How to discipline in Sunday School Class
8 Helpful Points to Target
In today's day and age the words "discipline" and "classroom" don't seem to go together. Teachers have been strictly warned against discipline, and some students use it to their advantage. Whether your teaching in a Christian setting, or a traditional classroom setting, discipline is an important part of learning. Without structure in a classroom, every student suffers, and teachers lose their passion for their art. Here are some ideas for you to keep your Sunday School classroom running smoothly, and creating an environment where students will look forward to coming and learning about God.
1. Start with the basics - a well organized, clean space
Are you able to focus and pay attention in a cluttered, messy room? Well, neither can kids! Have places for everything that are clearly labeled, and easy to reach. Make sure that they are responsible for picking up after each project and they take part in cleaning up. This is their classroom too, and taking part in the upkeep will give them a sense of pride. Your cheerful attitude will make the difference between this being a drudgery or child's play!
2. Make sure the rules are clearly outlined
However you choose to display the written rules of your class, make sure they are visible to even the smallest child. There are many posters out there for classrooms that have some good general rules in colorful print. At the beginning of each quarter make sure you go over the rules again and ask the children "Why?" - as in, "Why should we keep our hands to ourselves?" Kids love good rules, because it keeps things fair. Just make sure your rules are realistic and don't repeat themselves. I wouldn't go over 7 class rules, and keep them basic. The rule "Raise you hand if you would like to speak" covers "no shouting out", and " no talking when the teacher is speaking" , etc.
3. Yelling teachers are tuned out, silent teachers draw attention; have a signal!
You can't be hollering over kids heads, and nor should you be. It shouldn't be necessary to yell, but you do need to let them know things are not going well in the class at that moment. It's easy to get overwhelmed when the noise level is getting way to high, but keep your cool and signal to them. My signal is one the kids picked out: I place my finger on the top of my nose and wait. In response to this, each child who notices my silly position also places their finger on top of their nose and remains quiet. Soon everyone is pointing at their nose, and peace is restored. It's easy, and your class can make up their own silly signal that will bring the attention back to you so you can continue.
4. Provide Choices
The best form of discipline I have found is to offer choices. If your class has been sitting for longer that 15 minutes and it's time for the Bible lesson, why not offer the choice of sitting on the floor? Or drawing while you teach? This will keep the disruption level down, because there is variety in your class. I have several artistic kids in my class who actually pay attention and hear better when they can doodle on paper. I do have some guidelines though; it should reflect the story they are hearing. This lets me know they are on the same page!
Choices can also be given when you are playing a game, or what you will have for snack. They are little choices, but it does not take much for a child to enjoy the process.
5. Don't forget food!
I can't tell you how many children come to class without eating breakfast. The public schools recognize this and almost all provide some form of breakfast for children. I'm not taking about a gourmet breakfast, just a healthy snack like a juice box and a handful of something to nibble on. Do this towards the beginning of your class, and then they can be full and able to pay attention. Choose the child who is the most wiggly to say the blessing; sometimes it's all about being noticed, and having everyone quiet down while they pray is very affirming.
6. Praise good behavior as it happens, publicly!
Don't wait until after class to tell a child how well they were. Chances are you will be worn out and forget! When you see a child making a good decision, tell them right away. ("That was a great job picking up, Annie. Thank you for helping to keep the class clean!") Make sure you keep the praise even. Kids will notice if you always praise the same few students over and over. Even the loud-mouthed child deserves to be praised for something!
7. No public discipline!
I can't stress how vital this is. When you yell at a student in front of the whole class,they're entire being just shuts down. All they feel at that moment is embarrassment; and that's very hard to get over. They might be nodding and giving you the right answer, but all they want to do is just drop through the floor. It's been said the for ever one time you publicly embarrass a person,
you need to publicly praise them ten times before that wound is healed. That is not the right environment for Sunday School class. These beautiful children need to trust their teachers.
8. Physical punishment
I shared a story with my students recently about being brought down to the principals office for a spanking for throwing snowballs. They're eyes were big and they giggled at my description of the Maintenance man who was responsible for doling out the spankings. As funny as it was to repeat, it goes without saying that we should never lay a hand on a child. These are not our children, and it is never our place to spank a child, even lightly on the wrist. If you ever feel the need to strike a child, I can safely say that you've let the situation go to far. As soon as you feel the child is becoming out of control, and you've tried giving him/her different options, it is time to return them to their parents. Hopefully you can all get together after church and discuss what happened, but either way, you need to remove the child before you feel the need to strike them. I can say with confidence, if you strike a child in your care you will be removed from teaching Sunday School, and possibly face charges.
I'd also like to add in this section to please be aware of any physical contact. Comforting an injured child by placing them on your lap for a hug can, most definitely, be taken out of context by a passer-by of your class. Although it seems extreeme, limit any contact to an arm around the shoulder to comfort them, and a hand on the shoulder to encourage them. This will protect you, as well as the child. You never know if a child has been abused; your well-meaning hug could actually be making them cringe inside.
We all have those one or two students who yell out repeatedly, ignore instruction, talk meanly, and just seem to make your day harder. I want to encourage you not to give up. There is a reason God placed them with you. As an adult and as a Christian, you are in a special place to minister to their heart. They might buck and fight you on it, but if you keep on loving them and reaching out I assure you, you will make a mark on their life. My advice for you is this:
- no personal attacks. "Why are you acting like this? You are being bad." etc.
- when they do well in your class, (even if it's for only 5 minutes) make sure you go to the parents with them and praise them! I can't tell you how much this will motivate good behavior next week!
- be fair! sometimes we get used to the same students acting up we get "pre-programmed" with annoyance towards them. Check your attitude and make sure that isn't happening. If this is still a struggle, you should pray that Jesus will help you to love them the way He loves them. If your heart is open and right, I guarantee your feelings toward this child will change!
- If issues are still unresolved, go to your Sunday school Superintendent, or supervisor. They have had much experience teaching and can give you some ideas that may help. They may also have an insight into family issues you were not aware of.
I hope this helps! I have been teaching for almost 15 years, and discipline is still an issue occasionally. I will leave you with a quote from The Discipline Guide For Children's Ministries:
"When we discipline children, we correct them in a way that shows them they are loved. When our kids sense our loving concern, they are much more willing to emulate our values and our relationship with God. Good discipline is guidance towards right behavior, which is much more effective than punishment towards wrong behavior."