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3 Sunday School Discipline Solutions for Your Preteen Classroom

Sunday school classroom discipline experts share their insights on rough boys, controlling crowds, and kids who just won’t listen.

Q: How do I deal with preteen boys who hit, shove, and kick their friends — even though they seem to be playing?

A: First ask yourself, “Who’s this behavior bothering?” If it’s only you as the teacher, let it go.

Preteen boys can be very physical, and aggressive touch may be their “manliest” way of expressing friendship. If the behavior isn’t hurting anyone, obnoxious, or disruptive, ignore it and realize that your boys are communicating in their native tongue. However, if the behavior is too rough or seems to target an individual, try these ideas:

  • Talk about it. Take the boys aside after class and explain the issue. Tell them you’re glad they’re having fun with their friends, but when their behavior disrupts the class you’ll have to separate them.
  • Find a “minder.” Ask a classroom volunteer, preferably a male, to sit with or near the boys to help them stay focused.
  • Help them serve. Ask kids to help in class by distributing papers or setting up chairs. The physical activity and sense of purpose will help settle down kids and expend their extra energy.

Q: We have a lot of children and not enough volunteers. How do we control the crowd?

A: Discipline problems often develop due to a lack of adequate supervision. Recruiting enough volunteers is important for providing a healthy and safe learning environment.


Begin by ramping up your recruiting efforts. For effective recruiting ideas go to childrensministry.com/recruiting. Also, check that your adult-to-child ratio is acceptable by age group (younger kids require more adults).

When you’re short-staffed, handle large groups of kids by forming multi-age teams of four to eight kids. Assign each child in the interactive learning group a job such as Team Leader, Bible Reader, Prayer Person, Materials Gatherer, or Cheerleader. Older kids will serve as guides to younger children and help keep the lesson on track when they have ownership. When everyone’s actively involved, you’ll have fewer discipline issues.

Q: Why do kids completely disregard my directions when I ask simple questions such as, “Would you like to join the group now?”

A: The problem is you’re giving a choice rather than giving a direction. “Would you like to…” opens the door for a child to honestly answer, “No, I’d rather not.”

When giving directions, always use simple, direct requests. Instead of phrasing your request as a question, say, “Please join the group now,” conveying it’s not an optional activity. If a child doesn’t respond immediately, repeat the instruction and add the child’s name.

You can give kids a sense of control by allowing them choices. Provide a limited number of acceptable options in these instances, such as, “We’re ready to start — would you rather sit up front with me or with your friends?” Be serious about your requests — making exceptions for some kids will gradually erode your authority in your classroom.

Gordon West is co-author of The Discipline Guide for Children’s Ministry (Group) and co-founder of  KidZ At Heart International (www.kidzatheart.org).

Looking for more preteen ideas? Check out these posts!


2 thoughts on “3 Sunday School Discipline Solutions for Your Preteen Classroom

  1. MARYANN COVELLO

    Thanks for this article on discipline. I’ve have just started volunteering for children church ages running from 4 years to 11, with approximately 15 children. I really need help if I’m going to suceed and want the parents to have some time to reflect on the gospel message. So I appreciate this article’s suggestions.

    • Sierra Archuleta

      Hi Maryann,

      We are thrilled to hear you found this article useful for you and the ministry you volunteer for. We wish you lots of success on your new journey.

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