Not everything that comes up in your children’s ministry is a full-fledged discipline problem. But it can be frustrating. Here are twelve tips for putting out sparks before they become forest fires.

  1. Steady glance. Catch the child’s eye and gaze steadily (not disapprovingly). You could add a small shake of the head.
  2. Move closer to the child. This can be very effective without saying a word. Coteachers can do this while you continue teaching.
  3. Distract. Grab kids’ attention with something more interesting than what they’re up to: assign a job, ask for help, announce an upcoming event, and so on.
  4. Ask a question. This should be an attention-getter, not an indirect reprimand. Don’t deliberately ask a question you know a child won’t be able to answer. Try, “Jamie, I’d like you to listen carefully so you can tell us what the next step should be”—rather than sarcastically saying, “Jamie, since you’ve been paying such good attention, why don’t you tell us the next step?”
  5. Make a change. Whisper. Pause dramatically. Adopt an accent. Talk faster or slower. Switch to a quieter (or more active) activity.
  6. Give instructions beforehand. You may be able to anticipate when your comments might trigger a behavior problem. For instance, try, “Quietly line up at the door” rather than “We’re going outside for our hike now”—which may lead to a stampede!
  7. “Remember our rule.” If one of your class rules applies to misbehavior that’s going on, you could whisper, “Remember Rule #2″ to the child. If everyone is getting out of hand, you could stop and ask, “Who can tell me what Rule #2 says?” Or plan hand signals together. For example, when you hold up two fingers, kids know you are referring to Rule #2.
  8. Secret word. Prearrange this with a child when talking about a recurring behavior problem. Then when misbehavior occurs again, simply whisper the word as a reminder.
  9. Use few words. None of us likes to feel preached at or scolded. Try, “Tyler, the markers” instead of “Tyler, your markers are still lying out on the table. I’ve asked you twice already to pick them up. Everyone else is finished. Move!”
  10. Tell what to do instead. Direct children toward more appropriate behavior. Try, “Instead of yelling at Chris, can you tell him what he did that you’re upset about, so you two can work things out?” instead of “It’s not nice to yell.”
  11. Ignore the misbehavior. Sometimes it’s better not to notice!
  12. Acknowledge positive behavior. Smile, give a thumbs-up, say, “Way to go,” and so on. If you notice positive behavior, children will probably want to behave in those ways again.