Question of the week: Help! We have an unruly kid and nothing works. What do we do?


It can be so frustrating when you have one kid or a couple of kids that disrupt the entire group. Everything you’ve learned about classroom management has been tried and the kid is still out of control. I understand. Sometimes you feel like it’s you and perhaps you just need to resign from working with kids.

Does any of this sound familiar? This might be the kid that

  • Stands on the chair
  • Spills the class of water – every time
  • Rushes through whatever project is set up and leaves the area looking like a tornado hit it
  • Gobbles all of the snacks and laughs when there isn’t enough for others
  • Never walks but always runs through the room and zooms through the hallways
  • Talks through every video, Bible story and discussions

Oh yes, I get the picture. This child just doesn’t fit in your church group. First of all I want to encourage you to not give up. You see you may be the only one that can get through to this child or these children. It is a slow process but it can be done.

Allow me to tell you a story. I had a friend in ministry who moved to a different part of the country. She decided she wanted to minister to the street kids in her area. She set up her room with all these fun activities and invited these kids to come. She had no problem getting the kids to attend but everything she tried the first couple sessions was disastrous. She was sure no one had gotten the biblical concept she was trying to teach. She said she was very close to tears after the first couple of sessions.

We talked, she vented and then we started analyzing the situation.

  • Every child came from a single parent home.
  • Most of the kids were way below the reading level for their age.
  • If they could read they had no comprehension of what they had just read.
  • Most were below their age level in social skills.
  • They were “hyperactive” to say the least.
  • They had street smarts but had no idea how to act in a church setting.

You may be saying, “Oh I don’t have kids like that in my church groups.” If you only have one child like the ones in my friend’s group you need to understand the issues causing the problems.

First: Stop and think through each child’s situation. If it is a child of divorce or a child in a dysfunctional family or a family in crisis think through what the child is facing on a daily basis. Sometimes simply understanding helps.

Second: Determine if the child is under undue stress. If so this child can’t think, analyze, organize or even connect the dots when listening to a story. Read some of the articles on stress.

Third: If the child doesn’t feel safe, which most kids of divorce  and in family crisis face for the first few years afterwards, then you will need to help him or her feel safe before you can address any discipline situations. Use the Safekeeper concept.

Fourth: Form a personal relationship with this child. Call him or her by their name each time you address them. Learn their last name and find out whom they live with most of the time.

My friend reassessed everything she was doing.

  • She figured out her stories and concepts were way over the street kid’s heads.
  • She backtracked and brought the level down.
  • On certain games instead of having the kids walk or race to the other side, she had them crawl. (Crawling actually helps with their reading and comprehension.)
  • For every project or activity she thought how she might set it up for younger kids and then she proceeded to fashion it for the kids that were delayed in many areas of their lives

What you can do

  • Think through how you might take the time to have someone explain the story to the troubled child.
  • If possible bring the level down for the entire group. To accommodate the other children who get it, throw in a few concepts or terms they will grasp.
  • Think through projects and games.
    1. Perhaps there is too much noise or confusion going on.
    2. Perhaps someone needs to explain or model the rules of game.
    3. Sometimes we forget that for a game we do on a regular basis we might have a child who doesn’t get to come on a regular basis  and they might not understand the rules.

What happened in my friend’s group? These kids loved coming to church! They learned more about Jesus that anyone had anticipated they could. They brought their friends. They fell in love with my friend and they formed relationships.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on September 15, 2014.

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