5 Reasons Why Behavior Problems Pop Up In Kids Ministry

August 5, 2020

“I just can’t do it anymore. The kids are out of control. I can’t get them to listen. I don’t think I’m the best one to be serving in this spot.”

Chances are high that you have heard this type of statement from a volunteer in your church. Dealing with children’s behavior is a universal issue in children’s ministry. No matter the size, location, or denomination of your church, kids make poor behavioral choices. 

There are reasons why kids misbehave. When we identify these reasons, we can better understand how to minister to the kids in our church. 

    1. Leaders aren’t prepared.  When working with children, downtime is of the devil. If there are gaps in classroom momentum, kids will fill those gaps and probably not in ways that you prefer. When leaders are fumbling over their lesson or having to stop to look for supplies, kids find the opportunity to engage in other behaviors. 
    2. Kids have unmet needsIt is very difficult for a child to feel motivated to participate if he is hungry and hasn’t had breakfast. If a child was awake all night, she may act out. In order to learn and participate, kids need to feel safe, secure, and connected. By choosing to look beyond the behavior and identify unmet needs in the life of the child, we are showing grace that reflects the gospel of Jesus. 
    3. Unrealistic expectations – When we have expectations that are not realistic for the age group that we are serving, we set kids up to fail. When kids fail to meet our expectations, we view that as misbehavior and we get incredibly frustrated. If we expect a group of preschoolers to quietly sit in chairs for an hour or expect fifth graders to participate in “babyish” activities, we are expecting behavior that is not in line with how God made their bodies. When we ask kids to perform tasks that are way too easy or way too difficult, we are often creating behavior problems.
    4. Kids are bored – Ouch. Entertaining children is not our job, but our job is to make sure we don’t bore them with the most amazing truth in the world. When children are bored, they will find other ways to entertain themselves. Strive to have the most engaging lessons possible. Get kids out of their chairs. The more engaged they are, the fewer behavior problems you will encounter. 
    5. We all sin – Romans 3:23 says, For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Why do kids misbehave in your classroom? It is the gospel at work in your classroom. Every time a kid messes up it is a reminder that this is why Jesus came to die for us. Jesus came because none of us can obey all the rules. Every time we address behavior it is an opportunity to point kids towards the gospel. 

When we take the time to evaluate the “why” behind the behaviors we are seeing, we have the opportunity to adjust our approaches. We have the opportunity to improve the environment for both the kids and the volunteers, easing frustrations and providing more opportunities for kids to connect with God. 

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4 Comments

  • I have worked in children’s ministry for over 20 years and am also a public school teacher. In my experience, children behave worse at church than they do at school. In my opinion, churches tend to set their expectations for behavior way too low. Adults are afraid to make kids mind because they are afraid the kids won’t have a good time and won’t come back. Churches are clambering to attract and retain young families, and many try to accomplish this by creating a wild environment and letting the kids do whatever they want. Then it’s hard to retain volunteers because they can’t handle the chaos. It IS absolutely possible to have a vibrant, engaging children’s ministry, and still make them behave.

    • When I led kids ministry on a Wednesday night, it was a difficult balance between school expectations and more of a recreational atmosphere. We had a lot of kids who had behavioral problems at school, and when we tried to correct disruptive behavior, we put ourselves in the same adversarial dynamic that they had experienced all day at school. This problem was probably exacerbated by the fact that many of our students were black and we were white, which was also similar to their school experience.

      It was strange. Most of the kids walked to the church to be there, but they still acted like we were “making” them participate. It got a little better after we sort of had a frank discussion about how we loved them and we really want to tell them about Jesus, but if they don’t really want to be there, they should go home and come back when they were ready to be a part. That worked better than some other leaders, who were pulling them into timeout or calling their parents, but we never really solved the problem completely. (I don’t know if that was possible, anyway).

      • Jenny Smith says on

        Stephen,
        Thank you for sharing your experience. Managing behavior is one of the most challenging parts of kids’ ministry. Thank you for serving!

    • Jenny Smith says on

      Amanda,
      I completely agree! We too often make decisions based on fear of making people mad and we don’t create a safe and positive environment for kids. We can do both!