6 Steps for Dealing with Rambunctious Children

It's test season in public schools across America. This is the third year I've been an elementary school test monitor. Honestly, I love it! It gives me a great opportunity to encourage and pray for students, teachers, the schools, our state, this country, and children in general. I know there is a lot of debate about the pros and cons of standardized testing. That is not the purpose of this blog. The fact of the matter is that kids today in this country take tests which causes stress to children, teachers, and families. Unfortunately, tests are a part of life. They may look different from year to year and test to test, but life is full of tests. Even Jesus was tested (Matthew 4:1-11; 19:3; 22:35; etc.).
"2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4 (NIV) See also Romans 16:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-14; 2 Corinthians 2:9; 8:8; 13:5-6; Galatians 6:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
Here's the deal. Testing makes us stressed. Do you know how kids express their stress? Often times they act out and become disorderly. Understanding how children express stress may help you deal with your stress at their behavior. That in turn will enable you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to help kids deal with their stress (and better focus on the task at hand).

The Whole Picture

Here is an important reminder for teachers everywhere (Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, classroom, homeschooling parents, camp counselors, etc.): You may not know the whole picture. Homeschooling parents may get the closest, but even they cannot be everywhere all the time and know everything. Only God can do that. Here is what I mean when I say, "You may not know the whole picture." Jose is bouncing off the walls today in class. He won't sit still. He won't stop moving. He won't stop making noise. He won't do as he's told. He seems to be willfully doing the opposite of everything you say. Did you stress levels go up just reading this description? Mine did as I typed it out. If you're like me, you're ready to have a talk with Jose's aunt when she picks him up from class. Now suppose when she finally gets to your room (10 minutes late), she tells you that Jose's grandfather (whom he loved dearly) died suddenly two days ago. The family is still in shock. Does that change how you view Jose's behavior that day? If you had known that at the beginning of class, would it have changed how you dealt with Jose in class? Why or why not? Here's another one. The first thing third-grade Laticia tells you when she gets to class is that she's hungry. Your church does not give snacks to children once they move out of the preschool area, so you tell her you're sorry, but she'll just have to tough it out. All morning she complains she's hungry. She interrupts the Bible lesson, won't be quiet, and then refuses to complete her craft. How's your stress levels so far? When Laticia's grandmother picks her up, you mention Laticia's complaints. With a sad face, Grandmother tells you that Laticia's father lost his job and there isn't as much to go around anymore. Laticia gets a free breakfast and lunch at school, but there just isn't much to eat over the weekends. How is that absolute rule of no snacks looking now? I'm not out to lobby for rule-of-thumb changes or make you feel depressed. I just want to remind you that you don't always know the full story. There may be more behind a child's misbehavior than you know. CAUTION: Please hear me for a minute. If you notice a child's behavior radically change seemingly overnight, it may be a sign something traumatic has happened. Please notice these warning signals. It could be a sign of abuse or other trauma. Don't just let it go. Ask questions and investigate!

Importance of Prayer

We've all had days when we've been at least a little short-tempered. The day doesn't start off right and even the small things just seem to set us off. Now is the time, more than ever, that we need to stand in the Lord and the strength of His might.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)
When we try to love and serve others in our own strength or because we think we need to, our best efforts are useless. Actually, they're worse than useless.
"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)
We serve and love because He first loved and served us. God doesn't ask us to serve others in our own strength. We are to take up His armor, His strength, His equipment so we can do what He's asked us to do. Here me now. God will never ask you to do something without giving you everything you need to do it. It may stretch your faith, but God will always equip you to do what He's asked you to do. God will always give you the strength you need (through prayer and a dependence on Him) to do what He's asked you to do. Now you have a choice. Will you do it?

Showing Love

Ok. You know you probably don't know the whole story of what kids are bringing into their time with you. You know you can't do it on your own strength, so you're approaching your time in a spirit of prayer. Now it's time to get practical. Here are some practical tips for ways to work with restless or rambunctious children. You know. The kids who won't sit still. The kids who are always into something. The "problem" kids. The "thumb" kids (who always need you to keep your thumb on them).
  1. Don't give up on them. Instead, pray for them. NEWS FLASH: These kids may grow up to be the movers and shakers in your church, community, and country. Don't give up on them!
  2. Don't expect kids to sit still. Instead, give appropriate ideas of ways to move. They're kids for crying out loud! Most kids cannot sit perfectly still for extended periods of time. Other kids find it physically impossible to sit still, period. This doesn't mean they are not listening. Some kids have to move in order to think. You might give kids chenille sticks (pipe cleaners) to play with while you talk. Maybe give them paper and a pencil to take notes or draw a picture while you talk. Sometimes in my class, I tell kids that if they have trouble sitting still during the lesson, they can look over and do what I am doing while my co-teacher talks. I then do little things like bounce my criss-cross-apple-sauce knees, tap my fingers together, tap my elbows, etc. Nothing big and disruptive. Just a subtle way to move while you listen.
  3. Set kids up for success. Before your quiet, sit-down lesson, help kids calm down, especially after a rowdy game. Take slow deep breaths together. Do slow stretching exercises. ("Reach up and try to touch the ceiling. Reach down and try to touch the floor. Without hitting your neighbor, try to touch both walls at the same time. Slowly roll your shoulders. Now sit down and listen carefully to Mr. ____.") You might also do a wind-down game. ("Put your fingers by your eyes and remind yourself to pay close attention. Put your hand on your ears and remind yourself that it is time to listen. Put your hand over your mouth and remind yourself it is time to be quiet.")
  4. Give rambunctious kids responsibilities. Some kids who act out are plain bored. Give them something constructive to do. Make them a student leader in your class. They can hand out papers, hold the teaching picture, point to something you want the class to see, help hand out craft supplies, or choose the next game. You might consider making a list of things kids can do in your class. Then you won't have to come up with something on the fly when you are starting to get flustered and frustrated.
  5. Never embarrass kids in public. If a "talking to" is needed, do it in the hallway. If you don't, you just might leave a negative lasting impression. Listen to both sides of the story. Work out who needs to apologize to whom (including to teachers). Figure out if restoration is needed. (Restoration is a Bible word that means to make right. It falls along the lines of "Let the punishment fit the crime.") Remind kids that we love others because God loves us, even when we mess up.
  6. Take extremely disruptive kids out of class for a time, but be sure they hear the whole Bible lesson. You might need to send them to get a drink of water for a movement break. You might have to just take them into the hallway for a spell. If so, make sure by the end of their time with you they have still heard the whole Bible lesson. I've talked to kids about their behavior in the hallway, then gave them an individual version of the lesson. Then when we rejoined the class, we were all caught up.
What other ideas do you have for dealing with rambunctious or rowdy children?
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