I’m not going to lie, dealing with behaviors in church is really tough. It’s not school, and it’s only a few hours (maybe only one!) a week—so there’s no time for bad behaviors, right?
Other people think that church kids should be the best kids.
Now, I am not saying you will for sure have difficulties. But there may be a few students who need a little extra push to help them behave appropriately.
Remember, children’s church/Sunday school is all about preparing students for their future—you want them to grow firmly in God. You can’t do that if they are yelling and screaming and rolling on the floor.
Now, hopefully, that will never happen to you. But to be honest, I have had a few who did that—do that.
And if you do too, I am here to tell you it may get better. I have two in my mind that learned a lot and got a lot better as time went on. One of them is older, and not in Children’s Church anymore. The other one still is. He still has his days, but as a whole, it has gotten much better.
So here are some tips for dealing with difficult behaviors in church. I have some other behavior management posts that you can read like this one. The others are centered on teaching music, but the concepts are all the same.
Talk to the Parents
This may seem like a “no duh” kids of thing, but it is so important. If parents don’t know what is going on, they cannot help. They have to be on board in order to help difficult behaviors in church get better.
I will admit, I was scared of this for a long time. I did not want to talk to parents. Because seriously, who wants to tell a parent that their kids was being ridiculous?
But once I did, it really helped.
I stand at the door at the end of class—that way I guard both people coming in and going out. It also means that I get a chance to talk to all of the parents. With some of my more spirited children, I give an update every week—good or bad.
One more time: good or bad.
You don’t want it to always be bad. Don’t lie, but if a child was better than last week, tell them that. Especially if you talked to them last week and the news was not good.
Remember, you and the parents are on the same side. You both want little Johnny (I don’t have any Johnny’s at church) to grow up and love Jesus and be an awesome person. I tend to use “Johnny was having a tough time today. He did xyz…. I really hope next week we can do better.”
Avoid saying things like “He ALWAYS gets out of his seat…. She NEVER listens to me.” We are not interested in always or never. We are interested in the behavior today. And remember, it’s the behavior we are addressing, not the child themselves.
Have Clear Expectations and Consequences
This is harder in a Sunday School or Children’s Church environment. You don’t want it to feel like school. you also tend to have more students moving in and out.
But if kids don’t know that something is wrong, they won’t know not to do it.
Now, I am not saying that if you get a new kid you should immediately plunge into a long explanation of what is ok/not ok. But as things come up, mention them.
For example, I take my kids to the bathroom half way through church every week. This gives them a mental break, and also has almost completely eliminated the “I have to go to the bathroom!” conversation. Every time we go, I’ll say, “We’re going to take a bathroom break. This is the only bathroom break you will get, so you need to go now. We are not running down the hallway. Please use whisper voices, so we don’t disturb other people having church. Two people in the bathroom at a time.”
Now, if I have only the kids I have had since they were two, then I’ll shorten it. But the idea being—they now know what to do. There is no excuse to not do what you are supposed to do. If I hadn’t said those things, they would run, they would talk loudly, there would be 12 people in the bathroom, etc. but since they now know what to do, it eliminates the ambiguity.
And although you think something is obviously not allowed, that does not always mean the child does.
Give Them Something to Work for
If you have never heard of PBIS, you need to look it up! It is all about getting students to do what they are supposed to by rewarding them.
This could be with food, with praise, with games, with special privileges, etc.
For a while, we would write all of the students’ names on the board. If someone was doing a good job, we would give them a point. Whoever had the most points would get to be it first in a game or we would pass out snack in that order. Whatever little reward it was, it helped. Class Dojo is an online version of this, which would be great if you tend to have the same groups of kids each week.
You can also do it as whole class. For example, if the whole class can earn three points, then we will play a game or go outside. They want to get the reward, and they will work for it.
On a crazy day, it also helps if you just walk around and hand out a piece of candy or one cheerio or goldfish (I know a lot of teachers that buy these large boxes off Amazon and they last forever). Don’t even stop, just hand one out and keep talking. The other kids will figure out what you want by looking at the child who is doing what they are supposed to.
I did this the other day with jellybeans. I didn’t say a word, I just handed a jellybean to a kid who was sitting nicely and listening. A few minutes later, I handed out another. You have never seen kids sit that nicely. And seriously, it only cost me 15 jellybeans. (I actually just gave them the ones I didn’t like out of my pack…)
These are also a cheap option.
You can use some of the ideas from this post as well.
Save the Best for Last
This goes along with the last one. One of my favorite ways to control behaviors in church (and at school, for that matter) is to have a built in reward. This could be anything they like—dancing, games, crafts, etc. whatever really fun thing you are going to do (once more, that you are already going to do), do it at the end.
That ways you can remind them the whole time.
You have to listen to the lesson to play our really fun game.
You have to participate if you are going to do our songs.
I am looking for people who are going to be able to dance today.
Oh good, so-and-so looks like he wants to go outside. I can tell because he is sitting still with his eyes on me. He’s not talking or messing with people.
Try it and see the children transform before your eyes.
Note: if you do this and a child really doesn’t earn it, you need to follow through on it. Give them plenty of chances, but in the end if they cannot get themselves together, then they do not need to have the reward. They can sit and watch while you play a game.
You have to follow through. The kids notice whether you do or not. And if a child has bad behaviors in church the whole time and still get the reward, they will continue their behavior. And the others will look at that and think they don’t need to bother behaving well either.
Remember that They are Kids
I do not mean this in an excuse kind of way. It should not be “Oh, well Johnny was dong flips and broke the door, but he’s just a kid.”
I mean, you have to remember what kids are like. They are energetic, they like fun, and they like to talk. Build in some time where that can happen. Build in time for dancing to get energy out. Plan for them to play games. Maybe give them talking time during a craft or have a break in the middle so that they can get do that (because their attention spans are very small).
Never use the excuse that they are just kids, but do remember that when you are planning your lessons.
You can read more about finding building your lessons around different ways to keep kids engaged here.
You can check out this book for more information and ideas:
So those are my best tips for controlling bad behaviors in church! It is no magic wand, but just some things to help you get through your day.
How do you handle bad behaviors in church? Let us know in the comments!
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