4 Ways to Address Challenging Behavior in Kids Ministry

Kids are kids, and they do kid things. But sometimes, those kid things are a challenge when leading a classroom full of students.

When you notice a behavior that stands out to you, ask yourself, “Is this behavior causing a safety concern or distracting the other kids, or is it only bothering me?”

For example, it’s hard to ignore the lone two-year-old who’s standing up in the middle of the lesson after you’ve asked them to sit down three times, but if none of the other kids care, it’s something you can just leave be.

If you do determine a behavior is unsafe or distracting to the other kids, try these four strategies to help you think on your feet and deal with challenging behavior compassionately and effectively.

4 Ways to Address Challenging Behavior in Kids Ministry

1. Give kids an activity they can do instead.

Asking a child to stop a challenging behavior may stop it for a moment, but redirecting them to a new, more appropriate activity helps them to leave it behind altogether.

Redirection tip: When you redirect a child, stay with them and do the new activity with them to help them stay interested.

Here are a few redirection techniques to help you deal with some common behaviors.

  • Running: Say, “Let’s stay safe by using our walking feet.” Gently walk with the child and play with them until they are focused on an activity that doesn’t involve running.
  • Hitting: Say, “It hurts when we hit. Let’s use gentle hands instead,” and give the child an opportunity to use their hands in an appropriate way, such as giving you a high five or holding your hand. Once they’re calmer, re-engage them in play or refocus them on the learning activity. If necessary, separate them from the child they were hitting.
  • Not sharing: Say, “All of these toys are for sharing. When they’re finished, you can have a turn.” While the child is waiting, help them find a different toy to play with, and remember to follow through on the turn you promised! For more tips on mastering play time, watch our free training.
  • Shouting: Say, “Let’s use quiet voices. Tell me again in a quiet voice so I can understand you.” Listen closely, and act impressed when the child speaks very quietly to you.
  • Screaming/crying: Say, “I can’t understand you when you’re crying. Can you try to tell me again?” Encourage the child to speak to you until they can communicate their problem or feelings without crying. Move on to an appropriate activity together once they calm down.

2. Be positive.

Use praise, kind words, and encouragement. Positive, encouraging leadership motivates kids to move in the right direction and can actually prevent some challenging behaviors.

Here are a few ways you can model positivity in the classroom.

  • Praise. When you see a kid doing a great job, praise them specifically for it. Say things like, “Thank you, Casey, for putting toys away. You’re a great example to follow,” or “Wow, did you see the way Jalen shared! She is being a great friend!”
  • Humor: Sometimes all a kid needs is a good joke. Stay near them and do something silly, like telling all the kids they’re puppies or pretending you just ate a bottle of hot sauce. Once you get a giggle, a kid may be able to reset and try again. Avoid tickling and forcing yourself into a child’s “bubble.” This can be threatening and cause more distress.
  • Kind words: Just being nice to a kid helps them to feel secure, precious, and loved enough to connect to you instead of seeking out inappropriate behaviors. Be generous with kind words like, “It’s great to see you!” “Good job,” or “You’re so fun!”.

3. Have a neutral attitude.

Use calm, non-threatening speech, posture, and body language. Negative or overexcited words, body language, and facial expressions may increase a child’s level of shame and distress, which in turn causes more challenging behavior.

You may be highly agitated on the inside in response to a child’s behavior, but there are techniques you can use to avoid elevating the situation:

  • Ignore a first offense: If a child does something that is out of line one time and no one is hurt, try ignoring the situation. If the child doesn’t get the attention they expected, they may not try the behavior again.
  • Regulate body language: Relax your face, sit on the floor or kneel, sit beside the child instead of face to face, modulate your voice to be calm, keep your hands loose and unclenched, and avoid staring the child down.
  • Let go of hard feelings: If you feel agitated after the situation is over, discreetly talk with a trusted friend to get it off your chest and avoid grudges. Ask God to help you let it go. Both you and the kid need a fresh start the next time around.

4. Get help.

Know where to turn or who to ask for help if a situation becomes more than you can handle. When a child is overstimulated or nonresponsive to everything you’re doing, you need to know who can help so you don’t act out of anger or frustration.

You can find help in the following areas.

  • Prayer: The best wisdom you can ever get in leading a child comes from the one who knows the best way to lead everyone. Take a moment to pray before you approach the child.
  • Another leader: Someone else in the room with you may have success redirecting the child.
  • Experience Coach: In LifeKids at Life.Church, there is an Experience Coach in the hall who can be contacted via walkie-talkie. They can take a child out of your room for a moment, talk with them, go for a walk with them, and help them calm down so they can try again.
  • Mentor leader: Talk through your situation with someone who handles challenging behavior well, and see what strategies they use that might help you, too.
  • LifeKids Buddy: Some kids may exhibit a disruptive or unsafe behavior week after week. Talk to your Experience Coach or your campus LifeKids Staff to see if a LifeKids Buddy is an option to give the child the one-on-one leadership and attention they need for success.

Video: What’s a LifeKids Buddy?

Remember, the end goal is not to punish and shame a child into a rigid format of behavior. It is to extend grace to them so that they can better understand the love of Christ.

Want more training about how to address behavior? Watch our free training videos at open.life.church/training.


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