In a previous post, I wrote about the first 4 steps of Responding to Preteen Craziness. These are steps to take when, despite your creative programming success, preteens get out of hand. Keep in mind this works best when followed as an escalated response, which is why the first four should precede the below responses. Here are the other steps:
5. Say their name. Now you’re forced to interrupt whoever is speaking (you or another kid), which is why this isn’t the intervention of first resort. Simply say their name, with the hope of focusing them. You don’t need to launch into a long lecture; just use their name. If that fails…
6. Combine their name with a positive statement of expectation. Don’t tell them what not to do! That only draws attention to the misbehavior. Point them in the right direction. “I need you to sit up.” “You need to look at whoever’s speaking.” “Can you put that (game/toy/cell phone) in your pocket please?”
7. Separate the preteen temporarily. You’ve been forced to interrupt class entirely. Everyone knows who the offender is, including the offender – you’ve identified them by name. You don’t have time to launch into a longer explanation of what they’re doing wrong. They either know, and they don’t care that it’s disruptive, or they don’t understand what they’re doing wrong and need a fuller explanation. Either way, you can’t read their mind and you don’t have time to ask questions. It’s good to designate another leader to handle things from this point. The goal should be to return the kid to your group as soon as possible…but they have to demonstrate that they recognize what they were doing, and why it was distracting, and how they intend to fix it. Train leaders to ask, “What are you going to do differently?” It’s not an option to just “opt-out” and not return – whether the kid is being separated out of the room or just to a different area of the room. After all, we are teaching with the intention and belief that it’s for the good of kids. So it’s a bad idea to communicate, either verbally or by practice, that “if you don’t want to learn, you can leave.” That smacks of power struggle and won’t correct their behavior in the long run.
Finally, if someone else handles step #7 for you, it’s good to personally reconnect with the preteen when your teaching portion is over. Maybe there was a reason for their behavior that you need to know. In any case, they need to hear from you that you really want them to be a part of your group – but that distracting behavior prevents that. Let them know you’re on their side – but that doesn’t mean you’ll let them get away with anything, either.
You can use escalating response in a small group setting as well as a in a large group. The key is to learn it and practice it consistently, so that it becomes natural to you. Whether in large or small group, I am constantly managing behaviors, without even noticing it. Distractions and disruptions and bound to happen, but they need not sandbag a teaching environment. Skilled leaders can develop this “dual personality,” so they don’t have to choose between teaching and dealing with behaviors – they can do both at once.
Mark Friestad is the preteen pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, CA. He’s got the coolest job in the world because he gets to lead a preteen ministry, Surge, full-time. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tweet