When I present workshops and have the opportunity to get feedback on other topics the participants would like information on, the top suggestion is always “classroom management” and “discipline.” The lack of classroom management causes more frustration in volunteers than just about anything. I’m not going to claim to have the perfect answers and all the skills, but I do know that there are some tips that will greatly help. These are tweaks the leader can make, and not necessarily how you’re going to demand that the kids change. After all, it’s your actions that you’re responsible for.
Prayer is not a last resort. START with prayer for each of your kids, and spend a little extra time with the Lord for those who are your challenges.
- Keep kids seated when giving instructions for a game.
Once all the instructions have been presented, then position kids in team lines and pass out any equipment. If you do it the other way around, their attention is on the ball and figuring out who is going to be in which line. No one moves into game position until everyone understands what’s going to happen.
- Give instructions for games and activities in as few words as possible.
Tell them what they should do, and don’t go through all the “if-this-happens” scenarios. If your instructions go round in circles, all they’ll hear is like in the Charlie Brown cartoons…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. After one round, if they didn’t completely follow the directions, then pause to correct course and start again. Keep it simple and concise.
- Take advantage of mirror neurons.
Use your smile. It activates mirror neurons in the other person’s brain and they want to smile back. If you’re acting crabby, the mirror neurons will give them permission to act crabby. Be aware of your face and attitude, then let the mirror neurons go to work.
- Choose names randomly.
Kids like to accuse leaders of not getting a turn or you playing favorites, which causes them to pout and get upset or frustrated. Figure out a way that you can choose helpers, leaders and teams so that it’s obvious you’re not personally showing preferences. I like to use an app called “Random Name Selector.” But you could also do something like write all names on individual craft sticks. The kids will pick up their stick and deposit it in a chip-can as they arrive. Draw out all the sticks before returning any to the can. No one can accuse you of having any say in the choices.
- Use their name as much as possible.
(And not when you’re yelling at them!) This is a relationship builder. It lets kids know that you know them and are personally connected. It also does something physically in the brain. When your name is used in a respectful way, the blood flow increases to the area of the brain that processes self-perception. If someone is building into your self-esteem, more than likely you’ll want to please that person; hence, fewer discipline problems.
- Give out leadership responsibilities.
For those kids, especially, who want to engage in the power play game and make you feel like they know more than you do, it may be that God has wired them for leadership and they want to stretch those muscles. Call them early in the week with a small assignment and ask for their assistance and leadership the coming week. You’re building a relationship and you may just find that their disrespect goes away.
- Communicate your excitement about being with them.
Remind kids often of what a privilege you consider it to be to get to be their leader. Thank God in their presence for the opportunity and ask for His help in teaching them His Word.
- Try to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong.
Go through each game, activity, seating arrangement, piece of equipment…and try to imagine the unexpected. What can you check? What can you rearrange? What will you need more of? What can you move? What will you need in case something spills or breaks? How could the kids take this differently than you have planned? How will kids perceive certain words? If you’re presenting a science experiment, make sure you test it beforehand. Asking these questions will cut down on the interruptions in the flow of your lesson and minimize opportunities for discipline problems.
- Establish boundaries and consequences beforehand.
Nothing gets my feathers in a fluff faster than observing an adult chastising a child when they hadn’t told the child the boundaries or the consequences before the offense. Make your boundaries clear and then hold fast to them. Follow through with the consequences the first time and you’ll see kids respect those boundaries. They want to know how far they are allowed to go; it gives them security.
- Don’t overlook small misbehavior.
We tend to overlook when a child’s misbehavior seems insignificant. If we do, though, it gives them permission to go that far next time and then a little more. The behavior will escalate…guaranteed. Put it to a halt when it first starts, instead of waiting until you have a big issue.
- Be prepared!
When that first child arrives, your room should be set up and you should be ready to engage with them on a personal level. This is relationship-building time, which is your best tool for classroom management. When a child knows you truly care for them and that you know them by name, they’ll defend you and help you monitor other kids’ behaviors.
- Be proactive, not reactive.
When you approach teaching in a proactive manner, you think of the well-being of the child and how you can help them be a better person by the way you correct them. You think before you do. A reactive approach to teaching usually ends up using punishment, rather than discipline, and punishment stems from being impatient, angry or frustrated. Kids quickly sense which you are and react accordingly.
Decide which of these tips may help you feel more confident when you’re with the kids God has placed in your care. Daily turn them over to Him, and pray that you can touch their lives in such a way that they will want more than anything to live the adventure God has planned for them!
This article originally appeared here.