Kids misbehave, and kids in children’s ministry are no exception. There are many reasons why children act up, and looking into these reasons can help us see how best to handle them.
The following are 12 of the top reasons for misbehavior. It is important to tune into the children you are working with and notice any triggers that may have caused misconduct. This will help you appropriately handle these difficult situations and sometimes even empathize with a student who has acted inappropriately.
Instead of focusing solely on the misbehavior, look past the behavior issue, see what caused it, and how we can help the child manage it.
1. Boredom and Under-stimulation
This issue can be easily solved. If you notice the majority of the kids are underwhelmed and bored, it is time to change how you do ministry. Be sure to have age-appropriate, entertaining, and fun activities and lessons.
If, however, you are noticing just one or two children aren’t engaged but the rest of the kids are, pay attention to what is triggering these behaviors. For instance, a child with ADHD may not be able to sit long and could use the help of a fidget toy or more interactive lessons.
Every kid is different, and it’s important to pay attention carefully so you can help them succeed!
A child who is feeling overwhelmed will sometimes misbehave. This is a warning sign that something is wrong. Watch for signs and see if there are any modifications you can make to the lessons.
Sometimes prepping children ahead of time is all they need. For example, if you say, “We are about to sing worship to Jesus. Today there are drums, and it will be loud.” Announcements like these can help a child mentally prepare or ask for a break if needed.
3. Embarrassment or Frustration
Children may act out when they feel frustrated, embarrassed, or upset. Speaking with the child apart from the other children will give them a safe space to talk about how they are feeling or what is making them act differently that day. Sometimes it is enough just to be able to talk about their feelings. They may be feeling frustrated that they can’t complete a craft or embarrassed that they aren’t good at a game. Encourage that child to try again, give them help, or redirect them to the next activity with a positive tone.
4. Change and Inconsistency
Sometimes change happens and cannot be avoided. Not everyone handles change the same way. It can be very overwhelming, disappointing, or confusing for a kid when adjustments are made to a program or plans fall through.
Preparing children as soon as you can to let them know about changes is important. When you notice a child misbehaving directly relating to a change in the schedule, speak with them and give them positive encouragement about why that change can be a good thing.
5. Lack of Authority
Unfortunately, sometimes we have to look within ourselves and be sure that we aren’t the cause of the misbehavior. It’s important to be honest and ask ourselves if it is our leadership.
Ways to check this are: notice if it is only one child acting up, or if there is a pattern of other children following suit. If most of the children misbehave, this can signal that there isn’t enough structure or consequences have no follow through.
Discern if there is a consistent schedule from week to week that can give the children stability and a sense of organization. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the leaders but simply the lack of enough leadership. Be sure the ratio is realistic between the number of children and adults.
6. Detached or Excluded
Kids who feel detached or excluded will often misbehave. Pay attention to what goes on between the students.
Teach inclusion and encourage friendships between everyone. If someone feels like they don’t belong or that others do not want them there, it may time to teach on loving others the way Jesus loves us.
Help new students get acclimated by giving them opportunities to get to know the other children in games or small groups. Sometimes simply switching around small groups that are having difficulties can be enough to reset the children and help them feel like part of the group.
7. Following Poor Examples
Children, like adults, do not always make good choices. It's tempting to follow a bad example and join in with someone else when they are misbehaving. Sometimes children who are mistreated by an older sibling or another student will begin treating others the same. This mirroring behavior is a coping mechanism.
We recommend speaking to the child one on one. Talk about why they are behaving this way. If you can get to the cause, then you can help them heal from how they have been treated. You can help children let go of negative experiences, forgive others, and treat friends better.
Unfortunately instances of mistreatment can become a consistent pattern that turns into bullying. If a child is bullied, you will most likely see their behaviors change. It will not always be misbehavior--sometimes isolation or high emotions are the effects. But in the case of misbehavior, what looks like wrongdoing may actually a cry for help.
A child’s inappropriate behavior can be directly related to the fact that someone is targeting them. In these extreme cases, counseling is appropriate, as well as involving the parents of both parties.
9. Attention Seeking
Have you ever noticed a child who seemed rather clingy? This is the kid who is attached to your hip and craves a lot of attention.
There are many causes of this. It could be the simple fact that they are 1 of 5 children at home, and it’s difficult to get all the affirmation they need. Sometimes it can even be as extreme as emotional neglect. Children who seek attention often misbehave because they would rather get negative attention than none at all.
Ways to help with this are to give a lot of positive reinforcement, encourage with affirmation, and to even join in the games and activities when you can to show the children that they matter and that you have time for them.
10. Mistreatment and Abuse
Sadly there are sometimes children who act out as a cry for help. Much like when a child is bullied by another, kid when a child is being mistreated by an adult, they may misbehave. If there is ever any reason to believe that abuse is going on, you are required by law to report it to your state’s Child Abuse Hotline or website.
Signs of abuse to look for are
- a student showing up with visible bruises on regular bases
- a child mirroring negative behaviors in physical or verbal abuse to other children in your program
- self-inflicting abuse
11. Physically Distressed
Who doesn’t get a little “hangry” or grumpy sometimes? Kids often misbehave because they are simply hungry or tired.
Our physical bodies can take a toll on us mentally and emotionally if we aren’t well-rested and well-fed. Maybe the child accidentally overslept and missed breakfast that day. Perhaps since it is the weekend the family stayed up late to watch a movie. It’s also possible that the child is not getting what they need to be healthy.
If you notice a pattern, look for ways the church can help, such as providing a healthy snack for the children when they arrive.
12. Medical Issue
Kids will sometimes misbehave when they don’t feel well. Something may feel a little off, and they might not know how to act or what to do about it.
If you notice kids acting out, it is a good idea to ask them how they are feeling or what is wrong. This will give them the opportunity to reveal if there is anything physically, emotionally, or mentally bothering them. A child may be having regular headaches that are disrupting their day-to-day activities. A kid might be feeling consistently anxious and would benefit from emotional support or counseling.
Giving children permission to tell you how they are feeling is important so that medical issues do not go undetected.
Children misbehave for a reason. Paying close attention to the environment, noticing any signs of distress, and giving children a safe place for open communication are key components to seeing the truth behind behaviors. Children’s ministry is an amazing place for kids to have a safe and positive environment. Take every opportunity to show children God’s love as you navigate through even the most challenging situations in ministry.