Help! A Kid Is Disrupting My Entire Class

Today, we're kicking off a Monday series to help with challenges you face in children's ministry.  Each Monday, we'll look at a specific challenge and how to overcome it.

Today, let's look at the challenge of a child disrupting the entire class to the point where it's almost impossible to continue.

Rules.  Be proactive and provide the kids with clear behavioral guidelines at the beginning of the class.  The child may be disruptive because he/she wasn't given instructions about what behavior is and isn't acceptable. 

One important note about this.  Make the "rules" positive.  You want the rules to highlight the good behavior you want to see from the kids.  Here's an example.

1. Talk when it's time to talk.
2. Listen when it's time to listen
3. Sing when it's time to sing.
4. Have fun!
5. Play when it's time to play the games and activities.

Notice how all these rules emphasize what you want the kids to do rather than what you don't want them to do. 

Relationship.  How the child responds to your instruction will be based on the quality of your relationship with him/her.  When a child knows you really care for them, it opens their heart to listen to your correction.  if you have a child that is being disruptive, seek ways to deepen your relationship with him/her.  This might mean spending time with them before the class starts or sending them a personal note during the week.

Realize there may be an underlying cause and you are simply seeing the symptoms.  The child may have anxiety because of stress in the home or at school.  He/she may be acting out because of personal turmoil or trouble.  Depending on the child's age, he/she may not be able to put into words what he/she is feeling and so they express it through misbehavior.

Another reason may be the child is seeking attention.  Children have a need for belonging and significance.  When they don't receive positive attention, they will act out to get attention, even if it's negative attention.

Kids also want the ability to make choices.  They have very little control over their life.  They are told what to eat, when to get up, when to go to bed, where to go to school, etc.  They may look for some type of control in your class.  Temper tantrums, talking back, not listening and other power struggles is the child's way of seeking control of their life.

The child could also be dealing with underlying mental health issues that are hindering him/her from behaving. 

When you know why a child is misbehaving, it enables you to know what to do in the situation. 

Respond with calmness.  Act don't react.  When your patience is stretched thin, you may be tempted to get angry or blow up or use harsh words.  Take a deep breath.  Don't raise your voice.  Don't "lose it."

This is a great opportunity to model the fruits of the spirit and show unconditional love.

Respect the child.   Don't call out the child publicly.  You do not want to embarrass or get in a power struggle in front of the other children.  Take the child aside and talk with him/her privately.  The goal is not public humiliation, but rather private consultation.

Reward good behavior.  One of the best ways to prevent a child from disrupting the class is to be proactive by rewarding good behavior.  Look back up at the rules section.  Let the entire class know if they do a good job at keeping the proactive, positive rules listed, then there will be a reward.  This will create positive peer pressure for everyone to behave.

You can also encourage good behavior in an individual child by making a "secret deal" with him/her.  Let the child know if they do well, they will receive a special, individual award.  The goal is to catch children being good and reward them for it.  This helps shift the focus to positive behavior.

Remove the child from the situation when necessary.  If the child is disrupting to the point where you can't continue the class, then move the child to a separate area for a time period.  This might mean having an area set up in the back corner of the room with a bean bag to sit on and a book to read, stress ball to hold, etc.

Here's an example.  You have a child in a small group that is disrupting the group they are in.
  • You pull the child out of the group and talk with him/her about their behavior (remember the tips above for talking with the child). 
  • You then have the child return to the group. 
  • If the child starts disrupting his/her group again, you pull them out of the group and talk with them again. 
  • You again return them to the group. 
  • If the child causes a third disturbance, you remove them from the group for the rest of the class time. 
Reach out the parents.  It's important to partner with the child's parents.  They will probably be embarrassed or upset with their child when they find out he/she is disrupting the class.  Reassure them of your love for the child and that you want to help their child have a great experience at church.  Ask if there are any issues or underlying problems that may be causing the behavior.  Ask how you can more effectively minister to their child.

When the parents know you care about their child and have his/her best interests in mind, they will welcome the partnership. 

Review what you are doing.  If you are having repeated disruptions in your class from several children, it could be your class format or curriculum.  Review your lesson strategy and make sure your lessons are interactive, participatory, engaging, relevant and give kids lots of opportunities to move and talk.

If you are expecting kids to sit still and be quiet for more than 5 minutes at a time while you teach them lecture-style, you are going to have disruptions.  Kids are wired to move and talk and interact.  Don't blame them for disrupting your lesson if it is boring.

Remind yourself of why you are doing this.  When disruptions take place, it's easy to get caught up in the tension of the situation and forget why you are there.  God has called you and placed you with the kids to help them know Jesus and follow Him.

God is working through you to impact their lives.  And that includes the times when you are helping them with behavioral issues.  Your goal is not to "call them out" but to "call them up" to be devoted followers of Jesus in their words, actions and attitudes.