Hebrews 12:10-11 “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Discipline is a process, not an event (that’s punishment). And it’s likely that it’s going to be a long process where the results we expect to see may be very slow in coming. In the case of working with children in the church, we may never see the results of our efforts but we continue in loving discipline anyway. It’s our responsibility and our call as Christian adults.
The goal and purpose of discipline is self control which helps prepare our young people to not only survive but thrive in society—which is why it’s much more than just about classroom control. Discipline is a process of teaching how to think about, care about, and make decisions about others, through the eyes of God, the way Jesus taught us.
When behavior is observed that goes beyond the established boundaries for behavior in the community, family, or group, it becomes apparent that the persons involved need self-discipline. They need to be taught what the boundaries are and how to be responsible for controlling their actions to stay within those boundaries.
A person who has learned self-discipline has self-control, self-reliance, and self-esteem. Self-discipline is assuming responsibility for our actions, and making decisions about our behavior.
An effective discipline plan in the church and in the home, on the soccer field, or at the scout meeting has five essential parts.
1. Preventative: Stops something unwanted from happening. Specifically for our context means protecting against group chaos or unwanted behavior in children.
As the teacher or group leader I will make a commitment to….
Be present and ready before the first student arrives
Prepare the activity or lesson ahead of time
Arrange the meeting space to support learning and remove distractions
Resolve to be a calm, mature presence
Involve my students in setting up some group rules with some agreed upon consequences
Of prime importance will be to work to establish a relationship with each person in the group and to pray for each of the young people by name, regularly.
2. Supportive: Assists something to occur or increase. For us that means it’s something that encourages behaviors we want to see grow in young people.
As the adult leader I will…
Be ready to restructure plans or activities if they aren’t working
Will clearly request the good behavior needed (“We will all listen to Nancy as she reads”)
Will catch my students being good (“I appreciate the quiet reading”)
Will pray for special needs of students
Will let parents know about good behavior
How often do we call or write home about good behavior? Particularly for those parents who might not receive that news very often?
3. Corrective: Redirects undesirable behavior. We use a teachable moment to improve behavior in our group. We’ve done as well as we can to prevent discipline issues from coming up; we’ve been supportive of the students to encourage good behavior; and things still happen!
As the adult leader I will remind myself to…
Name the specific behavior I want changed and why (“I need you to stop tapping your pencil because it’s distracting to others”)
Allow the student to try again
Not be drawn into “side issues” with students
Use a quiet opportunity for behavior chats rather than calling the student out in front of the whole class
Intervene IMMEDIATELY to stop inappropriate behavior between two people
If my corrective methods are not enough to stop the behavior or the behavior is to the level that needs more than just correction, I will move to consequences.
4. Consequential: Something that follows as a result. This is when we allow the results of certain decisions to be fully felt by the child.
There are two kinds of consequences—natural and logical.
Natural consequences are the results that occur from a child’s behavior without the leader doing anything. For instance…if the child refuses to eat breakfast, she will be hungry before lunch. If he forgets to bring a permission slip, he won’t get to go on a special trip (assuming this was not the fault of the parent).
Logical consequences are those results a leader provides to teach students what logically follows when they violate class rules or the needs of a situation. This is where you invoke the agreed upon consequences that you established at the beginning of the year with your group.
5. Amending: Something done or given as a compensation for a wrong. That often means apologizing, offering or receiving forgiveness, making a plan for a repair or restoration, and giving mercy.
We need to help young people learn to right a wrong that they have done. Remember, we’re teaching them to thrive–not just correcting immediate behavior!
And the work of amending is not complete until forgiveness is given. Everyone gets a fresh start each time they come back to the group…the team…the class…the choir.
Christ died for sinners. The grace of God is unearned, undeserved, and unmerited. God never quits giving righteousness—God never quits on us. We must never quit on each other…and especially our young people. This may be something unusual for many of the children and youth we are ministering to! But it does no good to skip to forgiveness without the other steps first. Otherwise, we are not teaching self-control and discipline.
When you have a discipline plan that works, you give yourself the best opportunity to support the growth of a special kind of community–the Kingdom of God we all yearn to live in–where people care for each other, encourage one another, solve problems together, resolve differences, and experience forgiveness. As the leader in a classroom, a teacher in the church, we are called to model courage, loyalty, justice, respect, honesty, hope, love, forgiveness and mercy. And in all that, we seek to model the love and respect that Jesus showed all people. There isn’t a more powerful way to invite people into a relationship with God!