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Discipline Q&A: Disruptive Behavior

Gordon West

Q: How do I deal with a repeat offender in my classroom, especially when it's clear the disruptive behavior is simply to test authority?

A: Children are wired to feel, think, and behave their best when they experience clear boundaries. Even from birth, children consistently ask adults, "Can I get my own way?" Children long for boundaries, and they want consistent and fair consequences when they test an adult's tolerance for misbehavior.

If parents provide behavioral guidance and boundaries, children feel secure and develop appropriate life skills. But many children don't receive this gift at home, so they continue to ask the question and push the limits in a search for someone to set boundaries.

When you set a boundary at church, children still test it. For children who haven't experienced consistent, meaningful boundaries (those enforced by consequences), this testing period may linger. Consistent and fair consequences for misbehavior will eventually teach children your classroom is secure and that you care enough to confront.

Q: Although I use short stories, shift focus frequently, and use a variety of visuals, I can't get my preschoolers to focus. What's the problem?

A: In an effort to be creative and entertaining, we mistakenly overreact to a young child's short attention span. Researchers analyzing children's TV shows such as Sesame Street and Blue's Clues found that young children are most likely to lose focus when they don't understand what's being presented or there's simply an information overload with too much segmentation. When teaching preschoolers, simplicity is key in both style and vocabulary. Use the following.

• Basic Language -- If preschoolers don't understand the words you use, they'll lose interest and focus on another item or activity.

• Simple Visuals -- Children do better with one or two characters on a simple background rather than an elaborate visual presentation. Simple visuals engage children's brains to fill in the details.

• Repetition and Predictability -- Young children find comfort in repetition and predictability. Make each lesson segment complement the others. Repeat the key Bible point in each lesson segment using simple words, and encourage children to say it aloud with you.

Q: How do I get kids to calm down so I can start the lesson?

A: Regularly communicate classroom expectations to children. If you allow kids to play rowdy games, run around, or yell and scream before your official start time, you're setting yourself up for a struggle. Kids assume this kind of behavior is always acceptable.

To help kids focus from the time they walk into your room, have lesson-related activities ready to go. Empower kids to explain the purpose of a craft or the rules of a game as others arrive. This communicates to children that they can have fun by being involved in meaningful activities in appropriate ways.

Gordon and Becki West are co-authors of The Discipline Guide for Children's Ministry (Group) and founders of KidZ KaN Make a Difference and KidZ At Heart International (

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