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Discipline by Design

Jody Capehart

Essential strategies for postive, proactive classroom management.

You love God and children. You feel called to teach and be enthusiastic about the year ahead. But now you find yourself faced with disruptive children. You don't want to give up; you're just frustrated beyond belief.

This probably sounds familiar. Most children's ministry teachers or volunteers have the passion and the right attitude, but relatively few are equipped for when the "little angels" behave less than angelically.

Unfortunately, that leaves many formerly upbeat teachers ready to throw in the towel.

How can you prevent discipline problems from diminishing your effectiveness and joy? Here's a bounty of practical pointers from my 40 years in children's ministry.

RELY ON GOD

Ground your discipline strategy in God's Word. Hebrews 12:11 says, "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening -- it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way." Children usually don't view discipline as training in right living, though. They often interpret strictness as meanness. Although the former is okay, the latter is never appropriate.

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.

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.

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 misbehavior.

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 consequence."

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 children's behavior.

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