Is the size of your classroom causing behavior problems in your group?


Size_of_classroom causing_behavior__problems_DC4K

Within half an hour of arriving in your group, Braden has tripped over a chair, fallen into another kid, walked into the end of a table, and caused mass confusion when he came to the worship time and bumped into several kids already singing and praising the Lord. Friends are frustrated with him. Others are mad at him for hurting them. Volunteers are ready to throw him out or throw up their hands in disgust.

What is going on with this child? Could it be that the physical space in your room is not conducive to children experiencing stress or a crisis?

Many times without realizing it, adults create spaces and areas that cause frustration in children. Some spaces even encourage aggressive behaviors in a few children.

Places where children spend meaningful time need to feel safe and have plenty of room for them to be able
 to move around in and feel comfortable. As adults, we don’t see and feel the same things that kids see and feel when entering a room. This is particularly true of elementary-age children. They have bodies that are growing and changing rapidly.

Stop and imagine this for a minute

You are seven years old and are entering second grade. As the school year begins, you find you are shorter than many of your classmates. Your feet still swing back and forth when you sit in the pew at church. In some places you more or less have to climb up on the adult chair. Your chin can almost automatically rest on the table in front of you. When you go out to eat, your arms are short and they can’t reach the ketchup in middle of the table.

A few short months later, not only have things changed in your home but also your body has been making great strides in growth. Seems like all of a sudden your feet reach the floor, and when you try to swing them back and forth, you end up kicking something or someone.

Now when you approach an adult chair and try to climb up on it, you might overshoot your approach, miss the chair entirely, and end up in someone’s lap or on the floor with your face smashed into the carpet. Suddenly you are tall enough to see over the table and to notice funny things that are happening in the room—and being a child, you have to squeal with laughter.

Your arms are longer, and you haven’t quite mastered controlling these long things, so you end up pushing that ketchup bottle over and scattering everything else that’s on the table.

Before your dad moved out, you would play around with him by jumping up on his back for him to carry you around. Now when you try to jump on dad from behind, he yells that you are too big. You think, “Doesn’t he realize I miss him and I’m trying to show him how much I have missed him?” Not only has life changed, but also you are feeling quite unfamiliar with your own body. Everything seems out of control.

Place yourself in the child’s shoes, which, by the way, might involve squishing your toes because your feet are growing so fast your mom can’t buy shoes fast enough for you. Now can you see why elementary-age children need a lot of space? It’s not that they are trying to act silly; it’s just that many haven’t mastered their growing bodies.

Add in the stress of divorce

Children who are experiencing the loss of their once-intact family deal with a lot of stress. Many times their minds are on overload, thinking about what is going on at home.

I have seen children walk into a wall—literally walk into a wall. It’s not that they were acting silly, it’s just that they actually did not see that wall. Sound crazy and think I’m making that up? That happened to me when I went through my divorce. I still have a hard time believing I didn’t see that wall, but my mind was so preoccupied with the divorce that I really did not see that wall.

Stressed-out children may not be cognizant of the space around them. It’s almost as if they can’t get enough space between themselves and other people and things. Their minds can’t see an object like a table until they bump into it. Or until they misjudge distance and end up sitting on the floor instead of on the chair.

Some stressed kids will have a wide personal space, and they need a lot of space around them. You’ll hear things like, “Teacher, he’s looking at me!” or “Teacher, he’s touching me!” when the other kid might just be sitting there minding his own business. Other kids experience a narrow personal space, and they will get up in your face or another kid’s face.

Add in all the big emotions

Now add in all of the big emotions these kids are experiencing. By “big emotions” I mean the anger, the sadness, and the confusion. Small spaces can exacerbate anger, causing some kids to fly into a rage. They’ll push a shelf or table out of their way. Small spaces where children feel confined can cause some kids to become even more depressed.

Couple this one angry kid with all the others who are experiencing the stress of a fractured family at home and the many other emotions floating around in your room, and you can begin to understand why consideration of space is important.

Here are some more considerations

  • Cramped spaces tend to make many children hyper or nervous.
  • Some kids are just clumsy. They stick out their feet into walking pathways. Or they fall out of their chairs. If you have a cramped area, these kids’ actions will cause other children to be hurt or at least inconvenienced.
  • Take into consideration children who have been physically abused or may have seen spousal abuse of one of their parents. Because these children have been hurt or have seen someone they love hurt, they will want to be able to see everything going on in the room and to see what everyone is doing. They want to make sure no one sneaks up on them.1.  Create a few spaces where children’s backs can be to the wall, or allow them to sit at the back of the room, where they can readily see all the activities going on in your area.
    2.  Have at least two ways to get into and out of an area, because abused kids will always be looking for a way to escape.
  • Lastly, pray about your room and ask the Lord to allow you to see your space through the eyes of a hurting child.

This week take a long look at the space in each area where kids are. Is the entire area too cramped, and you need a larger area overall? Or are areas in your room too confined, and maybe furniture could be rearranged? Sometimes it’s just a matter of moving a shelf or a table to create a space and place that feels better and inviting to a child.

We want hurting children to come to church and learn about the love of Jesus. We want those children to feel comfortable and welcomed and not feel like they are being crammed into an area that wasn’t designed to meet their needs.


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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