Discipline

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Enforce the Rules By Keeping the Kids Engaged

Want some harsh but honest criticism? Read on… if you’re feelings are easily hurt, then skip down to the next point and take the chance that you will still have issues with children following the rules.

You’re still here. Ok, ready?

Don’t be boring.

…sometimes kids behave the way they do because they are bored and disengaged with what’s happening around them. Be a more exciting teacher, storyteller, announcement person, offering presenter, welcome guy, etc. Whatever your segment is, make it as fun, interesting and/or exciting as you can.

Recognize children who follow the rules

It’s not enough to just point-out to a child that they’re being naughty. You can often times change the atmosphere and give the rest of the audience reason to suddenly sit-up, sit still, listen, smile, etc. It’s called recognition. And it works. Every kid wants to earn an “A”… every kid wants to be noticed for doing good. When I sense there seems to various children chatting with each other and squirming about. I start my segment by “noticing” a child and making a big deal about their behavior:

“Hey everyone look over here at Chloe! Chloe, you are doing such an great job sitting up and paying attention. I love how you do that… you’re an amazing kid.”

Suddenly, every kid will want to meet your expectation.

Offer incentives from time to time.

Incentives have often times been misinterpreted as “bribes”. Perpetuating the statement: “I don’t want to bribe the kids to behave.” I understand…

…but, a bribe is defined as a payment offered to someone to do or allow something evil.

I define an incentive as a reward. I love to reward kids. But, I don’t offer incentives every time I teach children. You would need to decide for yourself if you should ever offer rewards… what those rewards should be… and how often would a reward be offered.

I enjoy giving out rewards that relate to our series. We did a back to school series – we gave away various school supplies and the kids loved it as equally as when we did an entire series that used a different kind of candy each week so we gave away that particularly kind of candy. We didn’t always just hand it to kids who were well behaved. Sometimes, you could be chosen to answer the review questions or play the review game and we would reward the players of the game. You might consider reserving prizes for special days or when you realize after a few weeks of children not paying attention, you need and incentive to offer to kids who are engaging in the service.

Focus on Ministry More than the Rules

It should go without saying – you’re there to pastor the kids, not be an enforcer. The rules, like any teaching method, should only help enhance the ministry that’s already taking place in your service. I like kids to know I’m firm, but fun… fair and even flexible. I would rather just remind kids of rules and focus on teaching the Word of God.

Next time, (and I promise that part 4 will be last of the “rules” posts) I will give you some tips and ideas for those times when you need to enforce the rules or just remind kids of the rules while you’re still teaching. Thanks for all the great feedback during this series. Please share on Facebook and Twitter – and please comment.

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IMG_0292Rules are not a fun subject – but I believe they are necessary!

Regardless of the lack of actual comments on the last post – I was encouraged with the feedback from twitter, Facebook and with personal messages from friends, and fellow KidMin leaders. Hey, I even got a shout-out from the Kids Pastor at our church during children’s church while she reviewed the rules with the kids 🙂

Here we go with Part 2:

Consider Changing the Rules to Fit Your Needs

That’s why I have a rule that says: “Obey All Rules”. It gives us license that if we need to make a rule to help the kids learn, we will. If a leader has noticed a lack of participation with our worship times in previous weeks, he/she can say something like: “Today we are adding an extra rule… it’s called ‘Everyone Participates’. If it’s time to sing, we want everyone to sing, if it’s time to learn, we need everyone paying attention…”

Make Warnings & Consequences Fair and Helpful

You wouldn’t dismiss a child from your service with a harsh lecture in front of the other children should that child break a rule and it’s their first infraction…. would you? Of course not. It’s not fair.

Let’s face it: kids get excited and will respond with outward expression. If something exciting happens and kids exclaim: “WOW!” cool – it’s what we want. Right? We want children engaged – so make sure you and your leaders can discern when the breaking of rules is a reaction to what’s happening —OR— it’s a problem of the child just doing whatever they want and it’s distracting or interruption the service.

I tend to allow 2-3 personal, verbal warnings from a leader who is not teaching. After that, the child is moved back a row or 2 (I always try to move a child back —OR— off to the side if they are already a few rows back). This is usually serious enough in the mind of the child that they will try harder to follow the rules. If the child is still having a hard time, I have them moved to the very back row (we keep the back row of one of the sections reserved for this purpose). The child is told that before he/she can leave that they will need to have a short meeting with their parents and a leader.

There have only been a few rare cases in which we had to dismiss a child by calling their parent during the service.

By handling the consequences this way, it’s fair because the child gets to remain in the room and receive ministry and participate in worship. It’s fair because the parent get’s to part of the solution. It’s helpful, because the child is moved further back where fewer children will see that child if said child chooses to continue in their behavior.

Let me just state that there are at least 2 more parts to this subject – why so much? I guess I have a lot to say about it. Please feel free to share and comment.

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stress-2I have become a firm believer that the blame for many of the discipline issues we face in children’s ministry cannot be placed completely on the children.

After all, most of the time, children are just being children – they have not been deliberately sent by the devil to disrupt you class, service or small-group.

It starts with US. Yes, you and me and our ability to plan ahead, be engaging and going the extra mile. In this way we aren’t just disciplining children- instead we can attempt to steer children who are simply being children so they can have a positive experience, learn something new, stay safe and encounter and almighty God.

We have to handle the discipline issues before the discipline issues ever start:

Have a PLAN for the Kids from the Moment they Arrive Until the Moment they Leave. Be properly prepared to carry-out that plan in your service or class… Remember, if you are not prepared and you don’t have a plan, the kids are always prepared with their plan… and they will begin carrying it out.

This doesn’t mean you have to be super-rigid and run a military-reform school. You can have free-time,or activity time, but schedule it and make the time-frame seem intentional.

Give Them Something To Do. When kids enter your room, do you expect them to just sit there and wait until you’re ready? Again, they will interpret that as boring. Have activities and engaging things ready so when kids enter your room, they have something to do besides implement their own plan. We have a game table with UNO cards, Rock-Em-Socke-Em Robots and Jenga Blocks. We have a LEGO table. We 2 long tables covered with paper so kids can draw whatever they want. We have Speedstacks tables with timers. Occasionally, we have the old Nintendos with Mario Card hooked up.

These activity tables not only give the kids something to do when the enter the room, it is a way for them to connect with each other… and it’s a way for our leaders to engage with the kids and build the relational bridge (see below)

Don’t be Boring! If kids interpret what you’re doing as “boring”, they will have something they interpret as “fun” ready to go. Use variety, and relevant teaching methods. Use a child’s natural intensity level when planning your services. In other-words: put fun, exciting and fast stuff on the front end of your service. Put the serious stuff in the middle. End your service with fun, exciting and fast stuff. See my series on the Kids Are Bored

Aim at the older children with the stuff and aim at the younger children with the length: Use music, graphics, video clips, characters and verbiage the older crowd will relate to… the younger kids will “aspire up” and want to be like the older kids. But, use a minute per year of age for each segment. If the youngest child in your service is 6 – You have 6 minutes max for each segment. See my post on How a Child Interprets Their World

Have Clearly Stated Rules Ahead of Time. These should be rules that BOTH the child and parent understand… abd these should also be rules that CAN BE accomplished by the child.

Ron Brooks and I differ on our approach – and yet, we are still friends 🙂 Ron’s approach is pushing a positive out come from the children ie. I Can Listen, I Can Show Respect, etc. For more of Ron’s view on rules, head over to his post.

Mine are direct and straightforward:

  • Don’t Leave Your Seat Without Permission – I emphasize that there will be times that permission is given. I also state that leaving your seat and invading someone else’s seat with your hands or feet is leaving your seat.
  • Don’t Talk Without a Microphone – I want the kids to know that there will be times to answer questions, but wait until the microphone is put in front of you. There will be appropriate times to laugh and cheer – but wait for something funny to happen.
  • Wear Your Name Tag – I want these kids to stay safe. I want to know that they are supposed to be in the room and I want to get to know and call them by their own names.
  • Obey All Rules – This covers the first few rules, but it also covers any instruction or directive that is given by any of our leaders.

Consistently Review the Rules. Kids cannot follow your rules if they don’t know what those rules are each week. We carve-out a time at the very beginning of our service to review the rules. Sometimes it’s quick and takes all of 2 minutes to review and explain the rules. Sometimes something fun happens… like a character enters who has the wrong idea about what the rules are. Sometimes we have a quiz-show and get kids from the audience to state our rules. Either way, guests will know what’s expected and regulars will be reminded.

Consistently Enforcing Those Rules. Make sure you and your leaders know when the best course of action is to sit with a disruptive child; when it’s time to separate children to different seats; when a child should remain afterwards so a discussion with a parent is necessary or when a child should be removed from a service or classroom and a parent needs to be notified. Read my last post on confronting parents.

Offer Incentives. Don’t just skip over this section. I have people all the time think that it’s wrong to bribe kids. Bribery has very little to do with incentives. Here’s my thought: Every kid wants to earn the trophy.  It’s really about the recognition for following the rules. Sometimes offering a tangible reward (candy, points for their team, points or “Bible Bucks” for your prize store, etc) is a great way to reward children – they all want to win the trophy. Other times, just “catching” kids who follow your rules with a lot of positive recognition in front of everyone else will make them want to earn it again. Both methods make others in the room want to earn the same trophy.

Enter a Kids’ World. Be relational. This earns you the right to be heard and respected – thus, eliminating a whole lot of discipline issues. Before I teach a group of kids, I love to walk around, give high-fives, fist bumps and shake hands. I ask funny questions and play as many of the games and activities as I can with the kids. I try to notice new shoes, haircuts, dresses and the toys kids bring with them. It let’s children know that I notice them and see them as a priority – not an afterthought.  See my post on the Stuff I’ve Kept in my Pockets.

Deliberately Approach “Those Kids”. You know the ones… these are the kids that you secretly hope are on vacation each week. They are the children who are consistently rambunctious, disrespectful and you seem to have issues with them any time they are in your class or service. I have had to make it a priority to pray for those kids during the week. I have asked God to give me compassion for these kids we typically define as “problem children”. And I believe that God has given me compassion for these kids.

Walk up to those kids each time they darken your door, get down on their level, look them in the eyes, smile your biggest and most sincere smile and tell them how happy you are that they are there. Ask them about their week, Ask them what was the funnest thing they did that week in school, invite them to play an activity with you. You will notice a difference.

I realize this has been a long post, but hopefully it’s given you some ideas as to how you can handle the discipline issues before they really become issues.

To listen to the radio show with me, Ron Brooks, and Tom Bump on March 20, 2014 – 7:00 PM Mountain Time.

If you missed it or cannot join us, I will post the link to the podcast at a later date.

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It’s inevitable – Parent Confrontation

If you haven’t had to do it in your children’s ministry yet, then there’s probably something wrong. It doesn’t happen every week, but it will be a regular occurrence if you have to deal with discipline issues. There are some important factors to consider when confronting parents and having to explain a discipline issue. After-all, you don’t want to be known as the minister who is constantly a negative bearer of bad news or unpleasant to deal with.

Here is a concise list of the things to keep in mind if and when you will have to confront parents about their child’s behavior and actions:

  • Be respectful.
  • Look into their eyes.
  • Remember they are the authority figure in their child’s world.
  • Be clear and concise – explain what rules have been violated and the actions already taken.
  • Do yourself a favor ahead of time: have clearly communicated policies and rules in the classroom that both the child and parent are ALREADY aware of.
  • Be willing to offer an exception if it’s obvious the rules/policies were not known ahead of time.
  • Be forgiving, showing mercy and grace – Be willing to offer another chance.
  • Have a plan for moving forward with the child – If is this just a warning: what will the plan for the future be should we have trouble in the next few weeks?
  • Ask the parents to help you know what to do if the issue(s) ever surface again.
  • Pray a positive prayer over the Parent(s) and child before they leave.
  • Follow-up with the parent and the child later in the week.

What would you add to the list?

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