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The 3 Most Perplexing Discipline Challenges You’ll Ever Face With Kids at Church

You’ve most likely encountered the 3 most perplexing discipline challenges you’ll ever face with kids at church. And they probably left you scrambling for expert answers like these from The Quick Guide to Discipline for Children’s Ministry.

1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Q: I think a child in my class may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—he wiggles non-stop and can’t stay focused on the activities. What can I do?

A: ADHD is not a discipline problem in itself, though the symptoms of this condition can lead to discipline issues. ADHD is a medical condition that may require medication and professional intervention, and therefore must be diagnosed and treated by medical professionals.

Don’t assume a child who fidgets or has trouble focusing has ADHD; these are common traits in young children. If you have serious concerns or witness excessive distractability, address it with your leader first. It may be prudent for the leader to point out specific examples of behavior to the parents while encouraging them to have the child assessed medically. But keep in mind—it’s not your role to diagnose a child.

Be very careful about labeling children, even if the label comes from the child’s parents. Many respected authorities don’t believe certain psychological, emotional, and learning difficulties can be adequately diagnosed in the early years, so proceed with caution. Always ask, “Has your child been diagnosed with this condition after a thorough evaluation by a trained specialist, or is this a layperson’s opinion?” If the child has been properly diagnosed, the child’s parent and a medical professional can give you excellent guidance in how to deal with this situation.

  • Offer a child who’s fidgety a toy to handle during times when kids need to be attentive.
  • Kindly redirect the child when he gets off track.
  • Encourage and affirm the child’s positive behavior and attentiveness.
  • Insist that children under age 6 sit still or be quiet. This often isn’t a viable option for young children; they’re developmentally wired to move.
  • Say “no,”“stop that,” and “don’t” to correct the child or prevent
    him from becoming distracted. Constant verbal correction loses its effectiveness quickly with all kids and doesn’t address the core issue.
  • Focus classroom attention on the child’s lack of attention or fidgeting.


Genius Tactic

If a child who’s been diagnosed with ADHD finds it especially challenging to focus on classroom activity, try playing soft music in the background. Doing “two things at once” when one of those things doesn’t require a lot of concentration, such as listening to music, actually helps the child to focus on the main activity.


2. Bad Language

Q: What should I do when one of my preschoolers uses bad language?

A: Preschoolers are great mimics, and they repeat words they overhear. They often don’t understand what they’re saying or understand a word’s meaning. If a preschooler says a bad word once, ignore it. Calling attention to it may cement it in the child’s vocabulary, especially if it gets a reaction from you.

However, if the child repeats the word, take him aside and ask him what the word means. If he doesn’t know, gently ask him not to repeat the word because it’s not a nice word. If the child understands the word’s meaning, explain how it makes you feel and that he can’t use it in your classroom. Then talk to his parents to make them aware of the situation.

  • Make sure you’ve heard the child correctly; preschoolers’ language skills are still developing and they often pronounce words differently.
  • Gently remind kids that certain words aren’t good words—and give them acceptable alternatives.
  • Be patient; you may have to remind preschoolers numerous times not to say a certain word.
  • Overreact. Doing this will actually encourage kids to use the forbidden word more because it gets a rise out of you.
  • Scold. Kids aren’t bad for saying bad words—in fact, preschoolers rarely understand why a word is unacceptable.
  • Shame a child for using bad language.

Q: We have a preteen who uses foul language a lot. Should we tell her she can’t come to church if she continues? Help!

A: No child should be allowed to ruin your class for others. There may be a time when you must finally tell a child not to return. This, however, should be the extremely rare exception (read: almost never). Exhaust all other possibilities before excluding any child.

Try talking with the preteen first. Explain how her words offend others and God. Tell her specifically which words she isn’t to use. Some children hear their own parents use foul language and have no other way of knowing that these words are objec- tionable. Then ask her to repeat back to you what you’ve said to her to ensure she understands.

If she agrees to avoid the foul language, be patient as she tries to learn new behavior patterns and unlearn old habits. Be ready to forgive slip-ups and teach her to ask God for forgiveness.

If, however, she doesn’t respond, it’s time to consult with her parents. In a meeting that includes the child, explain that you need help communicating to her that foul language won’t be tolerated. Ask the parents and child for suggestions to handle the situation.

Pray for this child regularly. Foul language is a sure sign that something’s wrong in the child’s life. It could be a small problem or a huge one, but either way the child needs God’s intercession in her life.

  • Encourage every effort she makes to not swear.
  • Logically explain how foul language makes others feel and can affect her relationships with others.
  • Ask, “Why do you use these words?” to initiate a conversation about the underlying cause.
  • Assume that a child knows how to behave according to your standards.
  • Embarrass a child by singling her out in front of peers.
  • Assume a child is bad because she made a poor choice.

Genius Tactic

Many preteens adopt foul language because they think it’s cool. So point out that being cool means a person has control—especially, control over the words they use to express their emotions.


3. Bullying

Q: I’m having problems with a boy who’s a bully. What’s the best way to handle this situation?

A: Most bullies operate under the assumption that behavior is wrong only if it results in punishment. To counter this, establish a set of clear, firm rules that define behavior expectations, and then point out exactly where the bully has crossed the line and why his behavior isn’t tolerable. Be especially vigilant during active games where lots of noise and movement can obscure deliberate acts of aggression. Your correction must be reasonable, appropriate, and purposeful.

Bullying is a deep-rooted problem that affects everyone—not just the kids getting picked on. You need a zero-tolerance policy that communicates bullying will not be accepted—this includes all forms of verbal harassment, such as gossip, put-downs, and ridicule, as well as physical aggression.

  • Confront bullying head-on.
  • Demonstrate loving concern for the aggressor and the victim.
  • Let kids know they need to get help from an adult if they’re being bullied.
  • Use role play to develop children’s ability to be empathetic—and assertive.
  • Encourage bystanders to take a stand for the victim.
  • Use excessive correction; it ingrains the idea that a position of power gives a person the right to be cruel or domineering.
  • Hesitate to involve a child’s parents if a problem persists.
  • Tell children to ignore a bully.


Genius Tactic

After you clearly define bullying, help kids remember these three principles:

1. We will not bully others.
2. We will help kids who are bullied.
3. We will include kids who might be left out.


Discipline Guide

4 thoughts on “The 3 Most Perplexing Discipline Challenges You’ll Ever Face With Kids at Church

  1. Avatar

    Hi Christine! Great post. I especially liked that you highlighted establishing a “zero tolerance” policy for bullying with helpful Do’s & Don’ts. I know for many churches this is a big issue that seems to be popping up more frequently. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom!

  2. Avatar
    Christine Yount Jones

    Thanks, Angela! Appreciate what you guys do!

  3. Avatar
    Susan Edgerton

    I have a young child in my family with tourettes syndrome. They do not swear but do have many other ticks that are misunderstood. Most church people wrongly believe swearing and tourettes go together and pre-judge those with tourettes as somehow scourged with evil. Be careful what you judge as unacceptable at church, it could be a disability.

    • Avatar

      Hi Susan! We definitely want children’s ministries to be a place that accepts all children and to be inclusive of children with disabilities, no matter what they are.

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