Dare to Discipline

Dare to Discipline
By Tom Barnhill

Children’s ministers share their secrets to success…

Are you frustrated with trying to maintain control in your classroom? We asked children’s ministers to share their secrets to successful discipline.

“I let kids know my expectations up front; I don’t necessarily let them know the consequences if they misbehave. I’m firm about it and I give biblical reason to behave. I tell them that by pleasing the teacher, they are pleasing God. It has worked each time.

“Just this past Sunday, I taught in a class where the fourth-grade boys had been monsters. And they were fine. I think kids will come up to the standard you expect. Kids want to please you.”

-Chris Daniel
Lakeland, Florida

“When I see a child not listening or paying attention, I go over and touch [his or her shoulder]. Or I may look at them to get their attention. I let them know they’re included in what we’re doing … For example, I say, ‘I’m glad you’re here’ or ‘I love you.’

“I’m talking about 3 to 5-year-olds here. But the technique is the same for any age. I can think of a time when a girl was talking. I went up to her and touched her. She quit talking and I had her attention.

“If I’m talking about an abstract idea and I notice kids are restless, I use examples that relate to their lives. Kids immediately pay attention and identify with things on their level. I ask questions to see if they understand and I emphasize only one main thought.”

-David Bunn
Seattle, Washington

“The assertive discipline program has worked with us. We post the rules in the classroom and reinforce them a lot, especially at times when new kids visit. The rules: (l) raise hands to speak; (2) keep hands and feet to self; (3) watch the teacher; and (4) listen to the teacher.


“Each time a child misbehaves during a class; these are the consequences-in order: (1) put name on board; (2) put check by name; (3) send note to parent; and (4) send child to parent.

“Once you establish the rules and consequences in the classroom and are consistent, it works. There has only been one time when we had to take a child to his parents. He was more of a challenge to discipline. But once he knew teachers would carry through with the consequences, it made an impact on him. It didn’t happen again. He didn’t even get any of the other three consequences.

“We award positive behavior with positive praise and rewards-stickers, candy, points for teams to earn class parties. Teachers make positive comments to kids who behave. Everyone who doesn’t get their name on the board gets a reward. When kids are on teams and earning points, we find kids put pressure on teammates to follow the rules.”

-Vicki Brown
Tallahassee, Florida

“The best defense is to be well-prepared and enthusiastic about teaching. Teachers need to use varied teaching methods to hold kids’ attention. And they have to interchange those methods each time in class.

“If kids still have problems, we back up to see why. We group girls and guys separately in various class settings. One man had a discipline problem with his boys’ class-third- to fifth-graders. I observed h~ wasn’t providing hands-on learning and was lecturing. He [changed and] initiated simple rules-keep hands to yourself and chairs on the floor. He has seen a remarkable difference and is thinking about going back to school to be an elementary teacher.

“My basic rule in children’s church is don’t do anything that prevents anyone from learning about Jesus. I’ve used overheads to give rules for the next segment in children’s church. But I only used those at first. Kids help others now to follow rules. I don’t have many discipline problems in children’s church. Once in a while, I’ve asked parents to sit with their kids who have a problem. I don’t do that with new kids because I have to win parents’ trust first. I always communicate with the parents the reason I ask them to sit with their kids.”

-LeeAnn Lehni
Bellingham, Washington


This article “Dare to Discipline” by Tom Barnhill is excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine, Spring 2001.