How to Handle Discipline Problems in Kids Church

You signed up to teach kids about God but instead you spend most of the class pulling kids off furniture and intercepting squabbles.

After a few weeks, you may begin to have feelings of discouragement and inadequacy. You begin to second-guess your decision to serve and you may even consider turning in your resignation.

Dear friend in ministry, are not alone. Sadly, there is no real handbook to teach you how to handle discipline problems in kids’ church. Discipline problems are real and many churches are experiencing them. The disintegration of the family and public school discipline policies play a large role in the problems many ministers face today but I am sure you do not want a list of reasons – just some help!

Review these tips for handling discipline problems in your classroom or kids church. Take control of your classroom and get back to the business of guiding your kids into a deeper understand of God and His Word.

Preparation – To put it mildly, undisciplined children can smell disorder. The best way to keep control of your room is to have it from the beginning. Study your lesson, know your material and gather all your supplies before class.

Distractions – Turn chairs away from windows and busy hallways. Talk to workers about chatting during class. Eliminate distractions to cut down on opportunities for bad behavior.

Enough Staff – Volunteers may be in short supply but when you have discipline problems in kids’ church you need reinforcements. The best ratio is 5 kids to 1.

Good Behavior – It is easy to focus on bad behavior and give all your attention to problem kids. Turn that around by recognizing the children who listen, pay attention and participate properly.

Establish Rules – Make a rules poster and hang it somewhere eye level to children. Make it set a “Do” set of rules not a “Don’t” set. For example, you should list “Do have a good attitude.” Also children need to know what the results will be if they continually break rules. Do not threaten but introduce some type of prize, goodie or treat that has to be earned. Run your discipline policy by your director or senior pastor before beginning your rules program.

Control the Environment – Soft soothing music, good lighting and comfortable seating are important for keeping kids happy. Children, even difficult ones, will be more likely to behave if they are in nice surroundings.

Set the Standard – Be the example. Show kids what to expect by being a role model. Come early, be prepared. Be friendly but do not spend your whole class time behaving like a “big kid.” Someone needs to be an adult and if your kids have discipline problems than chances are it is you.

If these methods do not improve your teaching experience, at least nominally, then you may need to take more drastic measures. Sometimes restricting a child from a class for a week or a month is an effective discipline measure. Classes and kids’ church is a privilege, not an obligation.


  1. says

    Ruth, I understand where you are coming from, and that your comment was made many months ago… I know from personal experience, that one reason kids go “undisciplined” in a church setting is because of a lack of support from other members of the church for the leaders/volunteers in the kids ministry!!! Rather than be SO negative about your experience, perhaps have a look at a way you can help and support those who are looking after the next generation, because chances are if they are so undisciplined the leader is likely drowning/burning out

  2. says

    Some children come to church without their parents- their parents do not attend so these kids aren’t taught how to behave in church. We love the children, good or bad and we have to be the example for them- It’s sad to me how people turn their backs on children, who have not been taught better……and also, the children’s workers should teach them to behave in a loving way. Children too, are welcomed on Holy Ground……not just adults.

  3. Ruth says

    I for one will be leaving my church because the children there are so undisciplined. They shout and demand attention all the way through the service whilst adults are trying to pray. It’s appalling that these kids have not been taught ‘boundries’ and the parents just sit and don’t do anything about it. We are treading on Holy ground the moment we entre a church and we are there to worship God not kids. I walked out of that building with a pounding headache and bitterness in my heart. No more; I’m off to find another church.

  4. thelma francis says

    I am frustrated by children who are forced by parents to come to sunday school and having to deal with the negitive behavour, of the child.

  5. Kathy says

    We have 30-35 kids for Power Hour every Wednesday night. Only 1/4 of these kids are “church” kids. The others only come on Wednesday night on our church van. They are totally out of control and it is chaos for 1 1/2 hours. We have 2 teachers and 2 teen helpers. The ages are 4-11 yrs of age. The children are sitting on the floor right now due to lack of room for chairs. Could this be part of the problem? They run, jump, turn flips, etc. during class.

  6. Connie Van Meeteren says

    Our Wednesday night program pulls many unchurched kids from our community. The number of kids Christ has brought to our door is staggering. So are the growing criticisms from many adults in our congregation about the lack of discipline. Some very vocal adults are wanting to return to an exclusive environment for “churched” kids only. After speaking with teachers from other churches in our community, discipline is a common problem, even for the traditional churches. This fall we are conducting a workshop for our teachers on our expectations. We plan to teach kids of all ages, churched and unchurched, the behaviors we expect. The four power words for the workshop will be: 1) specificity, 2)consistency, 3) organization, and 4) relationships. It is our goal to be consistent from Sunday morning to our Wednesday night program, from Sunday school to youth group, from prekindergarten to twelth grade.

    Have there been any studies that have compiled statistics on this growing phenomenon in the church today?


  7. Sonya Williams says

    Great stuff to share. I worked with kids at the YWCA for a few years and I remeber using the honor system witht the “Rules Chart”. it went well but I have yet to use it in childrens church and sundayschool. Thanks fo the reminder. As for the bullying I normally see it before it gets out of control. I then impiment a lesson to show LOVE for the underdog/ or the people that no one likes which prieces the heart of the bully and makes him/her want to love on the unliked in the situation. I guess you could call it reverse psycology.

  8. says

    I like the point about establishing a set of rules. That can really help the kids understand what is expected, and more importantly it helps the adults know what is expected.

    I’ve often found myself irritated by a child’s behavior, only to realize that they aren’t acting out, they’re just being excited about the lesson in a manner that isn’t appropriate (because they’re young and don’t know what is appropriate).

    I want excitement. They are attempting to behave well. So, I need to adjust my own expectations so I don’t punish immature attempts at excellent behavior, but rather reward the attempt and encourage it to grow in a direction closer to what I would like to see.

  9. says

    I loved what you said about planning…and over-planning! I love the adage from Mary Poppins, “Well-begun is half done.” That certainly applies to this issue. I also love your emphasis on catching kids being GOOD~ this can shape the behavior of the entire class!

  10. says

    Wow. I’ve been reading some of the articles and blog posts on this site and I can appreciate the dedication of the people faithfully serving in children’s ministry as well as the discouragement you describe. After all, the last thing any pastor or volunteer would want to tell a kid (and the family that goes along with the kid) is that they can’t come to church.

    The challenges you describe are only going to grow. I wrote about a recent study examining the prevalence of mental health conditions among kids entering first grade:

    Senior pastors and church boards need to “get” this new reality. When you look at the numbers, unless churches make it a priority to support their children’s ministry volunteers and provide them adequate reinforcements (extra “floating” volunteers who can provide 1:1 attention to the child with disruptive behavior helps), nobody’s going to be able to come to church because the kids are too disruptive for adult worship and there are too many families affected by kids with issues.

    Thanks to all of you who faithfully serve kids with unimaginably complex problems week after week.

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