A discipline policy is really a discipleship
process that allows us to demonstrate Jesus’ love. Although we may
not like everything children do each moment, we always love them.
They need to hear and feel that from us often.
Adults’ character and conduct are very contagious to children, who
learn more from how we act than what we say. So it’s important to
respond in a Christian manner rather than react in the flesh. When
we adults rely on God to model respect, manners, concern for
others, and a gentle spirit, we teach volumes.
Discipline is far more effective when you move slowly and quietly,
praying for God’s guidance. Prayer is the Christian version of
“counting to 10.” It slows down our human reactions, puts things in
proper perspective, and gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to work.
In our weakness, God can use us to glorify him.
2. DEFINE YOUR SYSTEM
Don’t wait until problems arise to create a discipline plan.
Teacher training needs to include details about how to handle
common behavioral problems-and when to seek help for the “bigger”
issues as well. Try these steps.
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
- Set ground rules. I’ve found that three simple
rules work well for children of all ages: 1. When you want to talk,
raise your hand and wait to be called on. 2. When someone else is
talking, be quiet. 3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself unless
you have permission. If you teach young children, you may need to
repeat these three guidelines every week.
- Establish a clear discipline process. I
recommend this simple three-step approach. The first time children
violate a rule, walk to them and quietly tell them the rule. In
other words, assume they have rule amnesia, which is prevalent in
childhood. State the desired behavior first; for example, “We use
our hands to love and help, not hit.” For a second violation, walk
to children and ask them what the rule is in your room. For a third
violation, have an immediate consequence related to the
- Develop logical consequences. The purpose of a
consequence is to retrain the brain and transform the heart.
Training through discipline requires that the deed and consequence
be logically related and that it occurs right away. The consequence
helps children see that their choices determined what happened.
This brings accountability into the picture.
Consequences must maintain children’s dignity. Respond only to the
current misbehavior and don’t bring up a long list of past
offenses. Instead of saying, “You always…” or “You never…,” simply
say, “Because you’ve chosen to do this behavior, this is the
For example, if children talk rudely and inappropriately, they must
find a nice way to say the same thing. If children hurt someone
else, they must do something kind for him or her. Connected,
immediate consequences can lead to significant changes in
3. TAILOR YOUR SYSTEM
Although rules need to remain consistent, it’s also important to
factor personalities into the equation. Children often hear rules
through the grid of their God-given personalities.
- For a strong-willed child who may evolve into a discipline
problem without guidance, preface a desired behavior in words that
empower; for example, “You can be in charge of cleaning up the
- Fun-loving children may be busy talking with their friends and
forget the rules. They usually respond well to warm, loving words
about something enjoyable. You might say, “I wonder if we can get
our centers all cleaned up by the time I count to 10? Then we’ll
have time to play a game.”
- Otherwise calm, peace-loving children may have problems making
transitions between experiences. They respond best when you provide
warnings and time to respond. For example, “In five minutes, we’ll
move on to our centers.”
- Perfectionists may have trouble because they get stuck
emotionally or can’t do something just right. They usually respond
well to encouragement. You could say, “I know you’re upset that
those colors don’t match, but it’s a very detailed drawing. I’m
sure your mom will want to hang it up when you get home.”
4. REFINE YOUR SKILLS
Sometimes the more we use our voices while trying to discipline,
the less effective they become. In other words, when we talk too
much, children begin to tune us out. Instead, use these
Offer focused attention. Ever noticed that children seem
to act up whenever you’re crunched for time, short on help, or
expecting a classroom guest? Children are very sensitive to our
moods and can tell when we’re under the most pressure. If you
ignore or isolate them-or, even worse, yell at them-the problems
escalate and no one wins. The best solution is to stop and give
children your undivided attention or, if they’re young, simply hold
Move slowly and maintain eye contact. Look into children’s
eyes and truly focus on them, just as Jesus did. Avoid turning your
back on a child you’ve just disciplined; otherwise, you may
inadvertently set yourself up for round two.
Act detached from the deed, not from the children. Don’t
take children’s misbehaviors personally. Pretend you’re trying to
win an Academy Award in detachment. As you begin acting that way,
you’ll actually start feeling that way.
When you do speak, pray that God will give you the right
words and the right tone of voice. Our voices tend to go
up when we’re upset, which makes it harder for children to take us
seriously. Instead, stair-step your voice down and use visual clues
along with your words. As you state what you want children to do,
nod your head and smile. As you state what you don’t want them to
do, shake your head “no.”
Close the matter properly. Verify whether children
understand you. Then ask kids to apologize to others involved,
realizing that they may not. Don’t force apologies; repentance is a
learned skill. Even so, it’s important to set forth the expectation
that kids will apologize when they’ve hurt someone. Train children
in the habit of apologizing and trust God to change their
Keep your sense of humor. Humor is an important
principle of discipline because it helps us put things into
perspective. Often we have to step back, take a few deep breaths,
and pray that God will show us the lighter side of a situation.
With little children who are squirmy and inattentive, you could
say, “Did you eat wiggle worms for breakfast? I know you must’ve
had silly cereal!” With older kids, you could say, “Is this my
life, or am I in a TV show-because I’m ready for a commercial
break!” Humor isn’t for kids only; it helps us see the funny side,
When your ministry has an established, loving discipline strategy,
children feel secure and are able to learn more. And teaching
becomes a joy, not a chore. cm
Jody Capehart has more than 40 years’
experience as a children’s minister. She’s the coauthor of The
Discipline Guide for Children’s Ministry and the author of
numerous other books.