Disciplining kids can feel about as much fun as waiting in the dentist’s office with nothing to read except a stockpile of Highlights magazines from 1997. But it’s important we get over our inital discomfort to help kids make better choices. In 15 years of Children’s Ministry I’ve learned a few tips on how to discipline kids lovingly and effectively. Here they are:

1. Confront negative behavior right away
If you’re a normal human being you don’t like conflict. It goes against our nature to go against the grain, to cause problems intentionally. But sometimes, as people who work with kids, we have to confront a child who is not making good choices (see how I used my teacher language just now?) by pulling them aside and confronting an issue they created. It’s never easy but you’re doing them a favor in the long run. Do it quickly and kindly, like you would want someone to confront you.

2. Ask them why they did what they did
Lead the conversation so the child owns their behavior. It’s not enough to tell them what they did was wrong, they need to be able to tell you what they did was wrong. Then explore WHY they did what they did. Every kid (and adult for that matter) acts they way they do for a reason. Go beyond the surface of their actions and discover the heart behind them. This is essential in helping a child to own their negative behavior, correct it, and learn how to make wise choices in the future.

3. Point them towards God’s Way
When a child needs extra attention at church I like to think of it as their way of letting me there’s another lesson they need to learn more than the one being taught from stage. Use these times to point kids back to what God’s Word says. Verses on love and respect are great to remind kids of, especially the golden rule.

4. Establish appropriate consequences
It’s important that children understand there are consequences to their actions. If they lied to someone they need to go back to the person they lied to, admit what they did, and ask for forgiveness. If they hurt another child they need to apologize for what they did and ask for forgiveness. If they damaged someone else’s property they should admit it was them, ask for forgiveness and, if appropriate, work to replace it. Consequences teach children how their actions affect them and others.

5. Remind them how much you love them
Always end a time of discipline on a positive note. Remind kids that you love them, know they will do better next time, and they are always welcome and accepted at your church. End this time with a hug, handshake, or high-five. There’s something about appropriate physical touch that drives home how valuable a child is to you. The next time you interact with them they’ll be looking to you to see how to feel. Be positive and upbeat. Show your genuine gladness that they’re back. Be excited to see them and ready to move on.

Here’s one last thing to remember about how to discipline kids lovingly and effectively: be the adult. Don’t expect a child to act with the maturity of an adult. That’s your job. Remain calm, work through the steps, don’t take things personally, and come with a heart ready to help, not hurt.

What would you add or take away from this list?

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3 thoughts on “How to Discipline Kids Lovingly and Effectively

  1. Great post, Jeff! Very helpful. I am not sure the “why” question is that important, so if I were taking something away that would be it. I think that even as an adult a lot of the times I do the things I do (right or wrong) simply because I feel like it. I think the “why” we do wrong things is because we are sinful. Perhaps discussing the fact that we need Jesus to change our hearts so that we want to do the right things could be more helpful than exploring the “Why did you do this?” question (which will usually just get you an, “I don’t know.” with some tears). Again, I love your ideas. I am only writing this to answer the question you asked about what I might take away.

    1. I totally get what you’re saying. Maybe a better way to phrase that would have been “Discover the real reason why they did what they did.” That way we’re doing more than just treating a symptom, we’re getting to the heart of the issue (lack of friends, bullying, depression, dysfunctional home life, etc). Thanks for sharing your insights Matt. They helped me clarify what I mean by that.

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