Take a fresh look at discipline issues with the kids who are “misfits” — and the amazing, incomparable gifts they bring to your class.
“How would you like to be a spotted elephant or a choo-choo with square wheels on your caboose or a water pistol that shoots jelly?” ask the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys in Romeo Muller’s classic, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
During their adventure, Rudolph and his friends land on this island where the unwanted toys of the world live. King Moonracer, the island’s ruler, searches the entire earth every night for toys that little girls and boys don’t want. He then keeps the “different” toys on the island until someone loves them. These toys serenade visitors with the all-too-real song of unloved ones: “We’re on the Island of Misfit Toys. Here we don’t want to stay.”
As those who minister to children, we all know and hurt for kids who are misfits. But just as Santa and the other residents discover, misfits can make unique and wonderful contributions to our lives and classrooms.
Discipline: How to Reach The Perfect “Misfit” in Your Ministry
Each child is wired by God to make a unique contribution to the world. So let’s look for the blessing each child brings to our small group dynamics, discussions, activities, and ministries. Perhaps you have one or two of these characters in your classroom.
Comet, the Celestial Bible Scholar
On the first day of reindeer school, Comet is the adult reindeer who teaches the younger deer everything about flying and becoming bucks. He’s also who decides Rudolph doesn’t measure up to the expectations and announces, “We won’t let Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”
Misfit: It’s often the pastor’s son, the Sunday school superintendent’s daughter, or the home-schooled child who’s the Bible scholar. This child’s overwhelming Bible knowledge, coupled with a willingness to passionately share his convictions, can be downright intimidating for the other kids — and you.
Perfect Fit: You don’t always have to be right, so don’t worry about this child correcting the details of your lesson once in a while. Instead, enjoy his passion for knowledge. This child can add interesting facts to any discussion and with your help can come up with thought-provoking questions that’ll help other learners apply the lesson to their lives. In an era of biblical illiteracy, allow this child to set the pace.
The Authoritarian Head Elf
It’s the elf boss who writes a new song for Santa, teaches the other elves their parts, and then informs the tenor section that it’s weak. He yells at Hermey, who doesn’t want to be an elf, and he’s never satisfied with anyone’s performance.
Misfit: Every classroom seems to have one child who fills the authoritarian role. She’s the perfect child who really does know exactly what’s supposed to happen and when. She just takes it too far.
Perfect Fit: The perfectionist child, if directed correctly, will go far because she holds such lofty standards for everyone — including herself. She’ll help your classroom stay on track and support you when you enforce the rules (or challenge you when you’re the transgressor). She’s a great asset for a substitute and makes a precise timekeeper to help you stay on schedule.
Santa Claus, the Class Clown
Okay, some may take exception with calling this guy a clown, but let’s face it. He’s a grown man who wears a full-length, bright-red costume complete with a pointed hat, and he walks around yelling, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” while other people are trying to sleep. Don’t you have one of these in your ministry?
Misfit: We’ve all either been the class clown or have known one. It’s not only this person’s insatiable need to be the focus of your class that bugs you, it’s also that he’s truly funny. The “clown” in your classroom has made a lifelong attempt to be recognized for his humor, so he’s gotten pretty good at it.
Perfect Fit: God has a wonderful sense of humor. (He made the hippo, remember!) And kids learn best when the synapses in their brains fire during positive emotions. Instead of merely putting up with this child, engage in the joy he brings to your lesson. Have a good belly laugh and move on. Let your classroom be one where smiles are contagious. Let the class clown help you lighten up.
Hermey, the Nonconforming Elf
Like any other elf, Hermey is expected to focus on becoming an expert toymaker. He’s told: “You’re an elf, and elves make toys.” But Hermey marches to the beat of a different (toy) drummer. He wants to be a dentist, and he simply won’t participate in elvish activities: “I just don’t like to make toys!”
Misfit: “Hermey” will never fit in your classroom either. His interests may be different from yours and all the other kids’, or he may just not like joining the group — no matter what you’re doing. Just like Hermey, this child may be saying, “I just can’t…I’ll never fit in…I guess I’m on my own now.”
Perfect Fit: It may not seem like it, but most nonconformists actually want to fit in, but on their own terms. (For example, Hermey tries to contribute to the toys by fixing the dolls’ teeth.)
Look for creative ways to enrich your classroom by finding the hook that motivates this child. When you offer choices, the nonconformist will surprise you with wonderful discoveries that bring a freshness to your lesson. In the end, Hermey saved his friends, and the day, when he pulled the Bumble’s bad tooth. Your child’s individualism can show other kids that they too are accepted…just the way they are.
Yukon Cornelius, the One-Man Show
Yukon Cornelius spends most of his time upstaging everyone else — like when he proclaims he’s “the greatest prospector in the north.” He’s completely focused on finding fame and fortune, silver and gold. But he’s also a loner, willing to forego life in his town to do his own thing as a prospector in the barren, icy terrain of the North Pole.
Misfit: It can be frustrating to have a child try to one-up you at every turn, or to watch kids upstaging each other in your class. But this child, too, can add something to your room.
Perfect Fit: Remember, it was Yukon Cornelius who threw himself at the Abominable Snowman and almost lost his life for the sake of his friends. Since the “upstager” is wired to stand out, he has a wonderful ability to speak his mind and to stand firm for his beliefs. Let your Yukon be a pacesetter for standing up for Jesus, even when it’s unpopular.
The Narrator, Sam the Snowman
Burl Ives’ character was Sam, the talking snowman. He’s the narrator for the entire Rudolph show, a commentator on everything that happens in the story.
Misfit: Your classroom may have a “Sam,” someone who plays the role of commentator and talks incessantly even when no one’s asked a question. You never have to wonder what’s on this child’s mind. (And, like many teachers, you may identify personally with this character.)
Perfect Fit: God bless the “commentator” when it’s time to have a classroom discussion. You can always count on “Sam” to have something to say so that your classroom won’t be deadly silent.
The “Misfit” Toys
The world’s unwanted toys are hidden from the rest of the world on the Island of Misfit Toys. The song tells us that “a sack full of toys means a bag full of joys” but when it comes to the “misfit” toys, “there’s no room for more…”
Misfit: These characters are perhaps the most difficult of all to have in our classrooms, because they seem invisible. Sometimes they just blend into your room, so as not to call attention to themselves.
Perfect Fit: The invisible kids in your room are easy to have around, because they don’t do things to get attention. But they can help others by setting an example of positive behavior. One of their gifts is peace — a wonderful thing in any classroom. Be sensitive to invisible kids, though. If you sense a child is withdrawing or troubled, care enough to find out why.
Perpetually Wound-Up Charlie-in-the-Box
Charlie-in-the-Box is the official sentry for the Island of Misfit Toys. As he says, the “name is all wrong; no child wants to play with a Charlie-in-the-box!” And although it’s his unusual moniker that lands him on the island, Charlie also has quite an attitude and his crank handle makes him perpetually wound up.
Misfit: We all know these kids stand out in your class; they’ve had negative nicknames such as “hyper” for years. Their constant activity can frustrate, but these kids have a lot of positives to offer.
Perfect Fit: Kids who are wound up like Charlie can bring great energy to your classroom. Let your “Charlies” set the pace for games. They can infuse energy into any event or discussion.
The Hard-to-Love Abominable Snowman
“He’s mean, he’s nasty, and he hates everything!” But the “Bumble” also has weaknesses.
Misfit: Some kids are just difficult to love, no matter how hard you try. You’re probably already thinking of an “abominable” child of your own!
Perfect Fit: The hard-to-love kids give us a chance to see God’s grace at work and to play a role in it ourselves. These kids give our classrooms a breath of reality and allow us to help guide children in the areas of empathy, grace, and compassion. Pray that you or one of your children will discover this child’s real needs. After all, the real Bumble became a pleasant helper when his sore tooth was removed.
All the Other Reindeer, Smart Alecks With Sharp Antlers
The low point of Rudolph’s young life was most likely when “all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.” It was hard to tell which were sharper, the tongues or the antlers.
Misfit: Kids can be cruel, especially to one another. But you may also find it difficult to put up with a child who’s always smarting off to you or making fun of other children.
Perfect Fit: Okay, maybe there are some kids that just don’t fit. Hurtful talk isn’t helpful, but we’re all guilty of using our tongues inappropriately at times. Help children who are quick with their tongues to learn the lessons you’re learning — honoring others no matter what.
Rudolph, the Adorable but Socially Unacceptable
As Rudolph and his friends get rejected from the Island of Misfit Toys, Yukon Cornelius points out that “even among misfits, you’re misfits.”
Misfit: Most kids don’t have a blinking red nose, but many do have traits, mannerisms, or personality quirks that mean they don’t fit in socially in their peer group.
Perfect Fit: The “Rudolphs” in your classroom can add unique perspective about God’s love for the one lost sheep. The king of the Island of Misfit Toys put it well when he told the misfits that “being misfits yourselves, you might help the toys here.” The child who struggles can often relate to others with similar struggles.
Gordon and Becki West are co-authors of The Quick Guide to Discipline for Children’s Ministry (Group) and founders of KidZ KaN Make a Difference and KidZ At Heart International (www.kidzatheart.org).
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