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How to discipline in Sunday School Class


8 Helpful Points to Target

In today's day and age the words "discipline" and "classroom" don't seem to go together. Teachers have been strictly warned against discipline, and some students use it to their advantage. Whether your teaching in a Christian setting, or a traditional classroom setting, discipline is an important part of learning. Without structure in a classroom, every student suffers, and teachers lose their passion for their art. Here are some ideas for you to keep your Sunday School classroom running smoothly, and creating an environment where students will look forward to coming and learning about God.

1. Start with the basics - a well organized, clean space

Are you able to focus and pay attention in a cluttered, messy room? Well, neither can kids! Have places for everything that are clearly labeled, and easy to reach. Make sure that they are responsible for picking up after each project and they take part in cleaning up. This is their classroom too, and taking part in the upkeep will give them a sense of pride. Your cheerful attitude will make the difference between this being a drudgery or child's play!

2. Make sure the rules are clearly outlined

However you choose to display the written rules of your class, make sure they are visible to even the smallest child. There are many posters out there for classrooms that have some good general rules in colorful print. At the beginning of each quarter make sure you go over the rules again and ask the children "Why?" - as in, "Why should we keep our hands to ourselves?" Kids love good rules, because it keeps things fair. Just make sure your rules are realistic and don't repeat themselves. I wouldn't go over 7 class rules, and keep them basic. The rule "Raise you hand if you would like to speak" covers "no shouting out", and " no talking when the teacher is speaking" , etc.

3. Yelling teachers are tuned out, silent teachers draw attention; have a signal!

You can't be hollering over kids heads, and nor should you be. It shouldn't be necessary to yell, but you do need to let them know things are not going well in the class at that moment. It's easy to get overwhelmed when the noise level is getting way to high, but keep your cool and signal to them. My signal is one the kids picked out: I place my finger on the top of my nose and wait. In response to this, each child who notices my silly position also places their finger on top of their nose and remains quiet. Soon everyone is pointing at their nose, and peace is restored. It's easy, and your class can make up their own silly signal that will bring the attention back to you so you can continue.

4. Provide Choices

The best form of discipline I have found is to offer choices. If your class has been sitting for longer that 15 minutes and it's time for the Bible lesson, why not offer the choice of sitting on the floor? Or drawing while you teach? This will keep the disruption level down, because there is variety in your class. I have several artistic kids in my class who actually pay attention and hear better when they can doodle on paper. I do have some guidelines though; it should reflect the story they are hearing. This lets me know they are on the same page!

Choices can also be given when you are playing a game, or what you will have for snack. They are little choices, but it does not take much for a child to enjoy the process.

5. Don't forget food!

I can't tell you how many children come to class without eating breakfast. The public schools recognize this and almost all provide some form of breakfast for children. I'm not taking about a gourmet breakfast, just a healthy snack like a juice box and a handful of something to nibble on. Do this towards the beginning of your class, and then they can be full and able to pay attention. Choose the child who is the most wiggly to say the blessing; sometimes it's all about being noticed, and having everyone quiet down while they pray is very affirming.

6. Praise good behavior as it happens, publicly!

Don't wait until after class to tell a child how well they were. Chances are you will be worn out and forget! When you see a child making a good decision, tell them right away. ("That was a great job picking up, Annie. Thank you for helping to keep the class clean!") Make sure you keep the praise even. Kids will notice if you always praise the same few students over and over. Even the loud-mouthed child deserves to be praised for something!

7. No public discipline!

I can't stress how vital this is. When you yell at a student in front of the whole class,they're entire being just shuts down. All they feel at that moment is embarrassment; and that's very hard to get over. They might be nodding and giving you the right answer, but all they want to do is just drop through the floor. It's been said the for ever one time you publicly embarrass a person, you need to publicly praise them ten times before that wound is healed. That is not the right environment for Sunday School class. These beautiful children need to trust their teachers.

8. Physical punishment

I shared a story with my students recently about being brought down to the principals office for a spanking for throwing snowballs. They're eyes were big and they giggled at my description of the Maintenance man who was responsible for doling out the spankings. As funny as it was to repeat, it goes without saying that we should never lay a hand on a child. These are not our children, and it is never our place to spank a child, even lightly on the wrist. If you ever feel the need to strike a child, I can safely say that you've let the situation go to far. As soon as you feel the child is becoming out of control, and you've tried giving him/her different options, it is time to return them to their parents. Hopefully you can all get together after church and discuss what happened, but either way, you need to remove the child before you feel the need to strike them. I can say with confidence, if you strike a child in your care you will be removed from teaching Sunday School, and possibly face charges.

I'd also like to add in this section to please be aware of any physical contact. Comforting an injured child by placing them on your lap for a hug can, most definitely, be taken out of context by a passer-by of your class. Although it seems extreeme, limit any contact to an arm around the shoulder to comfort them, and a hand on the shoulder to encourage them. This will protect you, as well as the child. You never know if a child has been abused; your well-meaning hug could actually be making them cringe inside.

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Problem students

We all have those one or two students who yell out repeatedly, ignore instruction, talk meanly, and just seem to make your day harder. I want to encourage you not to give up. There is a reason God placed them with you. As an adult and as a Christian, you are in a special place to minister to their heart. They might buck and fight you on it, but if you keep on loving them and reaching out I assure you, you will make a mark on their life. My advice for you is this:

- no personal attacks. "Why are you acting like this? You are being bad." etc.

- when they do well in your class, (even if it's for only 5 minutes) make sure you go to the parents with them and praise them! I can't tell you how much this will motivate good behavior next week!

- be fair! sometimes we get used to the same students acting up we get "pre-programmed" with annoyance towards them. Check your attitude and make sure that isn't happening. If this is still a struggle, you should pray that Jesus will help you to love them the way He loves them. If your heart is open and right, I guarantee your feelings toward this child will change!

- If issues are still unresolved, go to your Sunday school Superintendent, or supervisor. They have had much experience teaching and can give you some ideas that may help. They may also have an insight into family issues you were not aware of.

I hope this helps! I have been teaching for almost 15 years, and discipline is still an issue occasionally. I will leave you with a quote from The Discipline Guide For Children's Ministries:

"When we discipline children, we correct them in a way that shows them they are loved. When our kids sense our loving concern, they are much more willing to emulate our values and our relationship with God. Good discipline is guidance towards right behavior, which is much more effective than punishment towards wrong behavior."

Helpful books for your class


acts238girl1991 (author) from Putnam, CT on January 20, 2013:

I can't speak for other teachers on this, and each place of worship has their own policy, however in our class, we look at removing the child as a last resort. Since this was the 5 years olds first time in class, she might not have had an idea of what to expect. If she was sad to be removed out, then I am thinking it won't happen again. Most kids enjoy going to class, but at the same time we need to remember, she's only 5! Right now I am teaching ages 3-6, and only one is a girl. If I didn't expect some activity in class, I wouldn't be a very good teacher!

I can't say whether she should, or should not be put out of class. If she was hitting her sister repeatedly, it might really have become a distraction. (In our class if we let hitting slide once or twice, an immediate pattern is set and we are dealing with hitting for weeks!) Since she was a guest, I am thinking they may have just let it go until they couldn't anymore.

The fact that it was a sibling brings another issue. I teach my own children, and there are many family members going to church together. It's difficult to be the guide that has to show them that wrestling with your brother is OK at home, but not OK here!

What I would do is this: if she wants to come on Sunday, just mention it quickly, and don't dwell. Nothing is more embarrassing than having a past wrong brought up! Just mention that in class we need to keep our hands to ourselves and then I would periodically go back there an observe her (unseen: so you don't distract others or her). If you see any behavior that is questionable, you could speak to her quietly and just "remind" her of the rules. I would caution you about making a habit of it, because there really isn't a way to do that without distracting the whole class, and some kids will see you and think, "Time to go!" - then the teacher has to reign them all back in!!

If it looks like she's being fresh, but the teacher is handling it, let her/him.

Hopefully the good time she had will outweigh the experience of being removed, because even if we need to remove a student, we really do want them there. It's always a negative feeling for a teacher, too.

bravette2 on January 19, 2013:

Should a 5 year old be put out of a Sunday School class? I have been taking two little girls( ages 5 and 6) to church with me. This was the 5 year olds first time attending the class. On Sunday, January 13, 2013 with 15 minutes remaining in the church service. I look up and there is another older student escorting the 5 year old back to her mother and I. She had the saddest face and we were embarrassed. After the service ended we went to talk with the Sunday School teacher and she stated that, she was talking to much and that she and her sister were shoving each other. I do not feel that putting a child out of class is the answer. Please share with me your thoughts.

Jennie on June 11, 2012:

Thank you for your response act238. The age range I am working with is 5 to 7 year olds. I have on several occasions had a circle discussion time where I brought a note pad to the circle and asked each individual what they would like to learn about, I have gotten the same response each time .... I don't know.

This Sunday I prayed before I started class and asked for his covering over each student and asked that his spirit fill the room so that the enemy doesn't have room in there. I can honostly say the class went a lot smoother. We make fathers day gifts, played Bible trivia tic tac toe, and taught them about the birth of the church, the roles that was played, and the healing of the man infront of the gate that was crippled. It was fun! Thank you so much for your reply and your prayers


hiit on June 09, 2012:

Great hub, looking forward to come back and fascinted by your posts. Thank you.

Ron from Fitness Tips

acts238girl1991 (author) from Putnam, CT on June 08, 2012:

Hi Jennie,

What is the age range of your students? I am guessing in the 6-9 year old range, by the age of your daughter. This is such a tough age.

The first thing I recommend is having a short teachers prayer meeting before class starts. If your kids are covered in prayer, it won't give the devil a foothold. 75% of the problems can be solved in this way; why would our enemy want you to encourage them in God's word?

Secondly, tell the kids when they come in that you've noticed a difference in them and are praying for them, and encourage them to pray for each other too.

Thirdly, spend some time really listening to them. Ask them what stories they like in the Bible, what they li8ke to do (sing songs with actions, crafts, acting out the Bible story, etc) and then DO it! The most respect I ever earned from my class was when I just sat down with them ans asked, "What do YOU want to learn about in our class?" They were amazed I cared!

The biggest key to teaching is developing a relationship with these children that will last for years to come. Remember, you are training future Christians, teachers, preachers, and evangelists! If you can lead them to Christ, missing several Sunday School lessons is worth it!

Also, remember to spend time in prayer asking God to put into your heart the lessons to teach, the points to make. We don't know what some of these children are dealing with - even the one's raised in the church, but God does! I've had one simple comment about shoplifting earn a little boys respect for what I say years later. I had no idea his mother was stealing clothes and making him help, but when I said we still love those people - and need to pray for them, that did it! This little boy, who for years had been a troublemaker, actually started *listening* to what I was saying! What a blessing!! As a teacher, pray for your lesson, be flexible and willing to throw it out if God moves, and be prepared! No down time, keep it moving at a good pace. In our class, 1-2 minutes of a teacher looking at her lesson plan and I lse the class for the next 5 minutes!

Good Luck Jennie, I will be praying for you - let me know how it goes!

Jennie on June 06, 2012:

I am a Sunday School teacher and have been for three years now. Recently (since May) my class has become a nightmare. They refuse to follow directions, they are rude, inconsiderate of others etc. I have repeatedly asked politely for them to wait their turn to speak, to participate in all activities and so on. I have asked repeated offenders to sit out and then rejoin our group when they are ready to follow directions, I have turned lighgts out and had then sit with heads down, I have asked them what they would like to learn/do instead, I have bribed them with bigger prizes, parties .... with little to no response. It just keeps getting worse. I had one girl walk in and tell my little girl (she didn't know I was her mom) that she was annoying .... My little 7 year old tells me all the time that she is a desaster, no one likes her and that she hates herself, so I changed my lesson play the next week to go over how our words hurt others, and how the Bible says they are damaging and how the Bible tells us how we are supposed to talk, it didn't make any difference to them. I can ask them at the end of each class what they learned, what they thought about the lesson, and how they think they can use the lesson outside of class and each one replies with a "I don't know, I don't remember" answer. I specifically choose each craft to back up the lesson. I just do no know what to do any more. Any suggestions? Thanks Jennie

Ratanak Ou on September 15, 2011:

Well, I am so interested in your great hub. You have taught me a lot of how to discipline the children or primary school students.

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on September 14, 2011:

Acts - You sound like a great teacher and this is an excellent Hub. I had a teacher who would drop a book loudly on the floor to get everyone's attention. It worked. Great Hub - rated up!

acts238girl1991 (author) from Putnam, CT on September 09, 2011:

Although this hub wasn't designed to discuss whether or not Religion is fact, I decided to post your comment because I think you bring up a good point.

Certainly a child who wants more information is not a problem child; they simply have a more scientifically geared mind that needs - as you said - more evidence. Hopefully a good teacher will see this and reach out to this child, instead of brushing them off. A lot of the times they are lacking resources that will provide the evidence a child craves.

The information is out there, a teacher just needs the passion to pursue it.

As far as "brainwashing kids"; isn't that what we do to every single child on some level? Isn't a child who is taught to look both ways before crossing the street brainwashed to stop and look? Should we wait until they are 18 to teach them that, or err on the side of caution?

This hub is designed to assist Sunday School teachers in the area of discipline, so any comments regarding that will be most welcome!

Jesus was a hippy from United Kingdom on September 08, 2011:

I went to a christian school in the uk. I constantly questionned my religious education teacher because I felt that everything he told me, required evidence to back it up.

I had science classes, and the teacher always demonstrated what they were teaching ith a physical experiment. My religion teacher never did that though.

Since I was always the kid that posed the questions that he didn't want to answer, does that make me the problem child?

I personally think that telling children that the bible is fact is akin to child abuse. We all know that kids will believe anything (santa claus) so why dont we wait until they are old enough (18) to figure out thing for themselves?

I personally think that teaching religion in schools to children as fact, is plain wrong. Teach them about the religion by all means, but if you claim it as fact, then you are no better then someone who brainwashes their kids to be racist.

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