by Kai Vilhelmsen
We’ve all had it happen to us. You are before those whom God has entrusted you to communicate the truths of the Bible that will set on fire the very course of their lives! Every eye is upon you, so great is their attention span and respect for you. Quietly and attentively they absorb every word, nodding in agreement… and the smiling and grateful parents come in at just that moment to pick up their kids! If only it was always that way.
The truth is, there IS a problem. There is a fundamental challenge to teaching kids: They are kids. Now that we have that out of the way… Developmentally speaking, each age group or division will have it’s own unique set of challenges, but it seems in ANY age group there will be one or more of what I will call “Disruptives.” (I’m using this term merely in terms of its interruptive nature, not in regards to the child’s personal nature.) Maybe it’s a result of excitement, or of chemical, emotional or physical concerns. Whatever the underlying root, it manifests itself in interruptive behavior. Those of you who have leaders or helpers who immediately exhort those who pull focus are blessed indeed. But here is what I’ve experienced.
When I am teaching and I have to draw attention to the one who is talking or acting up, I will usually begin to lose those who are paying attention. And if they see that someone else can get away with it, well, you know the rest. There is a certain momentum in teaching. You know what it feels like. And it’s just a bummer when you have to disengage to discipline.
Here is a technique that I have used to help keep that momentum. It involves proximity, you know, how close you are to something. Instead of “using your words” simply keep teaching, and without even acknowledging the behavior, walk over and stand within a couple feet of the disrupter and continue talking to the class. Many times they will get it on the first try. If not, take another step closer. If that doesn’t work, pause, just look at them, and keep going. No words are necessary. You are not giving them attention, if that’s what they are after, and the rest of the class, as well as those nearby, will see that it matters to you. It’s actually kinda fun. It’s a strategy that works for large or small groups. It’s always nice to give them a knowing little smile if they do quiet down. Positive reinforcement and all that.
Try this next time you find yourself in a “disruptive” situation. At the end of the day, we remember those teachers and leaders who have “loved on us,” and believed that we were significant. This made them close to us… a blessed “proximity”
Kai Vilhemsen holds multiple degrees in education and biblical studies, and is the writer/host of KIDMO’s Lil K preschool curriculum.