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Dealing with Disruptive Children in Sunday School

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Member Indy kicks off this topic with the following problem...

Our church has successfully been involved in the Rotational program for nearly 3 years. 

Some of our kids come from families that are unchurched, with moms and dads lacking in parenting skills, yet looking for something better for their family. Unfortunately, with dysfunctional families, come children who are wounded from emotional and/or physical neglect or abuse.

How can these children be best served? Do you have any suggestion for how to bring these children into a "normal" church classroom setting? We are experiencing discipline problems, disrespect of authority, etc.

It’s amazing how a few children can totally wreck a well-planned workshop. It’s discouraging to teachers, shepherds, disruptive to the class and disturbing to other parents who do not want their children raised alongside misfits.

Any suggestions?

Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Congratulations. You are now doing the real work of the church. Frustrating, isn't it?

Children need to know what their boundaries are. Well behaved, disciplined and loved children have a sense of what proper boundaries are and don't test the limits. Children who are lacking in some of these areas need artificial boundaries drawn, with consequences if they step beyond those boundaries.

My guess is that these kids might not have any ideas of what the rules of church are (they need to be defined) or what the consequences of breaking them are (taken out of the room by a shepherd and losing out on the fun). You can also develop a positive reinforcement program for those who follow the rules. Consistency about what the rules are and what will happen if you disobey is key. Most Sunday School teachers aren't strict disciplinarians -- they are kind, giving souls who love kids.

An extra shepherd, with a long-term role with some of the more difficult children might help.

Consider offering some parenting classes at some point (in a way that invites everyone, not just the "problem" parents).

Try and identify the catalyst, and be open to the idea that it might not be who you think (good kid pushing buttons). Our Wednesday program was wild last spring, but much of it boiled down to the interaction of two boys, which revved the rest up. Getting a handle on that helped a lot.

With parents, try and brainstorm how the "good" kids can be a positive influence on the "bad" rather than the other way around. (One hour on Sunday will not undo 167 hours of good parenting)

Finally, read the last chapter of the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" to your shepherds and teachers. You are making a giant step into the mission field.


Amen, couldn't agree more. Thought I'd post the revised addition that I gave to all the adults in the program.

Are children driving you crazy, here are some helpful hints

Consequences, when used properly can be very effective. I recommend you read the book by Stephen Glenn "Raising a Self-Reliant Child in a Self Indulgent World". This is a wonderful book and you may even find the 10-week seminar based on this book, go to It helps you understand the perceptions of a child, and once you can understand them, you can be so much more effective in guiding these children to behaving better. This may be worth passing on to the parents, too. Here are some of the things I learned.

First: Keep it simple. The consequence should never be more than just a simple way of correcting the problem, i.e...If two children continue to comment to each other, separate them, ask (sometimes simple hand jesters can work to not interrupt the class) if they would like to sit right by you...or...if one can't stop speaking ask if that child would like to read the Bible passages for this they are making a mess remind them that they will have to clean that up.

Second: Careful what you wish for. Idle threats will only proof you are not serious and you won’t do anything about the misbehaving, giving a child more reason to misbehave, and don’t threaten something that you will regret. i.e…“if you don’t behave we will sit out in the hall for the rest of the hour” who is being punished here.

Third: Never let them see you sweat. Once you show any signs of anger or frustration the child will feel a great sense of power. I always have a half smile on my face when the child is driving me crazy, just to confuse them.

Forth: R E S P E C T. They may be driving you crazy, because all they may want is to be heard. A luxury they may not get at home. Your patients and listening ears must grow 20 times bigger so they feel heard, who cares if you have to interrupt the class to respond to them, THEY DO, as long as you get back on focus fast.

Fifth: Humor is the spice of life. Let them see you joke a little, life is a gift from God, enjoy it, let them know you enjoy it…or do you really want them as miserable as you are? Which will only make things more miserable.

Sixth: Grease your shoulders. I know we don’t think that we are holding a grudge, but we are not in a child’s mind. If I had to correct a behavior problem, I make it a point to get friendly and connect with that child the next 1-3 times I see them, knocking down any chip they may think I have on my shoulders.

Seventh: Go the Distance. Ask questions to get them to understand the problem. If they need to be removed, hand jester to Tommy and quietly lead him out of the room. Ask "Tommy why do you think I brought you out here?" if Tommy doesn't know "Okay we'll just wait until you figure it out" give it a minute or two before hinting about the problem. Once Tommy admits to problem ask, "Is that is the way you should behave" if Tommy doesn't know "Okay we'll just wait until you figure it out" Once Tommy answer say, "Now if I allow you to go back in the room how will you behave?" then "Now Tommy what should I do if you misbehave again today?" Come to an agreement. Notice how the word YOU is used.

Eighth: Take it to the Lord in Prayer. When you need to remove the child end in a prayer, start the prayer and ask the child to end it, “We should pray before going back into the classroom so God can help us too. I’ll start the prayer and when I (i.e. touch your shoulder, squeeze your hand or say your name) you finish the prayer. If the child can only say amen at least he has committed to the prayer.

You will see a change in a child if you are consistent, kind, and really want to make a difference in their life.

Disclaimer: This will not solve all your problems, but if you what to know what always keeps that half smile on my face, I just remember that I don’t have to take that child home with me.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

(Original poster responds...)


All of the advice and insightful suggestions have been tremendously helpful and encouraging.


We have started a Behavior "token" system.

The children have been very responsive and teachers are smiling, again.


Here's how it works:

Upon arrival, each child is given 3 tokens ~ one green, one yellow and one red. They are reminded of approriate behavior at the beginning of each session by saying a pledge which was written specifically to remind them to “follow directions, be respectful and listen”. Each child is given ONE reminder to follow rules. If they continue to misbehave, the green token is collected. If they still have a problem, the yellow token is taken and they are removed from class. The child is then counseled and asked to complete a behavior-form as to why their behavior was inappropriate. This gives the child time to reflect on their behavior and how their action was inappropriate. The parent is shown and asked to sign the form and it is kept on-record.


At the end of the teaching session, children who have all three tokens receives a surprise from a grab-bag. [piece of candy] All the leaders are very pleased with the responsiveness of the kids! Appriopriate behavior of showing respect for teachers and other classmates has made for a much happier class atmosphere. We can do so many more fun things when everyone is working together! Leaders applaude the children who are making this happen!


Again, I truly appreciate all the helpful responses.

Last edited by Wormy the Helpful Worm

We use a little-known method of discipline called "Miss Joy's Little Red Carpet".


Our kids are reminded (nicely) of appropriate behavior by their shepherd. However if the behaviors persist, they are brought to my office to sit on the little red carpet (A small area rug). This is a thinking spot/cooling off zone. The main thing it does is remove the distraction from the rest of the group and gives the child time to rethink his


Most kids HATE being separated from where the action is! Most kids will cooperate with you rather than not get to participate in the activities. We always couple this with a word with the parents.


One thing I make sure of is that I am the only one who carries out any discipline. That way, shepherds can be shepherds. Also - just a reminder- no child is ever in the office with the door closed, and they are always supervised. (Usually by me, while I do paperwork.) Making that environment super boring is another great motivation for kids to get back on track! Because in everything else we are anything but boring!



btw. In my experience, candy bribes pale after time and you have to "up the ante". I've found just directly addressing the behavior and rewarding verbally and with attention works better for us. Good luck! JOY

Last edited by Wormy the Helpful Worm
I have to admit that I'm not above bribing the kids in our program. I'm just trying to be creative about it.

We run a rewards program for all our kids that we call Banana Bucks where the kids get a banana stamp in their "savings book" for several things like just showing up, bringing a bible, knowing the memory verse etc. Every quarter we open the banana bucks store where they can redeem their stamps for small toys or save them for a big prize (our current big prize is a cotton candy machine.)

We have two very troubled children that attend our program and we've extended the banana bucks program a bit for them. We targeted one specific area for each of them (not hitting for one child, no yelling/screaming at other children for the other) and we give them extra stamps at the end of the morning if they've done a good job at trying to curb their behavior.

So far we've found the postive rewards have worked well with all our kids.

By the way, our store is run by some of our older parish members. It's been a great way to include them in children's ministry and they encourage the kids each week in church to keep earning points, even coaching a few at coffee hour on their memory verse.

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