That Kid – Dealing with Disobedient Children

Everyone has “that kid” in their children’s ministry. You know, the one who won’t sit still, never quits talking, and seems to thrive on punishment. A few weeks ago, I actually had to take “that kid” home before our ministry for that particular night even got started. He was over-the-top disobedient and my teachers were wanting me to ban him from coming back to church.

I was facing a dilemma because on one hand, I agreed with them. This kid was draining and took up more “man-hours” than any two kids combined. However, on the other hand, I knew this kid needed to be in church. He does not have a dad at home and his mom is a babe in Christ. Where else is he going to get the training and discipline he needs from men (especially men) and women who love him because Christ first loved us?

Ultimately, I did take the child home to his mom and explained to her that I was not able to put up with the disobedience given that on this particular night I was low on help! She understood and was apologetic. When I got back to the church, I talked with my teachers and explained to them that this is going to more and more common given the neighborhood in which our church is situated. They were understanding and even offered some other ideas of how to handle the situation in the future.

Since that night, this kid has been much less of a distraction though he is still quite disobedient. We are in the process of working through a discipline structure that is both biblical and practical. It is not like Matthew 18 applies in most cases because most of the children are not believers, anyway.

How Do You Handle Disobedient Kids At Church?

How would/do you handle situations like this? At what point do you say enough is enough and tell the child to not come back again? Can you ever really say that to a child? Where do you draw the line? We would love your insight into these matters. God bless.


  1. Brenda Martinez says

    Consistency in the order of the lesson helps since not knowing what will happen invites misbehavior. Also I also try to have a craft related to the lesson at the end. This becomes a built in reward. All the students know that if I have to ‘refocus’ them more than three times they do not participate.

  2. Chayla Sanders says

    I do agree with Bradley. Also, in our church if the child is disruptive we have to bring them to their parents. Their parents are in the sanctuary. (They get tired of being in the sanctuary, for them its boring, it’s like punishment.) If they dont want to go they must behave. We are in the inner city, and we get children who are disruptive, challenging, and cannot read. We try to make the learning as fun as possible so that they will feel that they need to be at church. You have to pray and love them, not being afraid to let them see who you are. It shows them, that what you are talking about is real to you. Its not just a story, but its a lifestyle. It’s changed many children in our ministry.

  3. Tracy Colligan says

    I believe that these children belong in church too. Most likely they behave the same way in school, but the rules are different. We don’t know what happens before they come in and they are only children. To get respect, you must give respect, and that is the very first place to start. Sometimes, you need a “good cop”- “bad cop” situation. But above all, we must remember that Jesus came to minister to the sick- spiritually. It is our responsibility to still love and lovingly discipline the child. Lift them in prayer! Gather whatever teachers you have available and place them before the King. He created them and knows them better than any one of us can!! Jesus loves the little children!! (notice it does not say obedient lovely children- it just says children)

  4. Nancy says

    Pray for these children, and get a prayer chain started for them, and then pray some more.

  5. Bradley Cox says

    Years ago I was given this piece of advice. A mentor said, “If you do two things you will eliminate 90% of all discipline issues.” “1. Show the kids that you genuinly care, 2.Present a lesson that keeps them engaged.”
    This has proven to be good advice on many occasions. Most of the discipline issues I have encountered began with boredom. I have encountered only a few troubled kids. Things like visiting them at home, calling them by name, and giving them a job in your classroom can help. I completely understand the urge to ban a kid from class but I am concerned that if I do so I may turn that kid away from Christ forever. Love never fails.

  6. Lilian L. Vico says

    Working with kids all these years is a continues discovery of what works and what not. I always says that children are the most interesting species and the most special creation of God. As a minister of the God to the children, I find so fascinating how one kid evolved every week. One week this kid can be so saint-like and the next week can be a Philistine. But one thing that any kid can understand is real, genuine love. No matter how they act up and you discipline them, they will continue to come to church week by week. Why? Because they knew every week is a new beginning to them. So what is the most effective way of disciplining the kid? There is no such thing as the best way. Kids will always be kids and we should not expect more. Yes, they should know boundaries … before the the church starts repeat with them the rules and the after effect of disobeying the rules. Follow through with the discipline that they understand from the beginning will happen. Kids in general are good, they love to impress adults by showing them good behavior or by acting up. Never the less, we who ministered to them every week will know how to deal with the unexpected.
    One thing that works with me well, is to know the learning character of my kids and work with that. If my kids is auditory learner, I let them assign in leading the worship songs. If they are visual learner, they are my stand- by actors. If they are kinesthetic learner, I have several stress ball on-hand for them. As I have mentioned only us who works with our group of kids can understand and discover ways to reach out to them.

  7. s jeffers says

    wow! were these great, great insights. I frequently feel guilty about my attitude after working with disobedient children in Sunday class. I appreciate the examples of tough love given and the ideas. Plan to pass them on to others who work in the children’s program.

  8. Sheryl says

    All kids need is love, a child is being disobedient for a reason. Being a parent I find it difficult giving my child all the attention that she needs and I notice that when I do not reach to her expectation she becomes disobedient. I say Take that disobedient child and just love him – embrace him with hugs let him hold your hand form a bond with him. Our children are precious we cannot afford to keep the good ones nearby and neglect those who are disobedient.

  9. Diane says

    we are presently in a van ministry. when children misbehave ive had them write verses in age appropriate amounts. we memorize verses in awana so it seems appropriate tho we don’t want it to be a punishment and i don’t call it a punishment. I tell the kids i want them to do something for me before next weeks pickup. This past year a 1st grader with adhd repeatedly refused to obey.( She was badmouthing her little sister repeatedly ) and refused to stop. When we got to her house i talked to the mom telling her the policy was to write a verse 3 times or not be allowed to ride the van. Well, it ended up that she did not write the verses and i told her she could not ride . as her sister got on the van the other sister was having a fit. When we returned after awana to bring the one sister home. a police car was in front of the house. the dad came and escorted his daughter into the house. The next week when i contacted the mother i was told that the two girls were removed from the home. to make a long story short the mother began attending church. i visited her several times very prayerfully. She accepted the Lord as her savior. continues to come. and is hopeful of getting her children back again. She is alcoholic and a slow learner. and needs direction in self control herself.

    Another time a number of years ago i was picking up children in my car wed nites. one young man about ll kept releasing the seat lever so my seat back would collapse. i pulled over to deal with him and he belligerently refused to listen, continuing to release the lever when i told him to stop, even after i stopped the car. i pulled over, as what he was doing was making my driving safety an issue. This child was unfamiliar to me i had no former relationship with him to even go by at all. I told all the children in the car that we were going to pray. I bowed my head and began to pray aloud for this young man. he continued to make snide remarks. But the Lord instantly put into my mind an idea. We had just passed the home of another youth worker i knew. i told the young man that we were going to go to this other ladies home and call his mom to pick him up unless he promised to stop right then. He said his mom would be very angry if we did that. and you know. he behaved perfectly after that. The Lord promises wisdom when we ask him for it.
    Another time a 5th grader very badly behaved and out of control i picked up weekly opened the car door as we were leaving the church parking lot.. i told him when i called the next week that he was not getting a ride from me for 3 weeks but that his brother could come. the brother came. the 5th grader actually begged to come. i quietly told him no, not for three weeks. 3 weeks later he came . He also informed the other children that i meant what i said. in fact as we sat in church during the lesson he was talking. i quietly came and sat between him and the one he was talking with. and was shocked. This young man dropped his head onto my shoulder as he listened to the teacher present the lesson. That was when i realized the children want to know that adults care enough to set limits. That boy told me his father had commit suicide. A very hurting young man. i still pray for him.

  10. says

    Terry, you’re right about both a worker being called to shadow as well as how it is hard to expect children to obey when they are not regenerate or taught obedience.

    Where I think shadows can be very helpful is when the child you are having problems with is an older preschool age (3-5 years). Most children are not saved at that point and a shadow, someone who would not mind working in that capacity, can be effective at that age.

    One way to find a person to do the shadowing of an extremely difficult child is to poll church members and see if they would be willing to help if a special needs child were to attend. You’d be surprised that many church members have a heart for that type of ministry.

  11. says

    I like the idea of a shadow though I think that person really needs to be called to that kind of ministry (if you can say that). As far as the talkative kids, I have found that they are less likely to talk if I call on them for discussion. My kids have learned that if they are talking they will have to take part in the discussion at hand as well. This usually quiets them down and enables the gospel to be heard more often than not.

    What really bothers me is that I realize that most of these kids are not disciplined in the home. It is hard to expect children to obey as Christians when 1) they are not Christians or 2) they are not taught obedience at home. I get more upset with the parents than with the children.

  12. Cheryl StOnge says

    I too like Charlie’s idea to shadow, although it can be difficult when there’s not enough helpers. We run a children’s church that typically has anywhere from 50-75 kids so we’ve had our share of discipline issues. Mostly it’s just kids that are too talkative or the older boys who like to goof around together. But if ever it gets “out of hand” and the child doesn’t respond respectively to a teacher we always go to the parent and lovingly express our concerns. Most parents want to know the truth about their kids and I’ve seen that if we go to them with the smaller issues they can handle a bigger problem better because we’ve been communicating with them all along. If only they would all just sit quietly and accepted all we told them!!

  13. says

    This is definitely a topic deserving of much discussion! Thanks for bringing it up, Terry. I’d like to hear more about the discipline structure you guys work out. Our church has several children who don’t obey, as well; I can see that such a situation can provide an opportunity for “speaking the truth in love” to parents who are church members, and for evangelism of those parents who just drop their children off at church.

    Charlie, your idea of a “shadow” is an interesting one…I’ve had the same thought, and we’ve actually sorta done that on occasion. It could be considered, perhaps, an intense, focused effort at discipleship/evangelism for a particular child?

    I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

  14. says


    We have a few children like that as well. One possible alternative that is used in special needs circles, is for the kid to have a shadow who deals with him one-on-one in classroom situations. This may seem extreme, but if a church has a child that no one can control, a shadow may be the only other option.

  15. says

    It can be very stressful and frustrating to have a disobedient child in class. I’m not going to say that I will never take a child out of class…I hope I never have to do that…but circumstances might just bring it to that point. Who knows?
    I teach early childhood students at a learning center and have a super challenging child in class. We recently had a meeting with the parents to see what we can do to help this 4 year old with his emotional outbursts.
    The parents have given permission for an educational expert to observe and evaluate the boy. She hasn’t come yet but we only made this agreement last week.

    We’re looking into how the classroom is arranged, the structure of the classroom and learning environment and routines. Even slight changes in schedules and routines of the day help with a child’s outlook and behavior.

    The same can be done in a church classroom or worship setting. How is the room arranged? How is the order of worship designed in children’s worship? Even pairing children up with a buddy or a mature group can help too. Different ways help the child, especially ways in which the child is not singled out with his behavior issues.

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