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A preschool leader sitting on the group among 5 preschoolers.
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Utilize the Tools You Have to Be Fully Equipped for Classroom Discipline

You are fully equipped for classroom discipline with the discipline tools you already have — you just don’t know it yet…

You were gung-ho to instruct children in the things of God!

Chances are, though, after a few classes your gung-ho was gung-gone and you were in search of a crash course in classroom management — a discipline boot camp, a cure-all book, or the Ronco 3-in-1 discipline machine. Are there such things?

Not exactly, but the truth is you don’t need any crash course as much as you just need to take a good look inside. You already have discipline tools at your fingertips — you just may not know it yet. These tools require no props, no equipment, and no preparation (just a little practice). By using what you already have, you’ll be more effective at classroom management and you’ll truly I.N.S.T.R.U.C.T. kids.

How to Be Fully Equipped for Classroom Discipline

Classroom Discipline Tool: Infectious Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm as a discipline tool? You bet! As the class leader, you set the tone. How do you think kids respond when you aren’t excited about what you’re teaching? Of course, they won’t be excited either. Why should they be? But your enthusiasm is contagious, and it can be a deterrent to misbehavior right from the start and curtail distractions if they creep in.

For example, a boy gets a little restless in class and starts to misbehave. As you notice this, you initiate a change of activity with an extra dose of enthusiasm. Thus you redirect and reignite the child’s interest in what’s happening. Discipline takes place without any confrontation, and that leads to instruction.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Natural Consequences

Natural consequences can bring kids into step real fast. A natural consequence makes sense; it’s logical and connected to the misbehavior. If a child spills something by running in class, the natural consequence is the child cleans it up. An unnatural consequence would be that the child has to stand in the hall — it’s not connected to the offense. If two children would rather talk than pay attention, separate them for the rest of the class. (Only don’t allow the natural consequence to last longer than one class; that would be unnatural and unfair.)

For example, you’ve let everyone know that the class can have extra game time only when the lesson is complete, but Mary doesn’t keep this in mind. Getting a privilege is a natural consequence of using time wisely, and using time unwisely results in a lost privilege. By the way, a quick reminder to the class, in general, will usually lead to other kids reminding Mary of what she might be costing the class.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Silence

As the sermon begins, you lean over to make a comment to your friend. Just as you begin to speak, the noise stops, and you make your comment to…everyone! You’ve had it happen before, haven’t you? And how did you feel? Slightly embarrassed? A little silly? Silence seems to highlight activity that really isn’t appropriate for the time, doesn’t it?

Now, embarrassing a child isn’t our goal, but simply being silent can go a long way toward bringing kids back into line. Sometimes when I teach kids, I simply stop talking. Kids realize something isn’t right, and they pay special attention — even the ones who haven’t been paying attention. When they all focus on what they should be focused on, I simply begin instructing again.

For example, last Wednesday when I saw a boy trying to hide a handful of candy, I walked over and privately asked him what he had in his hand. Then I patiently waited. He looked at me and said, “Nothing,” to which I simply smiled and kept silent. As he thought about what was going on and realized I wasn’t going to accept that answer, he finally told me he had “borrowed” the candy from a room he wasn’t supposed to be in. I asked if he believed that was his candy to take, and he answered, “I don’t know.” Again, silence. He did know, and I wanted to give him a chance to think about what he was telling me. After a minute or two, he simply held out the candy for me to take and said, “No…and I’m sorry.” A quick high-five and a reassuring “Jesus is smiling because you did the right thing,” and we were on our way. Silence can be used to instruct very well.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Touch

Physical touch can be used in a variety of ways — always being careful to be appropriate, of course. This might include a firm but gentle grip on the shoulder as you speak “wisdom” (okay, discipline) into a child’s life. Or you might use an open hand on the back to gently steer a child back to walking in the right direction if he tries to veer off into the land of misbehavior. High-fives, pats on the head, and side hugs can all be used to build a relationship, which is the cornerstone of effective instruction.

For example, as I led the music, a friend of my 8-year-old son, Taylor, tried hard to distract him. Poking him in the side, blowing on his face, and telling little boy jokes were having no effect (I was really proud of my son), but I knew it was probably only a matter of time until Taylor responded. So still playing and singing, I meandered over to where the boys sat. As everyone continued to sing (including me) I simply reached out and gently squeezed my son’s friend on the shoulder. He hadn’t seen me coming, and as he whipped his head around, I could tell I’d made my point. Without embarrassing him, I communicated the importance of what we were doing. He started paying attention, and within a few minutes, he joined in the upbeat singing and motions that all the other kids were involved with.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Reasonable Expectations

As you instruct, keep this in mind: Kids are kids and aren’t capable of behaving in an “adult” manner. Our expectations of a child’s behavior must be reasonable. A good rule of thumb is that kids have about one minute of attention span for every year of their age. When that time’s up, it’s time to move on to a new activity. Active learning and reasonable behavior expectations are important parts of the process.

For example, one of my preschool teachers told the department coordinator she was frustrated with the boys in her class. She mentioned that these 4- and 5-year-olds were just so rowdy and energetic that she had a hard time controlling them. When the coordinator observed this teacher’s class the following week, she discovered a youth volunteer who initiated wrestling time with the kids. Because of their age, these kids had a difficult time settling down after that. My coordinator suggested that, instead of wrestling, the youth volunteer could be more helpful by doing other activities with the kids, such as using modeling clay to create a scene from the story for the day. When this was done, the boys in the class immediately calmed down, and the entire class time was transformed.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Understanding

Closely connected with reasonable expectations is a clear understanding of why kids might misbehave. There are lots of reasons, but understanding some of the more common ones and addressing them helps meet the needs a child might be expressing through misbehavior. When you address these needs, discipline usually is taken care of and you restore an environment conducive to instruction. Check out the “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” section below for more insight into why kids act the way they do at times.

For example, when 3-year-old Alyssa wasn’t eating after her family prayed, her father told her rather sternly to begin. Minutes passed. Alyssa only looked down at her lap. Becoming agitated, her father demanded, “Alyssa, you get busy!” Alyssa’s lower lip quivered. She looked up with tears in her eyes and blurted out, “But I don’t have a spoon!” This father learned a lifelong lesson to ask more questions for better understanding. That’s a good lesson for us as well.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Clear Guidelines

Though kids are notorious for pushing the limits of our boundaries, they’re usually just doing one of two things: First, they’re trying to figure out where the boundaries are, and second, they’re seeing just how serious we are about the boundaries. Providing clear guidelines for your class is important. If kids don’t know what they can or can’t do, how can we reasonably expect them to obey?

For example, each week, we review the guidelines, trying to put a fun spin on them. But, simply put, the guidelines we give are:

  • Pay attention: You might miss something important!
  • Participate: We want you to be part of the group, and what you contribute is important to us.
  • Put your hand up: We want to hear what you have to say. It’s important, but we can’t hear if everyone just speaks out of turn.

Classroom Discipline Tool: Turn It Over

The single greatest tool we have that leads to instruction is the ability to turn over situations and challenges to God. Praying for your kids must be as much a part of your preparation as any other component. Prayer changes our hearts, increasing our patience, compassion, and understanding.

I saw this dramatically illustrated early in my ministry with a boy named Adrian. Adrian was “nothing but trouble” when it came to his behavior. Our teachers dreaded seeing Adrian dropped off on Sunday morning.

After trying everything we thought we knew how to do, we simply prayed. The teachers and I made a covenant to pray for Adrian every day and to ask God not only to do a work in his life but to also do work in ours. So we prayed, and after only two weeks, we saw a difference in Adrian’s life!

On the third Sunday, as I cleaned up after church, Adrian quietly came in behind me and, in almost a whisper, said, “Pastor Greg, I want to say I’m sorry.” I asked him what he wanted to apologize for. Again in a very quiet voice, he said, “For all the things I’ve done to hurt Jesus and for all the things I’ve done to hurt others.” As I bit my lip to hold back the tears, I had the wonderful privilege of sharing God’s forgiveness with Adrian and helping him follow Christ. I saw his life transformed. Over the next few months as part of our church family, Adrian became a leader in Sunday school.

As we seek to “discipline” the kids God has blessed us with, the real goal is to instruct them. These tools, which all of us possess and can refine with a little practice, are a good starting point.

Ain’t Misbehavin’

There are reasons for what kids do. For example, kids misbehave…

Because They’re Kids

Proverbs 22:15 (NLT) says “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness…” Enough said!

Because They Lack Clear Guidelines

Kids need guidelines and even want them. Without boundaries, insecurity creeps in and that often leads to misbehavior.

Because They’re Bored

When we teach inappropriately (not actively or age-appropriately), kids get bored. Boredom leads to misbehavior as kids try to find something to engage their mind.

Because of Outside Issues

I put these issues into four categories:

  • Hunger: Some kids come to church hungry because they either didn’t eat enough or they didn’t eat nutritious food before arriving.
  • Health: Parents will often drop off kids who should be home in bed!
  • Home: Some kids deal with so much at home that it inevitably comes out in their behavior.
  • Helplessness: Kids often just don’t know how to deal with things that happen, whether it’s the death of a pet or being bullied at school. This helplessness can lead to misbehavior.

Greg Baird is an author and ministry consultant with over 20 years of ministry experience.

For more discipline tips, check out The Quick Guide to Discipline for Children’s Ministry. Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

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