When beginning a new cm leadership position – how to deal with “wild” kids

Your Question:

“I am directing a CM that hasn’t had a CM director before me.  How do we deal with our ‘wild’ kids?”

The Issues:

Since you are leading a children’s ministry (CM) that hasn’t had a formal leadership position prior to your being hired, you will inherit many challenges that have become “normal.” You may discover CM team members who don’t know how to manage a classroom, or who don’t see anything wrong with a child’s “wild” behavior. Dealing with “wild” children requires adjusting the ministry environment, training CM team members, and carefully communicating with parents. All of these steps can cause stress in the ministry.

Scripture Foundation:

“On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Romans 12:20

Short Answer:

Children can be “wild” for many reasons.  In order to “deal” with “wild” children, it is important to understand the root causes for their behavior.  Once you understand some of the root factors, you can adjust the ministry environment or your CM training to reflect those root factors. This is the concept that Jesus and Paul both spoke and wrote about. The concept of asking God to help you do good (satisfy the needs of) those who challenge you! For this short answer, there will be short ideas.  For more help, explore the links below. 


“Wild” behavior can be caused by: 1) Physical discomfort, 2) Not enough activity, 3) Feeling threatened, 4) Not getting the right attention, 5) Lack of respect for authority or rules, 6) Legitimate Attention Deficit Disorder, 7) Lack of interest in the lesson, or 8) Abuse in the home. 


Each of these  8 possible root causes for “wild” behavior have related adjustments to the ministry environment that might calm the behavior down.  If you suspect that the child is the victim of abuse, talk with your ministry supervisor or senior pastor immediately.  Those in church ministry of any sort are “mandated reporters” to Child Protective Services (or whatever the agency is called in your county) if signs of abuse are observed. It would be good for you to know what your county defines as “signs of abuse.”  Here are some brief adjustments you can make for the other possible root causes of “wild” kids:


1) For physical discomfort – Ask the child how he/she feels, and what is not comfortable. If you can make the child more comfortable, do so. This “discomfort” may be caused by nutritional issues, cleanliness issues, hearing or sight challenges, or medical issues that aren’t being addressed. This possible root cause might be outside the reach of the CM team, but communicating with the parents or grandparents can shed some light on ways to reduce the discomfort.


2) For not enough activity – Get the child up and moving more frequently. Most children would rather move than sit in a chair. This challenge can be addressed by CM training. Some adult CM team members may believe that children learn best when they are “sitting still and being quiet.” This may be true for a small percentage of children, but most children learn best when they are physically interacting with the lesson.  Training and encouraging the CM team to get this “wild” child up and moving will help tremendously.


3) For a child who feels threatened – It is critical to understand what the child views as a “threat.” If you can talk with the parents or grandparents, ask them for their insight. If the supposed “threat” is a male or female person, keep that gender of person far away from the child. If the supposed “threat” is being left alone, appoint a CM team member to be close to the child at all times. If the supposed “threat” is to be mocked, be very careful to speak gently and positively to the child, and to stop any hurtful comments coming from other children.


4) For not getting the right attention – A child may act “wildly” just to get the attention he/she needs. Ask God to help you understand what attention the child is not getting and give that attention to him/her before the child needs to act “wildly.”  The proven attention “tools” are eye contact, verbal compliments or affirmations, appropriate touch, listening to him/her, and asking him/her to help you.


5) For lack of respect of authority – This child may benefit from being calmly talked to about obeying the rules. If the child hears compliments first, and then you explain to him/her that the rules are designed to protect others, he/she may respond positively and not be so “wild.” Inviting the child to assist you in some way may also calm him/her down. Make sure to give the child your positive eye contact, smiles, verbal compliments, and “thumbs up” type gestures when you notice him/her acting calmly or obeying the rules.


6) For a child with ADD – If the child has been diagnosed with ADD, ask the parents or grandparents for ideas or suggestions. They know the child and know what frustrates him/her. Be careful with even appropriate touching if touch triggers his/her “wild” behavior. Ask God to help you understand the child’s interests! Once you know something that interests the child, try to incorporate that into the lesson or time he/she spends with you. Getting the child up and moving is also a generally good idea. Ask the child to help you pass things out or move things around in the room. For a child with ADD, being expected to sit still is a sure “trigger” to “wild” behavior.


7) For a child who isn’t interested in the lesson – This challenge is solved by making the lesson presentation more interesting. Jesus was a master at this! To a group of farmers, He told the parable of the sower. To a group of fishermen, He talked about being “fishers of men.” Ask God to help you “translate” the spiritual lesson into the world of the children! Use references to their experiences at school, home, etc. Incorporate their food or snacks into the lesson (bring real food or snacks into the room as object lessons). Use child volunteers (the “wild” child) to help you with the lesson. Use visuals, object lessons, science experiments, animals, music, video clips (approved beforehand), and anything else you can think of to make the lesson more interesting.


8) For a child who may be abused at home – If you suspect this, you must talk with your ministry supervisor or senior pastor! A child who has been abused by a male may cringe or recoil from any male that approaches him/her. If you notice this, shift the CM team around so that a female team member interacts with this child. Be very careful about touch with this child.  Even appropriate, careful touch may not be welcomed by the child. Never raise your voice with this child! Use calm, encouraging, gentle words with him/her. If you suspect abuse, don’t talk about this with the parents or grandparents unless they bring it up first. An abusive parent may abuse the child more if the abuse is “uncovered” or discussed.


For more help in dealing with “wild” children click on the links below.

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