Every Tuesday afternoon I’m involved with an after-school Bible program at a local school for first and second graders. I am aware this is a worst nightmare for some people, but I actually enjoy it .
What I don’t necessarily enjoy is bringing structure to the group.
Structure is the process of getting a group of young people under control using a reward or consequences system .
This usually takes time since some children don’t have a concept of consequences when doing the wrong thing, but after a few weeks they start to understand.
This year has been a lot harder since our group has twenty-four first and second graders in a very small room 
Being in this situation has reminded me that many of us (myself included) don’t really know how to teach children structure without using physical discipline . So today I want to share some ideas on how to do it.
With that in mind here are some things that DON’T bring structure:
- Yelling at the child (it just confuses them)
- Embarrassing the child (James you have been doing the wrong thing all class!)
- Threatening the child (if you don’t stop I will)
- Any kind of touching (includes putting a hand on their shoulder)
While not perfect, here is an idea of the step by step process we are using in our after-school Bible program
Step One: Create a clear understanding of rules at the beginning (for us it’s if you get three warnings you don’t get any candy) and remind children during the class time.
A good practice is allowing the children to tell you the rules (what happens if Mr. John gets three warnings?)
Step Two: If a student is disobeying give them a verbal warning in a very calm voice by name (James that’s one). This can also be an opportunity to remind them of what will happen if they get two more warnings.
While this can embarrass the child, doing it in a calm voice and in a very short sentence makes it less difficult for them
Step Three: Second warning involves moving their chair to another area of the room. Teacher sits with the child (making sure to look them right in the eyes), explains why they are there, and reminds them of what will happen if they continue to disobey
Editors note: Child is allowed to return their chair to a different spot after five minutes
Step Four: If child continues to disobey they are given a final verbal reprimand in a very calm voice (okay james that’s three). It isn’t necessary to explain what that means because he knows he won’t get candy.
Step Five: If child loses their candy two weeks in a row, then they aren’t allowed to sit with their friends. Instead the teacher or worker will choose a seat for them .
This kind of a system does involve a lot of work. I am pretty much the muscle (okay you can stop laughing now) during our whole Bible program. But it’s absolutely necessary…because children don’t understand the “If I do bad things then there will be consequences” concept.
- Because they experience discipline done in anger, or without a clear explanation of WHY they are disciplined
- Their parents promise of discipline often aren’t followed through. Editors note: Just so we are clear I am not blaming the parents for this structure problem. Creating an understanding of it takes lots of extra time and energy, which unfortunately few of us have. In reality there is often a need for individuals outside the parents (school teacher, family member) to help children understand these concepts.
- Discipline seems to come out of nowhere (not really, but there needs to be a system that REMINDS the child of the coming consequences)
- And it’s very easy to show love and give a child a reward even when they don’t deserve it
There is of course a place for physical discipline when dealing with children. But it’s hugely important we first create a system that teaches them right from wrong…and if they freely choose to do the wrong thing there will be consequences
- The Lord has blessed me with a love for helping young children, and an ability to connect with them ↩
- For instance if your good you get candy (reward) but if you aren’t then you don’t get candy (consequence) ↩
- It’s been three weeks and they are STARTING to get it ↩
- Trust me I am a proponent of physical disicipline (my parents are also big fans) but there are instances where we can’t use it. So it’s important for us to understand how to bring structure without any physical action ↩
- Often the problem is the people they sit with laughing at everything a child does ↩