Dealing with Discipline: classroom and ministry ideas and tips

Whether you are a classroom teacher, a parent, a small group leader, or a Sunday school teacher, I would bet you spend a good amount of time dealing with discipline.

Discipline is a sensitive topic.  When it comes to dealing with discipline, everyone has their own ideas and procedures.
“How do you deal with kids when they are being disruptive?” is a question I have been asked a lot.  Some of you know that often what I write can apply to many different situations, and I often relate it to  ministry.  From 7 years experience in a classroom setting and quite a few years in a ministry setting,  here are a few things we do when dealing with discipline and classroom management. 

5 steps for Dealing with Discipline

1. The Look–

It is amazing how effective it can be just by giving ‘the look’.  Most of the time kids know that their behavior is not acceptable, and simply catching their eye is enough to let them know that you see what they are doing.  Knowing they ‘got caught’ will often cause them to stop.  Mothers are especially good at giving this look. (now that I think about it, so are wives, but that is another topic for another day)  And I am sure that you can all remember receiving the look at some point in your life.

2. Proximity–

When the look doesn’t work, do what you can to change your location so you are closer to the child ‘misbehaving’.  As you get closer, often the behavior will change before you get there, as they begin to anticipate the consequences you may bring with you.

3.  A touch

If standing near a child does not change the behavior, sometimes a hand on their shoulder will make them aware that you are standing there, and you see or hear what they are doing, and it also lets them know you are not pleased with what is happening.


Notice that the above 3 tips can be done without saying a word.  If you are teaching or telling a story you do not need to stop in order to attempt to correct the behavior.  Making eye contact or walking around the room is something that can be done as you continue to teach or talk.  In a ministry setting this often means making eye contact with another leader in the room and the leader going to sit next to/near the distraction.  The ‘proximity’ will often settle the issue.

It is my thought that you need to do everything you can to take care of the problem without directly drawing attention to it.  That means gone are the days of putting a child’s name on the chalkboard and adding check marks.  Do what you can to continue the normal routine without stopping your teaching/talking to address the child.  This will give attention, which is sometimes what they are looking for.  They end up with negative attention instead of the positive attention they may need.

If the above tips don’t help, you can move on to a few others.

4. Quiet conversation

5 tips for dealing with discipline


Since tip #3 will have you near the child, and you are finding that is not working, bend down and talk into their ear.  Let them know that what they are doing is not acceptable at the moment and you would like them to work harder at being a better listener.  Have this conversation quiet enough that the rest of the group does not hear.  Remember, you are attempting to change behavior, not embarrass a child in front of peers.  Side note–when talking to kids, get down to their level.  For me, that often means kneeling down to look face to face.  Just think how you would feel if everyone always seemed to ‘look and talk down’ to you.  Face to face conversation is very important, and can convey that you really care for the child you are talking to.

5. Remove from the situation

Occasionally there may be times that none of the above will work. For the sake of the whole group you need to remove the distraction.  This is done quietly–you can move the child to the hall or office  if in a classroom, or if in a ministry setting you can have a leader take the child to a different room.

#5 should not be a first response.  It should be a last resort.

Possible causes for misbehaving

Something to remember:  if a child is acting out or ‘misbehaving’ there is often a reason for it.  That child could have a difficult situation at home.  I have known children to act out because they did not have breakfast that morning and they were hungry.  Often their behavior is asking for attention.  They may not get the attention they need at home, so negative attention from you is better than no attention at all.

With that in mind, do not forget to praise the behavior you are expecting.  By nature, most children want to please adults.  When you acknowledge the positive behavior that is acceptable in your setting, you are reinforcing that behavior in the rest of the group.  They will want you to notice that they are behaving.  It is so much better to call a name to praise them rather than call their name to discipline them.


What about you?

I know this is not a complete list, but these are the few steps that work for me.  Do you have any tips to share about dealing with discipline?


 I would be interested to know how you handle discipline issues.  What else would you add to my list?  From a classroom or a ministry view.   What works for you?  Leave a comment.  Something you say could inspire someone who reads later.




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About the Author

Ron is happily married to his best friend, and dad to the best daughter you could imagine. As a teacher and children's pastor, he has over 20 years experience of teaching, leading, writing, creating and consulting. He has written for churches, contributed to several collaborative publications, and written a #1 Best Selling Devotional, Got Fruit? on Amazon. His blog is consistantly listed in the Top 40 Children's Ministry Blogs and Websites. Don't hesitate to ask if you think he could help you and your ministry in any way.

3 Comments on "Dealing with Discipline: classroom and ministry ideas and tips"

  1. You know I’m going to say I love this post. You are spot on about some kids needing adult attention. Hurting kids especially need that measure of grace at church. I developed my “look” years ago and still use it today. The BEST tip ever! 🙂

  2. Great post! I’ll be sharing this for sure.

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