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Chapter 4


“It is really hard as a parent to face my son on Friday open house and have him burst into tears and tell me how he wanted to “run away” because the counsellor was so mean. He is definitely soured on camp. I mean it will take a year of prayer and discussion to convince him to come back next year. The counsellor apparently does not know that one short week can possibly poison a young mind towards the church and Christianity.” (Evangelising Today’s Child, May/June 1988)

This penetrating statement, the evaluation of a parent concerning her son’s camping experience, drives home a very significant point. When discipline is handled in a poor manner, it can do tremendous damage. Discipline must nurture relationships rather than tear them down! In fact, how we discipline will make or break our junior youth programme. We need a deeper understanding of what discipline is all about and how to discipline trouble makers, in order to learn how to keep children under control.

Discipline is:
* learning, or a process by which people learn, what is acceptable, desirable for all
* the use of various methods to develop positive character qualities in an individual
* not simply a matter of punishment for breaking the rules
* encouraging an individual to be a positive influence in society for Jesus Christ
* a challenge and privilege to help children learn
* an opportunity for the discipling of children
* helping children to develop self-control

These definitions reveal that discipline is not to a child, but for a child. The concern is placed on seeing the child’s potential, rather than seeing the child as a problem; in other words, seeing the child as they can become, rather than as they are.

Discipline has a very clear Biblical basis, as evidenced by the following Scriptures: Prov 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Prov 19:18: “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.” Prov 22:15: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Prov 23:13f: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” Prov 29:15: “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”

Hangers flew from the top of the clothes closet as I cautiously ducked into the second-grade class room. Boys chased each other with open scissors in their hands. Laughing, shrieking - bedlam - greeted me as the principal said, “Please take over. Their teacher left at noon...permanently.” With no time to plan, I grabbed some blank paper and the book I had been reading to my own second graders next door, thus arming myself for the battle ahead. The Lord has received many arrow prayers, but none said more sincerely than mine that day. “Lord, it’s up to You,” I breathed as I attempted to settle the class. “I like the way bobby is sitting down,” I said in a quiet voice. It was obvious that all the boys tearing in and out of the room were not going to hear me, let alone Antoinette (“Toni”) who was screaming from the top of the closet. So I proceeded to walk to the chalkboard and drew a large happy face. Then I wrote down the names of those who had returned to their desks and who had become mesmerised by what I was doing. In less than five minutes, all of the children had returned to their seats, and I wrote each name with a flourish. While proceeding to read to them my heart cried out, “What next, Lord?” I remained in the classroom as substitute teacher for ten unforgettable days and became grounded in some discipline techniques which I learned from God’s knee. Now, many years later, I continue to benefit from techniques used with that totally disruptive class. (From, Shapers of Clay, by Nancy Thomason)

Having read the case study, it is clear that there are a number of tools available for use when disciplining children.


Get to know the junior youth group members, find out and learn their names. A name is a very personal thing. Knowing their names will show that you are interested in them as individuals and that you have a special concern for them as people. Jesus set the example of calling people by name: Zacchaeus (Lk 19:5) and Mary (Jn 20:16).

Complimenting children who are doing what you expect of them is far more effective than the negative counterpart: “Don’t do that!” Rather tell a child what to do than what not to do! The trouble with negative reactions is that they enforce the bad behaviour and exhaust the teacher. Stress the positive in the good children.

It is necessary to follow through with any threats that have been made. When threats are not taken seriously, anarchy results.

Never try to out-shout the experts at shouting. The Bible gives an answer to this shouting problem, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1). One of the most effective ways of silencing two or more children who are whispering to each other while you are speaking, is to simply stop talking abruptly and look at the offenders. When they stop talking, quietly say, “Thank you,” to them and proceed with the lesson. The leader can also stop talking and start to count up from 1 until the children are quiet, and then continue. Different actions can be used to help keep children quiet, such as placing the index finger of your right hand over your mouth, and the index finger of your left hand straight into the air. Instruct children to copy your action. The peer group effect generated will soon silence the noisy children.

It is important to explore the reasons why it is necessary to correct children in a junior youth context. Why do children misbehave? Reasons are numerous, here are a few:

At a holiday club I reprimanded a boy for hurting a smaller boy, pointing out that it was unfair for him to bully the smaller chap. The boy replied, “My Dad hits me when he gets drunk, and he is bigger than me.” It took a while to explain that his Dad’s actions were equally wrong before he offered an apology. A negative home situation can cause children to behave in inappropriate ways.

Programmes that are boring will lose the attention of the children, and the natural response will be misbehaviour. The programme must be conducted in an interesting and arresting manner using all the creativity that you can muster. Be selective about what you include in your programmes, ie. Do not read chapters from the Bible as you will lose the children. With creative planning and adequate preparation you will be sure to keep the attention of the children.

Often new children are the cause of misbehaviour and it is because they do not know the rules. There are two basic rules that children must follow:

(1) Respect One Another - Matthew 22:39
This rule is seen in practise when one person speaks at a time, or when hands are raised to answer questions.

(2) Be obedient to Authority - Ephesians 6:1,5
Children should be taught to obey those who are in charge of them.

There are several reasons for immaturity. The child may be chronologically younger and if a boy, who mature later than girls, the problem is compounded. The reason may be emotional. Parents often treat their children in such a way that their emotional development is stifled. There may be mental reasons for the immaturity if the child has a lower intelligence. How should we deal with immature children?
(1) Pray for the child specifically.
(2) Praise them for work or behaviour that is positive, give extra attention to them.
(3) Chose an older child to be a big brother or sister to the immature child.

Lawrence Richards in, Children: The Lively Learners, offers the following general guidelines for a leader wanting to maintain a healthy learning atmosphere:
(1) Keep the classroom (hall) interesting and conducive to order
(2) Plan activities so that children are occupied all the time
(3) Don’t talk so much that Children become restless
(4) Try to give every child attention every week, speaking directly to them
(5) Friends are bound to talk to each other. If they disturb, separate them
(6) Let the children know why they must not be noisy
(7) Set a standard for behaviour in the group
(8) Use these statements and questions to help children develop self-control:
* When you are all sitting quietly, we’ll have our story
* John, will you and James try to keep two chairs between you?
* Chris, did you have something that you wanted to say?
(9) Use firmness motivated by a desire that all in the group are able to learn

In an article in, Evangelising Today’s Child, entitled, “How to Discipline without Building Walls,” Stan White offers the following guidelines on confronting a child in need of discipline for a specific offence: (1) Discipline with understanding - Communicate to the child that you understand his situation by showing empathy. (2) Be tentative - Flexibility in approaching a situation will ensure that you are sure about the behaviour that you want to discipline. (3) Check your motivation - Why are you disciplining the child? If it is out of retaliation the child will detect this and any relationship that may develop will be destroyed. (4) Show involvement - The child must sense that you’re there to love and support him or her even after the discipline. (5) Be merciful - Discipline must be redemptive. James 2:13 says, “judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement!” (6) Consider the emotional and mental state of the child - Do not discipline a child who is very tired, or who has gone through an emotionally draining experience unrelated to his bad behaviour. (7) Give specific direction - Give the child clear directions on how he can improve in the area being disciplined. (8) Describe the behaviour - Use descriptive language rather than commanding, labelling, judging, accusing, or being sarcastic when verbalising negative behaviour. (9) Discipline with the future in mind - Make sure that the child knows that you want the relationship to continue into the future. Show a willingness to walk alongside the child to overcome the behaviour.

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