Nothing can derail my small group quicker than discipline issues! And when these issues arise, I begin to wonder if I’m making any impact at all. Let’s face it; dealing with discipline can be one of the hardest things we face as small group leaders!
We all have needs. And when those needs are not being met is when you see behavior issues begin to rise. Besides our basic physical and spiritual needs, we have psychological needs as well. Healthy small groups should be ideal environments to feed psychological needs. The basic psychological needs every child is looking for when they walk into your small group is to be LOVED, to BELONG, to have POWER, to make an IMPACT, to have FUN and to be FREE.
Think about some of your kids who require more grace… Are they already struggling with feeling loved and belonging at home, school, or church? Do they feel significant in your group? Does what they do and say matter to others? Are they having fun in your group? And are your kids having a chance to participate in activities that allow them to think, make decisions, and get their wiggles out?
Here are a few tricks of the trade I’ve learned along the way that have helped keep order and peace in my groups:
To help my over-talker give other children time to speak, I use a fun object to manage conversation. Whoever is holding the object has the turn to talk.
For my wiggle worms it’s important to use the activities in my lesson which allow for movement. Sitting too long can make any active child lose focus.
Do you have the I-just-can’t-keep-my-hands-to-myself kid in your group? That’s the kid I love to pull my chair up next to! Sticking close to him is a great way to prevent a wrestling match on a Sunday morning!
With my let’s-see-if-I-can-get-you-to-pull-your-hair-out-by-the-end-of-class kiddo, I make eye contact and always use her name in a positive manner when speaking to her. Sometimes I will continue speaking to the group as a whole while gently resting my hand on the disruptive child’s arm or shoulder. This is the child that I will sometimes give an important task to or allow to be my helper. Responsibility has a way of redirecting this child’s energy.
In challenging seasons, setting the tone at the start of class always helps. I let my kids know what I expect of them during our time together; I ask that they be respectful to each other, good listeners, and participate as best they can. Then I let them know what they can expect of me; that I will listen to each of them, I will be fair, and most of all that we will have fun. When addressing any discipline issues after that, I can always refer back to this conversation.
On mornings that seem to fall apart, my priority is connecting with kids, not completing an activity. It’s OKAY to put my lesson aside and simply ask questions that show my kids I’m interested in their lives and I care about them.
What about you? How does discipline look in your group? I’d love a few pointers!