with her at her blog, shehears.org