10 Ways to Manage Behavior Problems in Sunday School

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Boy with finger held up in a gesture that says "Sshh"It’s happened to all of us.  We’re in the middle of an awesome lesson.  Most of the kids are tracking with us, except that one.
That one is not only tuning out every word, but that one is hiding under the pew, flying a church bulletin airplane your way, or attempting to fit his entire foot in the offering envelope.  Ahhh…. That one.
Let’s be honest.  You love that one.  You want to reach that one.  You just don’t always know what to do with that one.
Maybe you’ve tried the best preventative strategies, but you are still frustrated with a child’s behavior in the middle of a lesson. Here are some oft-used teacher tricks of the trade to get a child tracking again.

  1. Whisper:  Make every child lean in to hear what you have to say, with the hope that the distracted/distracting child will follow in suit.
  2. Stop Talking:  Put your train of thought to a halt.  Silence is a good attention grabber.
  3. Stare:  Glance directly at the child and make eye contact.  Hold on until he/she is listening again.
  4. Provide Presence:  While you are speaking, naturally move over to where the child is seated. Continue the lesson from close range.  Or, send another adult to sit next to the child using non-verbal cues.
  5. Name Call:  Work the student’s name nonchalantly into a relevant story, example, or commendation.
  6. Role Play:  Invite the student in question to act out a scenario with you.  Provide the attention the child needs in a positive framework.
  7. Give Responsibility:  Assign the child a task to complete:  Pass out papers or Bibles, hold a picture book, distribute other materials, keep time, hold a prop, etc.
  8. Take Three:  This technique would be discussed with the child prior to the lesson.  If opportunities for discussion are given and the child in question tends to dominate discussion or talk out of turn, allow three times of talking.  Have the child count the times on their fingers.
  9. Special Signals:  This is another technique to discuss ahead of time.  Teach the child two signals that no one else in the room would catch.  One sign would represent encouragement for a job well done; the other would be a warning/challenge issued for just them.  The more quietly outlandish the sign, the better.  (You’ll win a listening ear and a smile at the same time.)
  10. Avoid Public Confrontation:  Steer clear of calling a child’s name out for negative behavior.  It will generally escalate from there.  Instead, speak to the child after the lesson.  Ask them if they can identify how they were a distraction.  Tell them what you expect the next time.  Use this brief chat to encourage them in love.

What tried and true techniques have you used before for that one student?  How have they been helpful to you?  Click here to leave a comment below.

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