It's nobody's favorite thing to do, but discipline is important if you want to have an effective ministry. As everyone has their own way of doing things, I'm just going to share with you the things that have worked for me and that I use within my own department.
1) You need and authoritative name.
This might seem like a small thing, but it's actually pretty important. At my church I am Pastor Toni to the kids. This sets me apart as the one in charge. I'm not just "Toni". Toni sounds like their friend and I am not there to be their buddy. I am their Pastor. I love them, I want to know them and what is important to them, but I can not be their pal and be in authority over them. All of my volunteers also have titles like Ms. Cindy, Ms. Dorothy, or Ms. Helen. It is important that the children see them as authority figures as well and those titles help with that. So, choose your title and then teach the children to use it. As I said, it might seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference.
2) When you make rules, stick to them. EXPECT the children to follow them.
We have very few rules in my department, but the ones we have are important and I am a stickler about them. They are as follows:
*No running unless we are playing a game that requires it
*No talking when I'm talking
*If you brought anything with you, it goes under your chair.
*Go to the bathroom and get a drink during the 5 minute warning because it is not allowed during service (unless it is an emergency)
*After you have been signed in, you may not leave the children's department until you have been signed out.
It takes a little time for the kids to learn the rules, but once they do, they are expected to follow them. I have learned over the years that what I expect out of children is what I will get. If I expect them to behave and they know that expectation, generally they will live up to what it expected of them. Some kids you have to take aside and be a bit more firm about what is expected, but most of the time, you will get the behavior you expect.
3) When necessary, be firm. NEVER yell.
There are times when I will have a child whose behavior needs some work. When I can, I will take that child aside and very firmly tell them what is appropriate and what is not. Never ever yell. They will turn you off immediately. I tell them that I do all I can to plan really fun things to do in children's church and if they want to be a part of what we do, they WILL behave, or they will not be a part. And then I stick to what I said. If they don't change their behavior, I calmly ask them to sit out of the activities or games. The choice becomes theirs then and once they realize that I mean what I say, they hopefully will make different choices.
There are times when I can not take the child aside because of the situation. I try not to call out children in front of others, but if it becomes necessary, do it quickly and firmly, and then go right back to what you were doing. Do not let that child's choices change the dynamic of the service for more than a few seconds. For example, if I were in the midst of telling a story to the children and a child was continually interrupting, I would stop, turn to that child, change my demeanor to one of sternness, and say, "Fred, I need to to stop that right now. Now is the time for listening." Then I would immediately go back to "story mode" as if nothing had happened. Fred got the point, but the class was only disrupted for about 10 seconds.
4) Games are a powerful behavior modification tool
On occasion, there are times when the children just seem to be a bit squirrelly. They don't want to pay attention. They talk out. They are disruptive. Early on, I told the kids what was expected of them and then I said, "If you're not paying attention, we won't be able to get through all that I have planned and if I have to cut something because of your behavior, it will ALWAYS be a game." So, when I have those days where the kids are not paying attention, I simply lean back and stand very quietly. When the kids notice what I'm doing I'll say, "It's alright, I can always cut a game." Nearly every time they will quiet down because they do not want to lose a game. And they will even get on others when they start to act up. I've heard them say, "Be quiet, she'll cut a game." Of course that means, you always need a game you can pull out to play at the end if there is time, but generally that is not difficult to do if you plan for it.
Over the years, I have learned one thing about children and discipline. The children who I tend to have to discipline the most, are the ones who seem to like me the best. I am not mean, but I am firm. And I treat all the children with respect, but I mean what I say and they know it. And they also know that I discipline them because I care. I want them to learn and I want them to grow and to do that, they have to behave.
I'm not saying that I never have a discipline issue, but the above tips have helped keep them at a minimum. I hope you find them helpful too.
Till next week.