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Solutions to 9 Classroom Nightmares

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We asked the experts to give us solutions to nine classroom nightmares.

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Recently, the editors of Children’s Ministry Magazine spied on an actual classroom. After seeing several discipline problems, we asked the experts what they would’ve done with each challenge.

Our experts were teachers Sarah Smith, Caroline Bianchi, and Susan Hambright.

Here’s each challenge and what our teachers said:

  1. Throughout one activity, one child giggled incessantly while others talked.

Ask the child to share with the rest of the class what’s so funny. Explain that giggling can be distracting and hurtful to someone else. Laughing at someone else can hurt feelings. Giggling is also a sign of nervousness. If nervousness is causing the giggling, try to make the child feel comfortable by helping you hand out papers.

A basic rule I have is that only one person talks at a time when we have whole group activity. If a child begins to talk, I stop quietly and remind him or her that only one person should be talking at the time and that I want others to listen now. My children are all seated in a large circle around me, and I sit in the circle with them. That way, I can see each one. Often, eye contact is all that’s needed to stop a would-be talker.

2. One child jumped up and down while others talked.

Have the children sit on the floor in a circle if necessary (it’s harder to jump when coming from the floor). Or stand behind the chair the child is sitting in and lightly keep your hand on the child’s shoulder.

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Remind kids to sit quietly and listen to one person talking at a time. In our class, we talk a lot about respect. My kids know to respect others when they talk. I talk to them about what Jesus expects of us and how to please him. I remind kids that Jesus is with us in the classroom, and we certainly don’t want to make him sad by our actions.

3. One child did “gross” things and was ridiculed by his peers.

Stop the lesson and explain appropriate classroom behavior, such as no gross noises, no yelling out, and respecting others. If necessary, take the child out of the class (away from other ears) and explain that you expect better behavior.

I’d move the child who acts out to a position closer to me, perhaps right beside my chair. I might even ask the child to be my special helper. Hopefully, by stopping the gross behavior, the rest of the children will get under control.

4. A new child came in late. The teacher waited for the child to make a name tag, took time to tell the child what they’d been doing, and backed up to involve the child. Other kids squirmed.

A latecomer must learn that there are consequences from arriving late. Seat the child but then continue as before. At the end of class, ask the child to try to be on time next Sunday. However, since children are dependent on parents to bring them, you may need to speak with the parent. Parents need to be aware that their child will be missing some of the lesson whenever he or she is late.

Children who come in after the lesson has started receive a quick, “Good morning, come on in and have a seat” from me. I spend no time trying to catch up the child at the others’ expense. As soon as I have the group working quietly on their own, I go over privately with the child what went on before he or she got there. I’ve decided that it’s better for one child to be off base for a few minutes than for a whole class full of students to get off task.

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5. Two boys wiggled and hit each other.

The first time this happens, a look may be all that’s needed-then a word of warning. If the behavior continues, I’ll physically separate the boys so they’re not sitting next to each other.

6. One boy made noises by putting his hand under his armpit.

I find that boys delight in doing this (at all ages), but explain that there’s a time and place for everything. That action should be reserved for playground time. When we’re in God’s house, we should be on our best behavior. If the behavior continues, I’d have the boy sit by me.

7. A boy made “rabbit ears” behind the teacher’s head while she bent over to find the Scripture.

Don’t allow the children to be behind you. I like to be able to see everyone at once. Rabbit ears are quite common for all ages and are usually done as fun rather than disrespect. Once again, this behavior is not one that belongs in the church.

Because children are all sitting in a circle around me, no one is ever behind me. The teacher needs to always sit or stand where he or she can see the group. The stance and position of the teacher will help in monitoring and preventing potential problems.

8. Children talked while the teacher read the Scripture.

Don’t read the Scripture until all is quiet. Wait until there is total quiet. If kids talk while you read, stop and wait for quiet. Separate “chronic” talkers.

When reading Scripture to children, I love to express to them how exciting God’s Word can be, how awesome its meaning is, and how important it is to their lives. With such a buildup, most kids can’t wait to hear as well as learn.

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I have enough Bibles for everyone. When a Scripture is read, my kids all turn to the passage and read silently with the reader. Since all the Bibles are alike, we can quickly tell them what page the Scripture is on so they can follow along. If students are older, they take turns reading the Scripture aloud.

9. One girl wouldn’t participate and just lay on the floor. Another girl was distracted by her and tried to make her sit up while the teacher talked.

The teacher should have all students sitting or positioned where they should be before the activity begins. The teacher, not the student, should be the one to encourage the child to sit up and participate. If she won’t respond to your request to sit up, let her lay on the floor. Tell the class to ignore her.

All three of our experts are Sunday school teachers. Sarah Smith lives in North Carolina, Caroline Bianchi in New York, and Susan Hambright in New Jersey.

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2 Comments

  1. I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes children are not behaving in these context-inappropriate ways not out of defiance or lack of knowledge of the guidelines, but because their social/behavioral health is affected by something such as autism or asperger’s syndrome. A number of the “problem” behaviors covered in this article (jumping up and down while others are talking, talking too loudly or out of turn, laying on the floor instead of participating, wiggling and making unacceptable noises) while certainly disruptive, are also commonly seen in children who are on the autism spectrum, even those who are high-functioning. And the solutions offered here would most likely not be adequate. In such a case, it may require a conversation with the parent about strategies that work for the particular child, perhaps an adult buddy to come alongside the child during class, and also an extra measure of grace and understanding. In many cases, a stimming behavior (repeated motion such as jumping or flapping arms), will need to be accepted and a way found to explain and foster patience in classmates that is acceptable to the parents (be careful about labeling).

    • Karen Massingill on

      Thank you, Amy, for saying what I was going to say! You beat me to it!
      To add to the child-arriving-late challenge, NEVER scold or ridicule a child for being late, nor intentionally withhold an activity. ALWAYS welcome the child no matter what. If their patent checks them in, invite them in as well and allow the patent to see and get an understanding of what the child is missing when he arrives late. I would add, make certain your children’s ministry had a clear and concise mission/purpose statement that is supported by the pastoral staff and the entire body, and be sure your ministry is visible and has exposure. Many churches, and even pastors, view the children’s departments as “glorified childcare” rather than an extension of the ministry of the whole church. Children’s ministry staff, paid or not, must engage in conversation with pastoral staff to create a team perspective and environment. When the pastor is “on board” and visibly and vocally supportive of the ministry, likely the congregants will follow his lead. Enlist his help in communicating to the body the eternal impact the children’s ministry has on children and how important it is for parents to get involved as well.

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