A few months ago, I started a series on How to Shape Children’s Behavior, including posts on:
This was years of experience and teaching wisdom boiled down to seven posts. I had started off writing these with both teachers and parents in mind, and I think most of the things I shared can be effectively used in the classroom or at home. The rest of this post is written with teachers in mind, but anyone who is looking for a simple poster to use for consequences can just edit this one that I made and use it with clothespins! Just write the child’s name on a clothespin, stick it in the green section, and move it to yellow or red as needed.
When I made this poster, the group I had in mind was Sunday school teachers. I remember being kind of a brat in Sunday school growing up, and while I can take responsibility for my poor behavior now, I wonder if some of the behavioral strategies I have shared on this blog would have worked on me.
Take consequences, for example. I’m pretty sure there were no consequences in place during my bratty phase, and I kind of ran all over my Sunday school teachers. As bad as I feel about it now, it pains me even more to watch that happening at my church now. What does it tell our kids when they are expected to behave respectfully at school and home, but allowed to be rude or downright mean at church?
The Problem: Inconsistency in Children’s Sunday School
At our church, I think one of our biggest challenges in children’s Sunday school is that there are 3-4 teachers who teach every grade level. This is great for a lot of reasons, and I am grateful that we have so many people willing to serve! However, there are drawbacks to giving the students a new teacher every few months. By the time the teacher really gets to know the students, it’s time to switch to a new teacher. As for the students, they have to adjust to a new person, a new set of expectations, and a new level of tolerance for behaviors. I really believe that consistency is key for working with children, who usually thrive on routine and continuity, so this constant change does not help.
Some kids adjust really well to new teachers, and behave well no matter who is in charge. Other kids can’t help but to poke around and try to find the boundaries. This is harmless, except when it interferes with others’ learning. When there are a couple of outspoken kids in a classroom, they can ruin the learning experience for everyone else. Whether they are shouting out answers without waiting to be called on or callously laughing at or shooting down others’ ideas, it only takes a couple of negative behaviors to shut the rest of the class down.
When your quieter or shy students realize that someone else is going to keep shouting out answers, they will learn to stop thinking or trying to answer themselves. When they experience someone else laughing at their answers, they may no longer find the classroom environment a safe place to think and share, which can lead to them shutting down.
I don’t have a good solution for this. I mean, sure, it’d be great to have the same teacher all year… but it’s hard enough to get people to commit to 3-4 months, let alone a year. Even I would have a hard time committing to that! Plus, the people who teach Sunday school need a break, too, whether it’s attending service or their own Sunday school. So. What to do?
Since difficult behaviors seemed to be a persistent theme in our Sunday school program, I tried to find a way to apply what I know as a teacher to support our children and teachers alike. Like I’ve said before, I think most of the time, children want to behave well… but sometimes they need clear boundaries and consequences to help them get there. That’s where our new Behavior Check system comes in.
Get the poster HERE.
If you’ve read my post on consequences, this should sound familiar. The idea is that instead of letting kids push and push and push you until you’ve reached your “last straw” and hand down a punishment, you clearly point out every time they are pushing and give them increasing consequences. What you should find is that once they understand the system, most kids will not push anymore, and those that do will stop before they hit the “yellow” section.
This is nice for the teacher, because you don’t have to get upset or try to think of consequences. This is nice for the kids, because they know what to expect and can quickly see where your level of tolerance is. This is nice for everyone, because the class runs more smoothly and students who used to spend their brainpower trying to think of ways to be rude or mean can now focus on what you’re actually trying to teach them.
How it Works
I introduced this system to our children last Sunday, since we were starting a new school year. We talked about a number of things, including what good behavior looks like, and also behaviors that needed to stop. Then I told them about the new system of consequences. This was followed with a run-through with my imaginary friend Bob, as if he was actually disrupting my lesson, so that they could all see it happening live:
Me: Now I want you guys to meet my imaginary friend, Bob. He’s sitting right here, next to Z. Do y’all see him? Hi, Bob!
*Kids wave, amused that I have an imaginary friend*
Me: So, like everyone else, his name is starting up here in the GREEN section. Remember, green is good. The thing is, Bob sometimes makes poor choices, so I’m going to show you how this works. Like, right now, I notice that Bob is yelling out, even though I’m still talking! [I look at Bob seriously, then point to the first step on the poster] Bob, please stop. You need to wait until the speaker is done talking.
[I turn back to the kids in the room]
Me: So you see, I’m just pointing out to Bob that he needs to listen when others are speaking–[turn to Bob] Excuse me, Bob. I see you whispering to Z right there, and it is distracting both you and her from paying attention! Please pay attention. This is your warning.
[I point to step #2 on the poster]
Me: So it’s getting a little more serious– Bob is officially on the consequence track now, and he got a warning. Nothing else happens at this point, but this is just to show you that, hey, it’s getting serious. You need to focus. Now, I know most of you won’t push past this, but–[turning to Bob] Bob! You need to keep your hands and feet to yourself! Please move your name from the green to the yellow.
[The children follow my eyes as I watch imaginary Bob come up and move his clothespin. In the classroom, it would probably be hanging in the back somewhere.]
Me, whispering: So I think Bob feels pretty bad about things right now, and I don’t think most of you will ever get to yellow, either, but just showing you what would happen–Oh! I just saw Bob kick this boy’s foot as he walked back to his seat! MM-mm that is not okay…
[We move to the next consequence]
In reality, most of that conversation wouldn’t happen. Once this system is well-established, almost all of the kids will be behaving well, and on the rare occasion that someone is pushing it, I really don’t think it will go past an official “warning” very often. Even in the course of a normal elementary school day, kids rarely got yellows in my class, so I imagine there would be even fewer instances when there is only one hour of Sunday school.
I won’t really know how well it’s working until a few months or a year from now, but I am hopeful that this added element of consistency will give teachers a simple and effective system to tamp down on undesirable behaviors. I hope it will help the kids feel like that have something familiar across their various teachers throughout the years, and I hope that it helps all of the students to find Sunday school as a safe place to share ideas, learn, and grow.
Get the poster HERE.