Maybe it’s just our ministries and you don’t have this problem, but we have some unique children in our programs that we lovingly refer to as “turds”. I sincerely mean that. We love them, but their behavior stinks. It’s ok though, they’re keeping us all on our toes, as well as sometimes on our last nerve. Here are some steps to shepherd these difficult personalities, while still proclaiming the love of God and keeping your sanity.
Address what stinks
Unless you say something or take action, the difficult behavior is not going to stop. How you address the problem will look different depending on the situation, but you must acknowledge it. If you’re giving a talk and someone’s being a distraction, give them a pointed look. If they don’t take the hint, call them out and let them know the way they’re acting is disrespectful. If they still continue, have another adult escort them out of the room. Whatever you do, you must make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable. Not only does this stop the problem, but this also sets the standard of appropriate behavior to all the other youth in the room.
Empower your volunteers
Your adult volunteers need to know how to handle behavior issues when they arise. They need to know they’re not only able to do something about a problem, but that they’re expected to. Share with them your discipline policies and give them authority to implement them. They need a clear playbook of the ways they can respond to various situations and they need to know you will have their back if things get rough. By doing this, you’re putting into place a culture of respect across your entire program. And when difficulties do come up, your volunteers will feel equipped, not frustrated.
Call in the SWAT team, aka mom and dad
This is almost always the crowning jewel of any discipline policy. If you’ve addressed the issue multiple times and there’s been no change, let the youth know that mom and dad are about to hear about it. Usually, this is enough to shut things down. In these moments, I’m always sure the youth understand that me calling mom or dad isn’t happening because I’m just mean. No. It’s going to happen as a result of their actions. Make this clear to them. Say something along the lines, “I’d rather not call your parents, but you’re about to leave me with no other choice.” It’s important for our young people to see that we’re on their side and it’s really up to them how things play out. Also, with this discipline action in particular, have to mean what you say. If they act up again, you better be dialing. If you don’t follow through here, they’ll walk all over you.
Remember why you have to stand firm
Many people seem to avoid conflict and confrontation, no matter the cost. However, we have been entrusted with the lives of young people, to mold them, disciple them and teach them the beautiful truths of the Church. God has put us on a mission with a purpose. But sometimes, behavior issues can halt or derail that mission. Being firm with our youth ensures that the work God is doing is protected. By implementing a discipline policy, we are guarding the beautiful movement He’s carrying out in them. If we don’t, no one else will.
If you want help drafting a discipline policy or would like feedback on particular situations, please, don’t hesitate to contact us. We know how hard it can be sometimes, to hold fast and be stern, when we would really just rather cave and call it a night. But, we have to defend the good the Lord is doing in our ministries, which means stepping in and putting to rest anything that damages that work. We can do this pastorally and with charity. We can fight to give our youth God’s goodness, even if sometimes that means the struggle is with them.