Five ‘Bad Behavior’ Challenges
(and Ten Scriptures to Help)
Whenever you must confront a child, be sure to take them aside and speak privately to them so that you don’t involve other children or embarrass the child.
1. A child just doesn’t want to do what you tell them (clean up, join in group time, etc.).
Scripture 1: Proverbs 18:13 - He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.
Application: This verse is for us teachers. Listen to what the child is saying (verbally or non-verbally). Is the child afraid, upset about being left by the parent, or unclear about what is expected? Try to learn the reason for un-cooperativeness before addressing it. One way to encourage cooperation is to give good, clear directions. Praise those who are following directions.
Scripture 2: Hebrews 13:17 – Obey them that have the rule over you…
Application: The Bible tells children to obey their parents, and the authority of the parent is passed to the teacher for the time children are in your care. This delegated authority is handled by us teachers as a sacred duty, not to abuse it, but to do what‘s best for children with that authority. We can properly remind children that their parents expect them to obey us. This is our Biblical basis for helping them learn to obey in classroom situations. Of course, if teachers can re-direct a child rather than draw a battle line, that will often defuse the situation. Remember that learning to obey is a lifelong task!
2. A child reacts with angry outbursts.
Scripture 1: Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Application: When children become angry, your best response is a gentle tone of voice. Your angry or loud voice in response will add tension and stir up more anger. This doesn’t mean you cannot be firm, but make sure your face and voice don’t add more tension to the situation.
Scripture 2: James 1:19 - …be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…
Application: Since this verse does NOT say, don’t become angry, but to be SLOW to anger, we want to help children slow down the anger process. In the heat of the moment, just getting the child to express the reason for anger in words will help. You might say “Use your words to tell me what is wrong.” You are helping them learn to deal with their anger. You may need to use the ‘break’ technique to allow them to calm down before addressing the reason for the anger. Remember, the anger itself is not wrong but the resulting actions often are. The old technique “Count to 10 before speaking” actually has a biblical basis! Once the anger subsides, we can talk to the child about the cause of the outbreak. Often this will lead to discussions about sharing and selfishness (see problem 4 below). Sometimes children simply have thinking errors, e.g., thinking they can’t get more crayons if someone takes theirs.
3. A child hits another child (or verbally attacks/teases others).
Scripture 1: Galatians 5:14 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Application: Help children to see that we should do to others what we want them to do to us (Golden Rule – Luke 6:31). God knows that we love ourselves, so He uses this self love to teach us how we should love others. If we want something for ourselves, we should want that for others. If we don’t want to be hit, then we know that we should not hit others.
Scripture 2: Matthew 5:9 - Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
Application: Peace is not simply the absence of fighting. We make peace when we pay attention to the feelings of others. We are like God when we help people get along with each other. We want to teach children that it is everyone’s responsibility to help make and keep peace. In the classroom, we want children to observe and be aware of others’ feelings. If someone doesn’t have their fair share of toys, every child can help by sharing. Encourage children to regularly stop what they are doing and notice what others are doing. Philippians 2:4 says “…do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.” As children become aware of others’ needs, they have opportunities to show empathy. (A great Bible story to tell is about Abigail, Nabal and David in 1 Samuel 25.)
4. A child won’t share.
Scripture 1: Acts 20:35 – It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Application: This is true because God says it is true. We are blessed (happy) when we learn to give to others. God is a giver, and we are made in His image. I think maybe this is the first verse I ever memorized. My mom said it to me constantly, and I really believe hearing and knowing this verse made me a cheerful giver. In practical application, I don’t take a toy away from a child and force sharing that way. When we do that, we teach brute force to the offender, and we only satisfy the selfishness of the one who didn’t have the toy. That child needs to learn how to handle hurts, and to ask politely. Among preschool children, asking the child with the toy to give the toy to the next child when they are through usually allows that child to share from the right spirit, not out of compulsion. If they won’t share, I set a timer for a reasonable time and tell both parties what will happen.
Scripture 2: 2 Corinthians 9:7 – God loves a cheerful giver.
Application: We need to point children to the Lord as the one we need to please. This verse not only points out the benefit of giving but also stresses the attitude of the giver. To give and be jealous is not our goal but to truly enjoy when others are happy. Share with the giver how their gift made another person happy. Again, as much as possible do not force sharing. Redirect the child without the item to something else to help them manage their disappointment and learn to be patient. Encourage examples of sharing by celebrating them publicly.
5. A child is too sensitive, crying or sulking whenever they get offended.
Scripture 1: Psalm 31:4 - Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
We want children to learn to deal with disappointments in life and learn godly coping skills. God allows difficulty in our lives so we will learn to trust Him and seek Him. When a child is too sensitive, we want to find out why (go back to situation number one!) and make sure there is not something going on and causing a child to act out of character. We need to be good observers of family interaction at drop off. Is the child sad or are the parents unusually stressed? No matter what the reason for hyper-sensitivity, we can help children deal with disappointments by pointing to the strength we have in God. After salvation, children have the Holy Spirit within them to help. Even before, we can help children know about God as our helper (Psalm 46:1 – a very present help in times of trouble).
Scripture 2: James 1:2 Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (strength to endure).
Application: When we are disappointed, we usually have thinking errors—things like “I never get what I want” or “I’ll never get to be the one to go first”. We may have to spend time helping children see the truth that we don’t always get what we want. Everyone can’t be first. Also, we need to help children see that bad things (disappointments) help us know how it feels when others are disappointed. And since God is sovereign, the things we go through are allowed by Him for a greater purpose—not to hurt us but to help us grow strong. A great antidote for moodiness is a dose of thankfulness.