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Discipline with Love

Here’s what I do when behavior problems seem to take over the class:

1) Pray seriously. Without prayer, I know my efforts will fail. I pray in the morning before I go to church. I pray at the beginning of class, mentioning out loud that we need God to help us all behave in a manner that pleases Him. I pray after class (usually when I get home) to thank God for helping the children behave or to ask Him to work in the lives of the children to help them see the way they should act in his house.

2) Research. I search the internet, talk to other teachers, read articles, etc. to find out more information about what the children I’m teaching are supposed to be like- what they’re going through physically, mentally, and emotionally that may be contributing to our problems in class. Then I decide how I can best meet their needs.

3) Take a personal inventory of my own beliefs and desires for my class. I write down what I expect of my students and then decide which items are the MOST important to me. Sometimes flexibility is needed. It may be that I can allow the children to talk any time except during the lesson, etc.

4) Take their needs into consideration. Someone I admire greatly once gave me this advice: If a child is hungry, all he can think about is his tummy. If a child is cold all he can think about is shivering. If a child’s basic needs for love aren’t being met, you cannot possibly expect him to see Jesus- not in a lesson, a game, or a craft. He MUST see Jesus in you. And you may be the only Jesus He ever sees.

Children have limited attention spans. Some children can actually experience muscle pain if forced to sit still too long. If what I’m doing would be boring to me, I stop! If several children come to class without breakfast or dinner, I provide fruit, etc. Whether you believe children should be entertained, rewarded, etc. or not, you have to admit that if their needs are not being met, they aren’t interested in learning.

5) Invest my time in getting to know the students (and their parents, if possible.)

I have to first reach them (which means going to where they are and bringing them in). This also means that where they come from may not be anywhere I’ve been and, consequently, I may not understand them or their motives or actions very well. Reaching them means more than finding them and teaching them means more than making sure they can quote rote knowledge from the Bible.

Just look at Jesus, the Teacher! He had all the wisdom and knowledge in the world and He still got involved in peoples’ lives.

Once I visit a student’s house and see how they live, I often realize why they always crave attention (maybe there are several siblings all vying for attention at home, etc.) Sometimes, if my class is large, I visit or call one student per week until I have visited them all. OR, if I don’t feel comfortable visiting their homes, I devote one whole class period to asking questions and really listening to what the children say OR have a pizza party to get to know them better. This can be a real eye-opener! I know I can’t afford not to take the time for this one!

6) Give the children some ownership of the class and its rules. I like to let the children help come up with the most important rules for class and a consequence for each. When the children know what is expected of them and, more importantly, when they know WHY it is expected, and that they helped make the rule, they are usually more compliant.

7) Find opportunities to praise and reinforce good behavior. So often we are quick to condemn bad behavior because it is so obvious, but we forget the girl in the corner who’s always so well-mannered and sweet. Some children misbehave to get the attention from the teacher. If children see that only good behavior gets attention, they may exhibit more good behavior.

8)Be consistent when disciplinary action becomes necessary. I try to think of discipline as an undesirable task. I have found that it is so helpful when I come in with a positive attitude and let the children know I love them and expect great things from them. If they see that I am excited, they get excited. In the event that a rule is broken and I must mete out punishment (which realistically can only be in the form of talking to parents or taking away certain class time privileges), I let the child know that I love them, but that I am not happy with their behavior today. I gently remind them that they, as a class, came up with the rules and consequences and that I cannot be unfair to the rest of the class by not providing a consequence. (It may be best to do this in private or with a parent nearby.) Children can be easily embarrassed and place a lot of credence in how the teacher appears to feel about them. Little egos are so easily damaged, so I am very careful!

9) Remind myself that learning is something the children do. They can’t be coerced into it! If they enjoy what they’re doing/seeing/hearing etc. they’ll take it all in and learn! I don’t teach lessons. I teach children.

10) Be willing to recognize when what I’m doing just isn’t working and to admit that maybe I don’t know what to do in a given situation. We have so many resources available to us today in this field. What a tragedy when we place blame on the children before we even try to understand the problems! Jesus always offered more than accusations and words. He provided opportunities, lessons on the listeners’ level, and, more than anything, love.

by Angela Simmons

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