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A preschool boy has a sad look on his face as he faces negative consequences.
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Discipline Q&A: Should I Avoid Negative Consequences?

We all want the children in our ministries to have a good time at church. But is this a reason to avoid negative consequences? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Q: I want my kids to have a positive experience in Sunday school. Should I avoid negative consequences altogether?

Preschool Expert

“Part of creating a positive experience for preschoolers is making sure they know what their boundaries are. Once they understand that playing includes sharing and it doesn’t include hitting others, kids can feel safe within the bounds and have a truly positive experience. Although enforcing rules will sometimes include negative consequences, there are ways around this. Start with redirection, and phrase rules positively. For example, say “Use your walking feet” instead of “No running!” When kids still struggle to behave after multiple redirects, a timeout is an appropriate way to help them reset. Reassure kids that while their behaviors weren’t okay, you still love and enjoy them. Overall, fair and kind responses to kids’ misbehavior will help make preschool Sunday school a very happy place.”

Rebecca Barnes has 13 years of teaching and kids ministry experience, currently as a schoolteacher and formerly a kids ministry curriculum director for a large church in Colorado.

Elementary Expert

“While punishment can stop unacceptable behaviors, it doesn’t show elementary kids acceptable behaviors. If you separate kids to keep them from distracting others, you temporarily eliminate the distraction, but you’ve not shown them how to replace unacceptable behaviors with appropriate ones.

Begin with a short list of three positive expectations that you review every week, and consistently praise kids when they follow through with them. Also, set kids up for success by removing potential distractions.

This doesn’t mean you need to always avoid negative consequences; sometimes punishment is necessary to quickly deal with inappropriate behaviors. But make it your first priority to set up an environment where kids understand and are praised for acceptable behaviors.”

Henry Zonio has over 25 years of experience as a children’s ministry leader in the U.S. and Canada. He is a sociologist with expertise in child development, religious education, and social inequalities.

Preteen Expert

“By the time you begin to think of negative consequences, some of your preteens are already not having a positive experience. That said, you may consider whether you have the right boundaries in place and if your team has been consistently enforcing those boundaries. Preteens are mature enough to understand the reasons for boundaries, and explaining the reasons can help you more effectively manage your preteens. For example, everyone’s quiet and listening as you explain a game so everyone can have the most fun.

If you must redirect a preteen, you might have him or her move over to a chair and privately remind the child of the boundaries and his or her own ability to make good choices. Keep communication positive, even while you’re giving kids natural consequences.”

Annette Safstrom has over 20 years of children’s ministry experience. She’s a children’s ministry coach, consultant with Ministry Architects, and the co-author of Sustainable Children’s Ministry (InterVarsity Press).

For more discipline tips, check out The Quick Guide to Discipline for Children’s Ministry. In this resource, you’ll find effective techniques that eliminate and redirect any behavior challenge! You can find more helpful tips in this article. Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

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