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Discipline Q&A: Disruptive Behavior

Q: How do I deal with a repeat offender in my classroom,
especially when it’s clear the disruptive behavior is simply to
test authority?

A: Children are wired to feel, think, and
behave their best when they experience clear boundaries. Even from
birth, children consistently ask adults, “Can I get my own way?”
Children long for boundaries, and they want consistent and fair
consequences when they test an adult’s tolerance for

If parents provide behavioral guidance and boundaries, children
feel secure and develop appropriate life skills. But many children
don’t receive this gift at home, so they continue to ask the
question and push the limits in a search for someone to set

When you set a boundary at church, children still test it. For
children who haven’t experienced consistent, meaningful boundaries
(those enforced by consequences), this testing period may linger.
Consistent and fair consequences for misbehavior will eventually
teach children your classroom is secure and that you care enough to

Q: Although I use short stories, shift focus frequently,
and use a variety of visuals, I can’t get my preschoolers to focus.
What’s the problem?

A: In an effort to be creative and
entertaining, we mistakenly overreact to a young child’s short
attention span. Researchers analyzing children’s TV shows such as
Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues found that young
children are most likely to lose focus when they don’t understand
what’s being presented or there’s simply an information overload
with too much segmentation. When teaching preschoolers, simplicity
is key in both style and vocabulary. Use the following.

• Basic Language — If preschoolers don’t
understand the words you use, they’ll lose interest and focus on
another item or activity.

• Simple Visuals — Children do better with one
or two characters on a simple background rather than an elaborate
visual presentation. Simple visuals engage children’s brains to
fill in the details.

• Repetition and Predictability — Young
children find comfort in repetition and predictability. Make each
lesson segment complement the others. Repeat the key Bible point in
each lesson segment using simple words, and encourage children to
say it aloud with you.

Q: How do I get kids to calm down so I can start the

A: Regularly communicate classroom expectations
to children. If you allow kids to play rowdy games, run around, or
yell and scream before your official start time, you’re setting
yourself up for a struggle. Kids assume this kind of behavior is
always acceptable.

To help kids focus from the time they walk into your room, have
lesson-related activities ready to go. Empower kids to explain the
purpose of a craft or the rules of a game as others arrive. This
communicates to children that they can have fun by being involved
in meaningful activities in appropriate ways.

Gordon and Becki West are co-authors of The Discipline Guide
for Children’s Ministry (Group) and founders of KidZ KaN Make a
Difference and KidZ At Heart International (

Has a discipline issue got you stumped? Submit your question
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Discipline Q&A: Disruptive Behavior

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