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Discipline by Design

Jody Capehart


TAILOR YOUR SYSTEM

Although rules need to remain consistent, it's also important to factor personalities into the equation. Children often hear rules through the grid of their God-given personalities.

• For a strong-willed child who may evolve into a discipline problem without guidance, preface a desired behavior in words that empower; for example, "You can be in charge of cleaning up the block center."

• Fun-loving children may be busy talking with their friends and forget the rules. They usually respond well to warm, loving words about something enjoyable. You might say, "I wonder if we can get our centers all cleaned up by the time I count to 10? Then we'll have time to play a game."

• Otherwise calm, peace-loving children may have problems making transitions between experiences. They respond best when you provide warnings and time to respond. For example, "In five minutes, we'll move on to our centers."

• Perfectionists may have trouble because they get stuck emotionally or can't do something just right. They usually respond well to encouragement. You could say, "I know you're upset that those colors don't match, but it's a very detailed drawing. I'm sure your mom will want to hang it up when you get home."

REFINE YOUR SKILLS

Sometimes the more we use our voices while trying to discipline, the less effective they become. In other words, when we talk too much, children begin to tune us out. Instead, use these techniques.

Offer focused attention.
Ever noticed that children seem to act up whenever you're crunched for time, short on help, or expecting a classroom guest? Children are very sensitive to our moods and can tell when we're under the most pressure. If you ignore or isolate them -- or, even worse, yell at them -- the problems escalate and no one wins. The best solution is to stop and give children your undivided attention or, if they're young, simply hold them.

Move slowly and maintain eye contact.
Look into children's eyes and truly focus on them, just as Jesus did. Avoid turning your back on a child you've just disciplined; otherwise, you may inadvertently set yourself up for round two.

Act detached from the deed, not from the children.
Don't take children's misbehaviors personally. Pretend you're trying to win an Academy Award in detachment. As you begin acting that way, you'll actually start feeling that way.

When you do speak, pray that God will give you the right words and the right tone of voice. Our voices tend to go up when we're upset, which makes it harder for children to take us seriously. Instead, stair-step your voice down and use visual clues along with your words. As you state what you want children to do, nod your head and smile. As you state what you don't want them to do, shake your head "no."

Close the matter properly. Verify whether children understand you. Then ask kids to apologize to others involved, realizing that they may not. Don't force apologies; repentance is a learned skill. Even so, it's important to set forth the expectation that kids will apologize when they've hurt someone. Train children in the habit of apologizing and trust God to change their hearts.

Keep your sense of humor. Humor is an important principle of discipline because it helps us put things into perspective. Often we have to step back, take a few deep breaths, and pray that God will show us the lighter side of a situation. With little children who are squirmy and inattentive, you could say, "Did you eat wiggle worms for breakfast? I know you must've had silly cereal!" With older kids, you could say, "Is this my life, or am I in a TV show-because I'm ready for a commercial break!" Humor isn't for kids only; it helps us see the funny side, too.

When your ministry has an established, loving discipline strategy, children feel secure and are able to learn more. And teaching becomes a joy, not a chore.

Jody Capehart has more than 40 years' experience as a children's minister. She's the coauthor of The Discipline Guide for Children's Ministry and the author of numerous other books.

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