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Discipline by Design


Essential strategies for postive,
proactive classroom management.

You love God and children. You feel called to
teach and be enthusiastic about the year ahead. But now you find
yourself faced with disruptive children. 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

Unfortunately, that leaves many formerly upbeat teachers ready to
throw in the towel.

How can you prevent discipline problems from diminishing your
effectiveness and joy? Here’s a bounty of practical pointers from
my 40 years in children’s ministry.


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 in a Christian manner rather than react in the flesh. 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.


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 want to talk, raise your hand and
wait to be called on.

2. When someone else is talking, be quiet.

3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself unless
you have permission.

If you teach young children, you may need to
repeat these three guidelines every week.

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, which is prevalent in childhood.
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.

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

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.


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Discipline by Design

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