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Greg Baird


Physical touch can be used in a variety of ways -- always being careful to be appropriate, of course. This might include a firm but gentle grip on the shoulder as you speak "wisdom" (okay, discipline) into a child's life. Or you might use an open hand on the back to gently steer a child back to walking in the right direction if he tries to veer off into the land of misbehavior. High-fives, pats on the head, and side hugs can all be used to build a relationship, which is the cornerstone of effective instruction.

For example... as I led the music, a friend of my 8-year-old son, Taylor, tried hard to distract him. Poking him in the side, blowing on his face, and telling little boy jokes were having no effect (I was really proud of my son), but I knew it was probably only a matter of time until Taylor responded. So still playing and singing, I meandered over to where the boys sat. As everyone continued to sing (including me) I simply reached out and gently squeezed my son's friend on the shoulder. He hadn't seen me coming, and as he whipped his head around, I could tell I'd made my point. Without embarrassing him, I communicated the importance of what we were doing. He started paying attention, and within a few minutes he joined in the upbeat singing and motions that all the other kids were involved with.

Reasonable Expectations

As you instruct, keep this in mind: Kids are kids and aren't capable of behaving in an "adult" manner. Our expectations of a child's behavior must be reasonable. A good rule of thumb is that kids have about one minute of attention span for every year of their age. When that time's up, it's time to move on to a new activity. Active learning and reasonable behavior expectations are important parts of the process.

For example... one of my preschool teachers told the department coordinator she was frustrated with the boys in her class. She mentioned that these 4- and 5-year-olds were just so rowdy and energetic that she had a hard time controlling them. When the coordinator observed this teacher's class the following week, she discovered a youth volunteer who initiated wrestling time with the kids. Because of their age, these kids had a difficult time settling down after that. My coordinator suggested that, instead of wrestling, the youth volunteer could be more helpful by doing other activities with the kids, such as using modeling clay to create a scene from the story for the day. When this was done, the boys in the class immediately calmed down, and the entire class time was transformed.


Closely connected with reasonable expectations is a clear understanding of why kids might misbehave. There are lots of reasons, but understanding some of the more common ones and addressing them helps meet the needs a child might be expressing through misbehavior. When you address these needs, discipline usually is taken care of and you restore an environment conducive to instruction. Check out the "Ain't Misbehavin' " box for more insight into why kids act the way they do at times.

For example... when 3-year-old Alyssa wasn't eating after her family prayed, her father told her rather sternly to begin. Minutes passed. Alyssa only looked down at her lap. Becoming agitated, her father demanded, "Alyssa, you get busy!" Alyssa's lower lip quivered. She looked up with tears in her eyes and blurted out, "But I don't have a spoon!" This father learned a lifelong lesson to ask more questions for better understanding. That's a good lesson for us as well.

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