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4 Essential Strategies for Classroom Management

Here are four helpful classroom management tips for teachers that’ll help increase joy and effectiveness in the classroom.

You love God and children. You feel called to teach and be enthusiastic about the year ahead. But now you find yourself faced with classroom management struggles. 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 challenges from diminishing your effectiveness and joy? Here’s a bounty of practical pointers from my 40 years in children’s ministry.

1. 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 with patience and grace rather than frustration and judgement. 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.

2. 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 have something to say, raise your hand and wait to be called on.
  2. When someone else is talking, listen respectfully.
  3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself unless you have permission.

Repeating your rules weekly help to set kids up for success.

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. 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. For example, if a child knocks over a bin of markers, the immediate consequence could be to pick them up before moving on to the next activity.

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.

3. Tailor Your System

Although rules need to remain consistent, it’s also important to factor personalities into the equation. Children often hear rules through the grid of their God-given personalities.

For a strong-willed child who may evolve into a discipline problem without guidance, preface the desired behavior in words that empower; for example, “You can be in charge of cleaning up the block center.”

Fun-loving children may be busy talking with their friends and forget the rules. They usually respond well to warm, loving words about something enjoyable. You might say, “I wonder if we can get our centers all cleaned up by the time I count to 10? Then we’ll have time to play a game.”

Otherwise calm, peace-loving children may have problems making transitions between experiences. They respond best when you provide warnings and time to respond. For example, “In five minutes, we’ll move on to our centers.”

Perfectionists may have trouble because they get stuck emotionally or can’t do something just right. They usually respond well to encouragement. You could say, “I know you’re upset that those colors don’t match, but it’s a very detailed drawing. I’m sure your mom will want to hang it up when you get home.”

4. Refine Your Skills

Sometimes the more we use our voices while trying to discipline, the less effective they become. In other words, when we talk too much, children begin to tune us out. Instead, use these techniques.

  • Offer focused attention. Ever noticed that children seem to act up whenever you’re crunched for time, short on help, or expecting a classroom guest? Children are very sensitive to our moods and can tell when we’re under the most pressure. If you ignore or isolate them—or, even worse, yell at them—the problems escalate and no one wins. The best solution is to stop and give children your undivided attention or, if they’re young, simply hold them.
  • Move slowly and maintain eye contact. Look into children’s eyes and truly focus on them, just as Jesus did. Avoid turning your back on a child you’ve just disciplined; otherwise, you may inadvertently set yourself up for round two.
  • Act detached from the deed, not from the children. Don’t take children’s misbehaviors personally. Pretend you’re trying to win an Academy Award in detachment. As you begin acting that way, you’ll actually start feeling that way.
  • Speak intentionally. Our voices tend to go up when we’re upset, which makes it harder for children to take us seriously. Instead, stair-step your voice down and use visual clues along with your words. As you state what you want children to do, nod your head and smile. As you state what you don’t want them to do, shake your head “no.”
  • Close the matter properly. Verify whether children understand you. Then ask kids to apologize to others involved, realizing that they may not. Don’t force apologies; repentance is a learned skill. Even so, it’s important to set forth the expectation that kids will apologize when they’ve hurt someone. Train children in the habit of apologizing and trust God to change their hearts.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Humor is an important principle of discipline because it helps us put things into perspective. Often we have to step back, take a few deep breaths, and pray that God will show us the lighter side of a situation. With little children who are squirmy and inattentive, you could say, “Did you eat wiggle worms for breakfast? I know you must’ve had silly cereal!” With older kids, you could say, “Is this my life, or am I in a TV show because I’m ready for a commercial break!” Humor isn’t for kids only; it helps us see the funny side, too.

When your ministry has an established, loving discipline strategy, children feel secure and are able to learn more. And teaching becomes a joy, not a chore.

Jody Capehart has more than 40 years’ experience as a children’s minister. She’s the co-author of The Discipline Guide for Children’s Ministry and the author of numerous other books.

For more discipline tips, check out Group’s Children’s Ministry Pocket Guide to Discipline. This resource provides quick and practical tips for classroom management. Plus, it’s sold in packs of 10, so you can give one to each of your volunteers! And for more teaching tips, check out these ideas

12 thoughts on “4 Essential Strategies for Classroom Management

  1. Thank you for sharing the article called 4 Essential Strategies for Classroom Management. May the Lord continue to bless, keep, & protect us?.

    • Thanks so much these articles have been a blessing to me and I plan to share with others.

  2. I also have been teaching for over 40 years. In the past 2-3 years, however, I have noticed an extreme change in our children. They are sent to church, parents don’t come. They don’t come from Christian families and have very little respect for any adults. They are rude, disrespectful, and out of control. While we have tried to have consequences for bad behavior (we do suspend them from attending children’s classes for a week or 2, depending on their behavior), they don’t care. I teach a combined class on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, children aged 5-11. We may have as many as 20, or as few as 3. Awarding good behavior doesn’t work, because they don’t care.
    I do love and care about these kids, and they know it, but I am truly at my wits’ end and ready to quit because the ones that WANT to learn can’t. So much of class time is spent asking them to raise their hand, listen, We don’t have time for crafts or games, I’m desperate for some advice. Talking to the parents is usually as useless as talking to the kids.I want to believe I may be playing a small part in planting the seeds, but right now, it’s very discouraging.

    • Christine Yount Jones

      Cherrie, this is a challenge! And my best advice is that there’s strength in numbers. Get more adult and teen volunteers in there so it’s not so overwhelming. We think a 1 to 4 ratio is optimal. Not always easy to get those folks but you’ll see your discipline issues fade away with more help!

  3. Terry Anderson

    I’ve been a teacher for many years, both in the US and at international schools and find that the “discipline” of raising hands and and not paying attention is often that the materials aren’t relevant to the group, that “coloring” and “covering a lesson” is more important than building relationships with people at church and caring leaders.

    The other Sunday I was supposed to teach a class of pre-schoolers about Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Some of the activities in the curriculum were fun, but the content just didn’t relate to kids.

    In my family we learn to take turns speaking and work with each other without raising hands because we care for and think about others. That’s what I hope kids learn, as well as building a relationship with God.


      Thank you for sharing, Terry! And thank you for all your years of teaching. It’s caring people like you who help the next generation grow into considerate people!

  4. I love your resources!! The pdf for this article is blank. Can you post it?


      Hi Jennifer! Unfortunately, we’re having a technical issue across many posts. Until it can be resolved, one option is to copy and paste the information from the page into a word document, or just print from your web browser!

  5. Ekundayo Oluwakemi Deborah

    It hasn’t been long that I come across this cite, with the little I have seen, I’m been blessed, and I need more of your post on my email..
    I’m just called into this ministry by God, I need your assistance as an experienced children minister.
    More unction to function in Jesus name

    • Sierra Archuleta

      Hi there!

      We are so happy to hear how our content has been blessing you. We love hearing from all of our friends in ministry. We do have a email newsletter that sends you weekly content every Wednesday. If you scroll to the very top of the page in the right hand corner you will see a orange button that says “Get eNewsletter” and all you have to do is enter your email.

  6. I established our children’s church ministry approx 25 years ago and, like some of the other responders, have found our children have troubles connecting to each other, Jesus or our teachers. My ultimate hope and prayer is that children will want to carry their relationship with Jesus into their teen/adult years. I have found that if i acknowledge children by name, i have more respect. One little girl wanted to keep coming back because we remembered her name. To quiet a much too busy, and loud classroom, i use two methods to being quiet. First i say, quietly, “if you can hear me, put your handon your head”, then slightly louder, if you can hear me, put your hand on your head and make a funny face, etc until everyone has stopped and obeys my instruction. The sillier, the better. Before long, everyone is paying attention and giggling. I close by saying, “if you can hear me, shut your mouth and smile.” This helps to keep the children remain attentive and from resisting the desire to return to chaos
    Second, i ask the children to look around the room, choose a quiet place and when i say, ho, you may go to that place and we’re going to quietly pray – just between Jesus and you. Then i give instructions for silent prayer. While they are there, i complete my lesson (Bible story, etc. then i close their time by quietly praying a blessing for each one.
    I also teach a combined class. From (3-12year olds), often 8 to 12 children. Thank you for all the classroom helps that you provide us children’s ministers. In our ‘scary world, I’ve experienced adults and children becoming hardened; they’re simply protecting themselves from those scary things we’re hearing about in these days.

    • Sierra Archuleta

      Hi Robin,
      Love to hear your passion for serving in children’s ministry and doing whatever possible to ensure your kids feel recgonized and valued. You have shared some amazing tips! May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

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