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  • Writer's pictureDavid Rausch

The 3 best forms of discipline to use in your KidMin, age-by-age

If you don't have a plan in place, discipline problems can sink a lesson faster than an iceberg can sink the Titanic. It's important, though, that your plan approaches discipline in the right way.

The primary goal of discipline is to teach and correct, not to punish.

Long ago, when I was a summer camp counselor, there was a long, steep set of steps that led up to the teen camp. At the bottom of those steps was a heavy rock. (You can probably see where this is going.) Whenever one of the teenage boys got in any sort of trouble, the offending party was told to carry the rock up and down the stairs. The number of trips was dependent upon the severity of the "crime."

That didn't last too long.

When the director caught wind of our "discipline plan," he put a quick stop to it. And for good reason. It was nothing more than punishment.

I'm going to assume that you're not having the kids in your ministry carry heavy rocks up and down the stairs. (Right?) But sometimes it's tough coming up with a set of consequences that corrects the behavior problem and that teaches rather than punishes.

Dr. Jennifer Lansford to the rescue!

Dr. Lansford is a PhD research scientist at the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy in Durham, NC. She offers these age-by-age best practices for disciplining children:

Up to age 3: Use distraction. When children this young are on the verge of a tantrum, there's no talking them out of it. Sound reason won't thwart a toddler's melt-down. Often times, the best course of action is to distract them from the source of the problem. Make a funny face. Balance a banana on your head. Play peek-a-boo. Hopefully, they'll forget what they were upset about.

Age 3 to 6: Use time-outs. "The goal of a time-out is to break the cycle of whatever negative thing is going on and separate your child from the situation for a few minutes so that when he returns he has a fresh start," says Dr. Lansford. A good rule of thumb is to give young children one minute of time out for every year old they are. So, for example, you could give a 4-year-old child a 4-minute time-out.

Age 7 and up: Take away privileges. The key is to remove privileges that in some way correspond with the negative behavior. For example, if two friends can't stop talking or wrestling with each other during a lesson, they may no longer sit with one another. If a child is being disrespectful to a leader or another child, remove them from the situation and have them write a letter of apology. If a child is acting inappropriately during pre-service playtime, remove them from the games and activities. It takes a little bit of creativity, but KidMin leaders are nothing if not a little bit creative!

For children age 3 and up, regardless of the consequence, it's important that you talk with them before and after. Beforehand, make it clear what behavior led to the consequences. Afterwards, talk about what they could have done differently and come up with a game plan for the future. Most of all, end on a note of affirmation. Let them know you believe in them and know they can do so much better.

And most importantly, approach them with the same spirit of grace that God approaches all of us. After all, aren't we all disobedient children in need of the Father's grace!



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