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Too Quick to Discipline?

I used to work at a preschool many years ago. Lauren was a full-day child… and she just had the hardest time waking up and getting herself going after nap time. I remember subbing in her class one day… and after the lights came back on and we woke up all the kids, Lauren just looked absolutely miserable. But our protocol is get all the kids up, send them on a visit to the restroom, wash hands, and go outside for snacks and play time. Lauren just looked up and me and whimpered, “I’m freaking out… I just need to chill!” Yes, awfully cute coming out of a 3-year old’s mouth. After I sent all the other kids out, I stayed in the room just tidying up while Lauren chilled out. About 5 minutes later of being left alone, she got up, picked up her sleeping mat, put it away, came up to me and said, “Okay, I’m ready to go outside now!” To my surprise, Lauren was a different child. She was smiling and ecstatic to go play outside.

I also had a child in kindergarten class at church that used to slam doors, throw chairs, and turn over tables. He was an angry child, to say the least. You could just see the anger on his face. Every time I looked into the room, he was seated in the corner with his arms folded. I let his leaders know that next time he acted up, to page me so I can converse with him. It was only 2 weeks later. We walked to the common area, and I sat next to him.

Me: Did you have a bad morning this morning?

B: Yeah!

Me: What happened?

B: I got into a fight with my mom and my brother. I’m just so mad!

Me: Yeah… sometimes I get mad at my brother too. And sometimes I don’t know what to do because I’m so angry.

B: Yeah!

Me: Well, what I’ve learn to do is just walk away from everyone. I just need some time to myself so I can calm down… Sometimes I’m still mad at my brother but I know it’s not good to take it out on other people. And being by myself helps me to calm down. So maybe next time you’re angry, you can let me know and we can just sit for awhile until we feel better. Sometimes we think throwing things help us feel calm but it doesn’t. It just makes us feel even more angry. Not to mention it’s not safe for you to be throwing things around in the room when other kids are in the room… and that’s not okay.

B: Uhm… okay… I’ll try that!

I’m happy to report that he is in 2nd grade now, and he’s doing phenomenal. He learned to control his anger. In fact, he’s a super happy, compliant child!

I’ve woken up on the wrong side of bed. It usually takes me good 15-20 minutes before I can get myself out of bed after my alarm has gone off. I’ve felt angry and frustrated for no apparent reason. I’ve just felt like not doing anything or talking to anyone at times.  See… I’ve had the same experiences as these two kids described above. The difference is that I’m an adult and I know I can’t hurt other people nor demand things to be done my way. Kids are still learning how the world works. They’re slowly learning that they’re not the center of this world. They’re slowly learning that they can’t act out whenever they want to.

Kids have all the emotions that we feel as adults. But they don’t always know what to do with them. However when we see kids not behaving the way we want them to, our first inclination is to discipline them rather than trying to understand what they’re experiencing and feeling that’s causing them to act out or misbehave. We’re quick to put them in time-outs. We’re quick to single them out. We’re quick to “threaten them.” And we’re quick to judge them.

So next time a child acts out in your class or small group… or even in your home… why not take the time to just sit with them to “chill out,” or converse about what’s bothering them? It’s through these times kids learn how to cope with different emotions, and that they’re not a bad child for not being who the adult wants them to be. These conversations could go a long way… and eliminate the need for “discipline.”

why I don’t resolve every conflict for kids…

conflict resolutionLast week, I blogged about why I don’t make kids say sorry.  We don’t merely want to teach kids behavior, rather we want them to know how their actions affect other children and help kids grow in their spiritual formation even through conflict.  Similarly, I also don’t come to rescue every child who is upset or having conflict with another child.  Often times, kids are told to “tell the teacher” when conflicts arise with other children.  Of course there are times when an adult needs to step in.  However, what I see too often are kids who haven’t developed the skills to talk through issues with their peers.

For example, we have a big tv with wii hooked up to it on Sundays so kids can play outside of ministry time (we have a lot of kids lingering while their parents fellowship).  It’s there for the kids to play and enjoy!  But the problem is, only so many kids can play at once… and they’re not always good about taking turns.  Inevitably, I always have a child whining and complaining about how their turn was skipped.  I could make everyone get in line and take a number.  I could ask each child what their version of the story is.  Rather, I tell them that they need to figure out a way to make this work amongst themselves.  Our game supplies are a privilege we have through generous donations.  It’s not our right… thus if they can’t figure out how to play together and take turns, then the privilege will be taken away.  I would say, 8 out of 10 conflicts that are brought to my attention are something the children can resolve on their own.  When it’s appropriate, we also take the time to discuss this teachable moment.  We talk about how our faith and obedience to God plays into our decisions of resolving conflict.

The truth is… we do ministry to kids and family because we want to guide them to learn about God and love Him more and more… but when you’re doing life with the kids and families, every day stuff just comes up!  If we’re not applying biblical principles to our every day life stuff, then our ministries become irrelevant!  Thus, ministry isn’t just about our Bible lessons… but it becomes about applying our Bible to every day stuff–including learning conflict resolution skills!

Why I Don’t Make Kids Say Sorry…

Whenever I talk about discipline in my children’s ministry workshops, I share that I don’t ever MAKE kids say sorry.  Of course, I get few “are you crazy?” looks from parents and other children’s workers.  The reason?  Well, consider following scenarios:

  • a boy bites a girl; he says “sorry”; she cries; he hits her again; he says “sorry”; he hits her again; he says “sorry”; etc.
  • a girl hits mom; she says sorry; mom gets upset; the girl yells “but I said SORRY!!!”

What does the word “sorry” mean to the boy and the girl in the above scenario?  What I hear is… “as long as I say sorry, I can do anything I want.”  In both scenarios, the boy and girl are only 2 and 3 years old.  From very young age, our kids are being conditioned to behave in certain ways (what some might consider the social norm).

It never fails.  Every time I’m with a group of children, one child runs up to tell me how another child hurt his/her feelings or one of them will burst into tears.  Conflict among children is normal.  It’s part of growing up and learning how to manage conflict.  Too often, I see adults stepping in, making the offender say “sorry,” making the other child accept the apology (even if it’s insincere), and life goes on as usual.  It may seem the conflict has been managed on the outside… but what did we just teach these kids?  We merely taught behavior… and didn’t get to heart matters.  And we did not teach kids to manage conflict in healthy ways.

When I do have to step in… I ask each child why and how:

  • Why did you do what you did?
  • How did you feel when the other child did that?

We talk… then I proceed to ask “what would you like the other child to do now?”  “What would you like to do?”  “What do you think God thinks about this situation?”

To be honest, it’s not always pretty. Sometimes, all that needs to be said is “sorry,” and we can go on.  Other times, we don’t come to a resolution.  One child may say “I want him to say sorry.” But the other child might refuse to say “sorry.”  But once again, I believe this is part of life… sometimes, apology doesn’t come so easy.  Sometimes, conflict isn’t resolved in 5 minutes even if it’s just over legos.

I believe this is what spiritual formation looks like… when we hit heart matters rather than behavior.  Conflict is a big part of a child’s life… and guiding them to resolve conflict in healthy, Christ-centered ways is helping them to grow spiritually. By the way, I also don’t resolve conflict for kids–that’s another blog in the works!

I couldn’t resist including this awesome apology letter from a child!  I think this sums up exactly what I’m talking about!

Apology Letter from a Child!