Taming Classroom Tyrants

It seems respect for authority has dwindled, attention spans have decreased significantly, and as a result, volunteers are weary.

The morning is nearly over, and you’re already looking forward to heading home to your family, relaxing on the couch, and watching a good game of Sunday afternoon football on television. As you make your rounds to close doors and clean up the remnants of a busy morning, you encounter a scene that’s all too familiar. The football game begins to fade as you realize you have a situation to deal with.

As you walk into yet another room, you hear a weary volunteer telling Amanda’s parents about the outbursts that happened in class that morning. Amanda stands fidgeting in the doorway. This isn’t the first week this conversation has taken place, and it isn’t the first time Amanda’s parents seem to come up with yet another excuse for her behavior.

You intervene and get a familiar explanation — Amanda never acts this way at home, she must be tired, or maybe she’s hungry… and the family ends up leaving once again with the issues unresolved as you console a volunteer on the brink of quitting.

Once upon a time…children could sit still and would only speak when spoken to. Today as you try to teach, though, Amanda the Adamant wiggles and whines about how she wants to do crafts and thinks the stories are boring. Tyler the Tyrant pokes his partner and incites laughter from the now disrupted Sunday school class.

The Master Manipulator seems impossible to satisfy, and there’s no limit to his demands. Often he’s loud and always wants to be the first to answer, read the Bible passage, or write on the board. Sometimes he quietly refuses to follow instructions because he has another idea that he thinks is better. He thinks that stubbornness has worked elsewhere, so why not see if it works in Sunday school?

What has happened to kids today? Somewhere between Leave It to Beaver and the Pokémon craze, respect for authority has dwindled, and attention spans have decreased significantly.

Why are some children so difficult today? Do we cater to them too much? Are children spoiled, or are they expressing their unique God-given personalities? Or do children have special needs that make it impossible for them to behave?

The uniqueness of children is defined in Psalm 139:13:  “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” As a grandmother lovingly knits individual sweaters for her grandchildren, even so God knits the individual personalities of children. Children are fearfully and wonderfully made!

As you try to tame classroom tyrants, though, you may at times wonder if God dropped a stitch in his knitting process — or if there have been factors that’ve unraveled God’s perfect design. Most teachers’ #1 frustration in the classroom is not knowing what to do with difficult children. But before we can figure out what to do, we first need to understand why children misbehave.


If we ponder Western society’s prevalent materialism, we realize that most of us are spoiled. Trinkets gather dust in our ample homes. Children have so many toys that they don’t even know where to begin. Do all these things spoil children?

Let’s first admit that there’s a difference between being spoiled and being a spoiled brat. The “spoiled brat” surfaces when a child doesn’t appreciate what he or she already has and constantly demands more. Families don’t have to be wealthy to raise a child such as this. All children can acquire this attitude or sense of entitlement when adults either overindulge them or simply fail to set limits.

Overly permissive parents can cause children to sense that they’re in control. Although it’s often easier to let children such as these have their own way, it’s detrimental to the children and their respect for authority. Perpetual indulgence leads to selfishness, and selfish people and spoiled children are seldom happy. So these children seek happiness in ways that often result in inappropriate behavior.

Kids need discipline! Dr. Trudy Veerman, a Canadian Christian counselor, refers to Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it,” to remind us that “discipline starts in the cradle.” So what’s a distraught teacher to do? Is a couple of hours a week enough time to make a significant impact on a child?

Dedicated Christian teachers who love the Lord obviously think so and have a burning desire to teach the Word of God to further his kingdom in the hearts of children. To do so, we have to understand that each child brings his or her own special brand of behavior — and we need to respond in equally unique ways.

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