Johnny sit down. Johnny stop yelling. Johnny stop pulling her hair. Johnny sit down. No you may not see how far that Bible can fly. Get your finger out of Ashley’s ear. Johnny sit down! Save your fart noises til after class. Johnny, we don’t say those words in church. Now why did you hit Brian? Johnny!…..Sit…….Down!!
Sound like a typical Wednesday youth program class? Maybe with just a change of name and charges? This topic is something that weighs heavily on my mind after recent discussions from youth workers. For reference; if you want to encounter some of the most thought-provoking issues in youth ministry today, ask a BFI Director. I cannot recall who wrote it but my favorite quote on this topic is “Those who are the most disruptive are usually the ones who need a larger amount of love and grace”.
First things first, let’s get rid of the labels. The image for this post does not denigrate the fact mental illnesses are real and destructive at times. What it does is display our more recent inclination to group certain people or behaviors in a manageable label. That makes it easier to name and ultimately deal with. In my opinion, this is wrong. That’s not Johnny, the ADHD child…it’s Johnny. A child who seeks attention will usually take whatever form of attention they can get from you. So seek to curb correcting incorrect behavior & use consequences as a last resort.
Next, we too often give attention to the very behavior we are trying to correct by not honoring what should be done. Maximize the amount of positive attention for appropriate behavior while minimizing the attention for negative behavior. Instead of harping on mistakes, give a voice to those things we quietly take for granted. ‘Thank you Brian for lining up so fast.’ ‘Thank you Ashley for raising your hand.’ Immediately look for those who follow instructions after you give them and publicly praise them. If you are in contact with parents; ALWAYS look for things to praise about your students to their parents.
Here are a few practical ideas:
Group Sticker Board: You’ve seen the school favorite with each kid’s name and stickers attached after good behavior. I propose a similar strategy but for the whole group. Have one big board for the class and every time you recognize/praise good behavior put a sticker up. After so many stickers have a surprise for the class. (Soccer day, ice cream sundaes) This can be a small something done every class or something they build up to by the end of a semester or year.
Written Praise– For this one, I’m taking a discipline and turning it positive. If you have a whiteboard or chalkboard handy this one will help keep children on task as well. Instead of keeping a list on names who misbehaved on the board make an all-star list and without saying anything, during a task, just write names of children who are ‘on task’. It means something more to see their little names written up on the board and it is an easier reminder to praise them for their parents.
You may be the only example in a kid’s life that expects a certain level of good behavior from them and as such will show them a level of love they might not receive elsewhere. Bottom line is: Love your kids, show patience & be creative. Lastly, please recognize that this won’t be a stopper in the drain of bad behavior. It’s going to take work…and time…and patience…a lot of patience. I’m not a certified educator and there are massive amounts of ideas out there better than mine so please share. If you do something that works for you, let us all share in that knowledge so we may become the best we can.