the shape of leadership

Five Reasons the Kids in Your Ministry Are Misbehaving

Creating a respectful learning environment

Brian Dollar on June 6, 2018

We’ve all been there. It’s Sunday morning, and you are ready for an awesome day of ministry to the kids in your church. But, things just didn’t go according to plan.

Johnny wouldn’t stop throwing paper airplanes, Suzi wouldn’t stop talking to her neighbor, and the Jones kid decided to bring a laser pointer and virtually blind you while you were teaching. It seemed like everyone in the class had eaten a dozen powdered donuts for breakfast and were on a major sugar high.

When this happens, you have a choice to make. You can get angry, threaten to quit, or bury your head in your pillow for the rest of the day. Or, you could ask yourself, Why were the kids acting this way?

The truth is, there are several common reasons why kids misbehave in class.

1. A Desire to Belong

One of a kid’s greatest desires is to connect with his or her peers. Sometimes a child’s misbehavior results from a mistaken assumption that an inappropriate action will help gain positive peer recognition.

When kids feel disconnected from a group, misbehavior is often a misguided tactic to belong: If I refuse to participate, others will think I’m cool, and I’ll fit in with the group.

2. Lack of Direction

Unclear rules, inconsistent enforcement and lack of consequences can ignite misbehavior. If kids believe they’ll get away with inappropriate behavior, and there’s a history of tolerance without repercussions, the spark of misbehavior can spread like a wildfire.

3. Environment

Sometimes the room arrangement encourages kids to act out. Seating arrangements, physical distractions and space issues can lead to a child’s poor behavior choice.

One church had kids who constantly goofed off in chairs during class time. Their leader removed the chairs and had kids sit on the floor. This simple change eliminated the distraction, and kids became more engaged in the teaching. Group chemistry and personal circumstances may also create a hostile environment.

4. Boredom

If kids aren’t engaged in learning, they’ll engage in something else. And an unprepared leader is a doormat just waiting to be stepped on.

Seating arrangements, physical distractions and space issues can lead to a child’s poor behavior choice.

5. Special Needs

Some kids have special needs that make it difficult to sit still and interact appropriately, especially in a crowded, noisy setting. Mental health issues, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, and autism can present challenges for kids and their teachers.

Each situation, and each child, is unique. Ask the parents how you can work together to help their special needs kids learn about Jesus. Some churches offer a separate classroom for children who, for various reasons, are unable to attend the regular kids’ services.

Restoring Order

In many cases, classroom disorder is simply the result of a lack of communication. You can’t hold kids accountable to follow rules you haven’t clearly communicated to them. Here are some guidelines for outlining your expectations:

Keep it simple. Don’t develop so many rules that kids can’t remember them from week to week. My entire ministry, I have used what I call the C.O.O.L. rules:

  • Care about your neighbor — don’t be a space invader.
  • Only get out of your seat when you have permission.
  • Obey the leader, and don’t interrupt.
  • Let’s work together — and be winners!

To help kids understand, ask them what it looks like to follow the stated rules. A demonstration of respecting personal space, for example, makes the expectation less abstract.

Keep it consistent. Wavering in your discipline approach causes confusion. It’s not helpful when you’re strict one week and allow all kinds of disruptions the next week. Be consistent.

Keep it fair. Each week may bring a different set of behavioral problems and challenges in your class. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to label a child instead of the inappropriate behavior.

Take care when confronting a child about his or her misbehavior. Announcing to the class that Sally is a chatterbox when she constantly talks out of turn doesn’t model respect and may inflict damage to her developing sense of self. Instead, remind Sally that one of the class rules is to be respectful and that when she talks out of turn, her behavior is disrespectful.

If you want kids to follow your policy, follow through with established consequences (such as moving to a different seat after an initial warning). Consequences help kids own their behavior and teach them to make better choices.

When kids misbehave, take a step back, evaluate your approach, and modify it accordingly. May God bless your ministry!


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