Discipline: Love with Limits

August 12th, 2011

When you agreed to be a Sunday school teacher, you didn’t count on having to deal with discipline problems. In order to understand why a child behaves the way he or she does, it is important to know as much about the child as possible.

• Does the child have a high or low self-esteem?
• Is the child’s behavior in Sunday school consistent with behavior in other situations?
• Does the child enjoy being the center of attention?
• Does the child compete for attention in the family?

Keep It Positive

Children value themselves to the degree that they have been valued. The more positive experiences they have, the more they see themselves as being capable and strong. This, in turn, often leads a child to continue to behave in ways that achieve positive responses.

On the other hand, a negative self-concept may cause a child to misbehave. The more scolding, rejection, or punishment a child receives, the more that child believes he or she is inadequate or worthless. A child’s behavior mirrors the child’s self-image.

Children need to feel loved.

High self-esteem is based on love. Again, in an ideal world all children would know, without a doubt, unconditionally, that they are loved. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that many are not secure in this knowledge. Children who are regularly criticized or belittled often feel that they will never be able to live up to another’s expectations and are, therefore, unloveable.

Helping a child develop his or her relationship with God through prayer can be one step in helping that child feel loved. God does not place conditions on love. High grades, sports achievements, or other successes are not required to be a recipient of God’s love. Assisting children in developing their relationship with God provides them with the security that no matter what else happens, God’s love is a sure thing.

Discipline creates disciples.

A disciple follows, imitating the one he or she loves and respects. Discipline teaches how to live abundantly, compassionately, and creatively with one another. Discipline is based on the delight of feeling loved and worthy, seeing oneself as a child of God.

With this in mind, how do you as a Sunday school teacher deal with behavior that may be disruptive, destructive, or dangerous?

Young children are curious and active, opening and shutting heavy doors, dumping crayons and puzzles on the floor, and running and shouting in the room. They need constant reminders to help them become disciplined as opposed to other methods which serve only as punishment.

A child must be stopped from hitting, biting, throwing heavy or breakable objects, kicking, running aimlessly about, or intentionally defying the rules. While everyone has a right to their feelings, there are limits as to how anger or frustration may be expressed.

Rules and limits are necessary to avoid chaos and inappropriate behavior. We can appreciate that children need to run and shout and explore, but there are appropriate times and places for each.

Creative discipline promotes positive experiences.

Imagine yourself in the child’s place. Amanda is having fun and does not want to stop. Recall times when you were forced to stop doing something you were enjoying. Say something like, “I know you are having fun and would like to stay in the puzzle center, but now it is time for the class to gather to sing. You may come back to the puzzle another day.”

Use distraction when possible. Sing a song as you take the child’s hand to lead him or her to gathering time, have a conversation about a favorite activity, or tell a story.

Use positive words. Instead of saying, “Don’t run,” try “Walk, please.” Children remember the last word you say.

Help children articulate their feelings and needs. If a child begins to fight or grab, ask the offender, “What would you like to tell (the other person)?” Helping a child express his or her feelings shows the child that he or she is heard and valued.

Offer clay, fingerpaint, physical exercise, or movement to music as opportunities to express feelings when words fail. Older children might also benefit from roleplay as a way to work through difficult situations.

Look for solutions rather than explanations. While playing with Matthew, Sarah ran and accidentally fell. When no one came to her rescue immediately, she began to get up and go on until an adult entered the scene asking, “What’s going on?” Becoming defensive, Sarah cried, “Matthew made me do it.”

The question, “What happened?” called for an explanation and a judge. Some problems are not answered, but rather lived through. “How can I help?” would have been a more appropriate question in this situation.

Create a support group.

When it comes to handling challenging situations with children, one of the best ways is to share concerns and ideas with others.

During your next teacher’s meeting or in an informal gathering over coffee or tea, consider the following:

• Write the first word that comes to your mind when you hear or read the word discipline.
• List the five most important words that come to mind for you in connection with teaching children. Compare these words with your discipline word.
• Discuss acceptable alternatives to distract or redirect behavior.
• Provide a list of substitutes or additional teachers as needed. An extra pair of hands for children who need it can be an advantage.
• Consider your expectations and decide if they are appropriate for this age group of children.
• Make a list of activities that give an outlet for pent-up feelings or a change of pace. Remember, young children become more tired from sitting still than from moving. They need large muscle activity.
• Divide into groups of three with a reporter in each group. Read Mark 1:16-20 and write a want ad for your church newsletter advertising for a teacher of children. List the requirements and responsibilities, the opportunities and benefits. Be imaginative. Be humorous.

Discuss and roleplay a particular problem you are having concerning discipline, or one of the following:

+ “It’s time to put away our toys.” “No!”
+ “I want it!” and grabs.
+ “Draw me a cat.” “I can’t.”
+ Throws a puzzle on the floor.

Don’t forget to pray for your childen as well as for yourself as you strive to provide a loving, caring classroom.

Discipline is a combination of love and limits. With God’s help, you can provide both.

What can you try this Sunday to improve the discipline in your classroom?

comments powered by Disqus