5 Tips for Dealing with Bad Behavior

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5 Tips for Dealing with Bad BehaviorI recently noticed something interesting and revealing. While I was chatting in the sanctuary after service, we were interrupted by a pair of notoriously rambunctious brothers who sprinted down a pew in a round of “tag.” The Sunday school superintendent with whom I was conversing (who does not hide her frustration with these boys) scolded them strongly, which did not yield much result. However, when I spoke up and asked them to stop, they seemed to pay heed. I truly spoke similar words, so I wondered what had made the difference. Perhaps it was love.
Children are insightful. They know when they are loved and valued, and often even the most difficult kids give respect when they sense they receive it. In this case, I have known these boys for years and I genuinely appreciate them. I have worked with them in Sunday school and summer camp, learning what interests them and makes them tick. My only theory as to their attentiveness to my urgings was that they trust me. I treat them more like people and less like burdens. Granted, this is certainly not always easy! I have had my share of frustrating moments, which got me to thinking of what strategies work most effectively. Maybe students and children alike will benefit from some deliberate efforts to genuinely care…
Ready to pull your hair out? Before pushing the panic button or banning students from class, give some new techniques a try…
1. Let kids lead (within reason). Sometimes the wildest-acting students are the ones with great ideas. They may be bored and bubbling with creativity, or simply creative at heart to begin with. Allowing students to pitch ideas and actually letting them see their thoughts played out can be encouraging and exciting.
2. Demonstrate true interest. Cliché as it is, in so many cases children who are acting out are desperate for attention. Even kids with apparently great home lives and plenty going for them often crave some extra form of care or concern. Ask about activities, listen to stories, and find out favorite things. Doing so can allow you to…
3. Cater to interests. When you know your students, you can pick crafts, games, and activities that tap into strengths. Children are far more apt to participate in something they enjoy and excel at doing.
4. Remain firm when necessary. Quality teaching requires knowing when to use that “serious voice” and enforce the rules. Students who are acting out need to know without a doubt that you are in charge and that you mean business. Be ready and willing to enforce the rules and have backup support if necessary.
5. But also know when to pick your battles… Students appreciate being heard and love the thrill of getting to sometimes do as they wish. Obviously this should not be a standard practice, but certain issues do not need to be earth-shattering. Can I use my markers to tattoo my friend? No. Can I stand instead of sit through the lesson? Sure. If accommodations do not detract from lesson attention or endanger anyone, some things are just not worth the fight. Or the scars.
Always remember the ultimate goal in Sunday school work. We are not here to be referees or principals. We are here to help children learn and understand the most important element of life they could possibly study. We have power for influence and inspiration in every young life we touch. At the end of the day, we are shaping the future of the church by working with children. Many times the more challenging youngsters grow into the most dynamic and fruitful adult. Do not quench that spirit and potential power. And smile…this is fun!

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