I was thinking about discipline in the church setting the other day. There are a couple of trains of thought about this: We are here to love them, not discipline them! or We are here to make sure they walk the straight and narrow! The truth about our call as Christian leaders of preschoolers and children is somewhere mixed up in both of these!
From a recent example in my own classroom: I teach in a mixed age classroom — about 15-20 kindergarten through 5th graders. This particular night, I had all 16 stand up, leading them in some silly stretches (to get them moving a bit after having been still in the class before ours). One of my more challenging students often balks at doing what I ask — sometimes acting very silly and out of control, sometimes choosing to exit the class for the bathroom, sometimes instigating others to inattention by talking over me or engaging someone in a side conversation. This night, though, there was open verbal defiance: “I’m not doing that.”
I had several choices. I chose to re-direct verbally, “Well! You sure are grumpy!” This prompted a somewhat nominal involvement in the activity (raising our arms and wiggling our fingers). When we moved to the next movement/stretch (can’t remember now what that was!), again, flat out, “I’m not doing that.” And before I could get a redirection out, another, younger, child said, “I’m not doing that, either.” Keep in mind, I’ve asked them to do nothing that would single them out, or anything that would harm anyone in any way, simply getting our wiggles out. So, I chose again to verbally redirect. “Well! There must have been something that these two ate that made them grumpy!” There were some giggles, and the second child complied.
We moved on to another stretch, and, again, “I’m not doing that,” which I chose to ignore. At this point, one of the youngest students giggled and said, “I’m not doing that.” By this time, I was completely frustrated by the older child who had started the whole thing. And I let my frustration overtake me. “Now do you see why it’s important for those of you who are older to be careful what you say and how you act? The little ones see what you do and copy you.” The response? “I don’t care,” with a shrug of a shoulder. My response? “Then we need to have a conversation in the hall.”
The first train of thought would say, “They don’t have to do everything you prepare for them. They didn’t hurt anyone. Offer mercy. And a cookie.” The second train of thought would say, “Okay, miss or mister. That’s it. Time out. Now. And no fun stuff the rest of the night.”
My response was somewhere in between, and wasn’t very sensitive to calling the child out in front of peers. Definitely born of frustration, and probably pride. Not necessarily motivated by love or grace. Just trying to survive a challenge.
If so challenged, do you have a plan? One that includes BOTH trains of thought? One that includes a space for grace (even if this child continually pushes all the buttons?!), AND the reality that we ARE there to help guide these children in the way they should go. We’re here to guide them toward Christ, with an understanding that bending to a teacher’s will helps shape them for bending to God’s will for them — and even the smallest in our care are on this same journey!
Our guest writer is Amanda Lott, Associate Pastor for Children’s Ministry at Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond.