Confronting discipline issues in children’s ministry

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This is one of the more difficult issues in children’s ministry. Your No. 1 task as a teacher is to lovingly share the gospel, while also juggling authority and respect. How do you show love while also keeping order in your Sunday School classroom, children’s worship, choir or Bible study?

Set firm, yet kind rules and expectations at the beginning.

This will let children know where you stand and how you handle things. It also allows children to know your expectations of what they should and should not do in the classroom.

The rules can be simple: no running, no pushing, speak kind words, sit down at Bible story time, during group or table time raise your hand to speak and wait for your name to be called. These are simple rules for preschoolers, but grade-schoolers might need them as well. It helps to place the rules somewhere in the classroom and refer to them when needed. You may also want to give the rules to parents so they know your expectations. Setting clear boundaries is good for children.

Utilize the sit, tap, whisper and outside method.

Some children have a little more wiggle than others and it might be more difficult for them to sit still. The sit, tap, whisper and outside method can help with wigglier children.

The first step in this method is sit. While the lead teacher is telling the Bible story, ask an assistant to sit next to the wiggler.

The second step is tap. The assistant can tap the child on the shoulder and point to the teacher as if saying, “Listen!” The third step is whisper. The assistant will quietly say to the child, “Let’s listen to what Mrs. Smith has to teach us about God. Can you do that?”If these steps do not work, quietly take the child to the hallway. Ask the child what he has done wrong and what the rules of the classroom are. If the child does not know, gently explain that he needs to sit and listen, or whatever the issue might be. Then quietly walk the child back into the room. If he continues to misbehave, point to the rules when needed.

Talk to the parents.

This step is never fun and normally uncomfortable for everyone, but it needs to be done. When is it appropriate to talk to them about disciplinary issues?

First, you do not need to talk to parents if it is a one- or two-time occurrence. You never want church to be a burden or stressful to parents. If you talk to them every week about how their child never listens or can’t sit still, they may not return to church.

Second, if a child is hitting, pinching or hurting others, the parents do need to know. Tell them in a loving way what is happening.

Third, decide how to talk to parents if their child never listens and is always disobeying. Parents are protective of their children, as they should be, so you want to always show kindness.

Consider phrases such as: “How can I best minister to your child?”

“I love that he or she is in my classroom or Bible study.”

“How can I make church easier for you as a parent? I want you here.”

Let the parents know you are their biggest cheerleader and you want to help them.

Pray for your children and their families.

While you might see this child once a week, the parents are probably struggling with the same issues at home every day. As a teacher you are giving them a break and often allowing them a time of worship or adult Bible study. Pray for everyone to have strength.

Pray the child will want to sit down and have a thirst to hear God’s word. I challenge you to open your Bible and read Philippians 4:6–7, then pray for the children in your classroom and in your church, as well as for their parents.

I am cheering you on because I know the stress you are dealing with. You can do it!

God has placed you in this position for a reason. Perhaps you are where you are to bless and help a particular family, and in turn that child will bless you. Continue to pray for the children you minister to, and love them within the stress.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – My name is Julie Redmond Donavan and I am children’s and preschool minister at North Shelby Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I have been a children’s minister for 12 years, following the call God set on my life when I was 9 years old. God prepared me as I worked at church camps and taught preschoolers. This calling continued while I earned a bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University and a master of divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham. My husband, Connor Donavan, and I have been married for five years and have a 2-year-old boy, Robert, and three-month-old baby girl, Abigail.

First published in The Baptist Paper.

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