4 Tips for Small Group Leaders to Strengthen Group Management Skills
One of the best ways to provide a FUN environment is to provide structure and set boundaries for kids. Small Groups are not meant to be a classroom environment, however well-managed groups are going to be more enjoyable and effective overall.
D – DIRECTION
Give direction and set expectations. Tell children what to do and what is expected of them.
Principle: When you tell kids what you expect, you set them up for success. What gets rewarded gets repeated!
Application: Give kids clear direction and give notice of upcoming change. Tell the child what you want him/her to do in a positive way, being clear and simple. “Pick up the crayons and put them in the cup.” This is especially important for transitions: “Friends, we have 2 more minutes to finish your project, or finish playing, and then we will all help clean up for large group.” Go over expectations for Large Group and/or Small Group time frequently. Kids need reminders and direction.
Use Voice Level Charts – “Boys and girls, we are using Red Voices right now. We need to use our Green Voice. This is how a green voice sounds (speaking quietly). Thank you Carrie for using your Green Voice! Great job!”
U – UNDERSTAND
Seek to understand where they are coming from and help them understand what is acceptable.
Principle: Ask questions! We don’t know what kids are bringing to church with them on Sunday. Sometimes poor behavior and wrong choices stem from a deeper issue. Maybe their parents are going through a divorce or a family member is really sick or they are getting bullied at school. Or maybe they just didn’t get a good night’s sleep or forgot to eat breakfast. When we better understand where they are coming from, and acknowledge how they are feeling, we can help redirect their behavior in a positive way.
Application: When you understand the child’s intention and motivation, you can help them understand what behavior is acceptable. Limit-setting works better when the adult:
A -acknowledges the child’s feelings and desires
C – communicates boundaries clearly, and
T – targets desired behavior
“Caleb, I understand that you are feeling upset that we can’t play outside right now. I like to play outside too. We still have to be kind to our friends, even when we are feeling that way. We are going to be kind to each other while we play this game together.”
C – CHOICES
Offer choices that guide the child toward the right behavior or response.
Principle: Choices can be an effective tool to manage behavior and help kids focus . This is especially true for children who need additional structure to be successful.
Application: To create choices for children, think first, “What do I want them to do?” Then create two positive options to accomplish that goal. If you want a child to pick up their toys, you could offer them the options of picking up the blocks first or the puzzle first. Choices can help kids obey when used effectively.
A child is less likely to resist when you say, “Jaden, you have a choice to sit in a chair at this table or the other one,” rather than, “Jaden, it is time to sit at the table.” Giving kids a choice allows them to obey, but also feel like they have control over their actions as younger kids are still developing their autonomy skills.
Example: During LG, one of your kids is getting squirmy and distracting the other kids. “Sarah, you have the choice to sit by Miss A or by Mr. C.” Sarah chooses to sit with Miss A and is within proximity to correct if needed.
K- KINDLY assert
You can be kind and loving while also being firm and clear with your expectations.
Principle: Being assertive in your tone and speech tells kids what they need to do in a kind, clear way.
Application: Here are several ways to use an assertive approach that is still kind and respectful:
- The Look – It’s amazing how effective a simple stare can be. By establishing eye contact with the child, you are are letting them know you see what they are doing. Most of the time, kids know that they aren’t behaving correctly and being aware that you see them is enough.
- Proximity – Sometimes the look isn’t enough, but changing your location to be near them will be the motivation they need to stop. Don’t hesitate to move them to a different area, or assign a buddy to a child who needs an adult close by. Assistants, if you see a need for this, you can support your leader who is the middle of a lesson by moving to where the action is happening!
- A Touch or Cue- Sometimes a gentle touch on the shoulder is also necessary to cue the child that you are nearby and they need to stop. Giving visual and tactile cues can be very effective without needing to interrupt the group or say a word. If they continue to ignore you, you can cue them by showing them what to do. “I will show you how to sit criss-cross applesauce and turn on your listening ears. Now it’s your turn,”
- A Quiet Conversation – If you have given them a look, moved closer, and they are still being disruptive, having a private conversation in their ear can be a next step. Tell them what they are doing is not acceptable and you would like them to be a better listener. This can be done without embarrassing the kid in front of the group and can convey that you care about them.
- Celebrate the win! – As soon as they make a good choice, praise them for it! Sometimes, even when kids don’t fully obey, they will become obedient when they realize you are celebrating them for it. “You did it!” “Great listening!” “Way to go. I knew you could do it!”
- Remove them from the situation – Occasionally there will be times when nothing seems to work. Sometimes it’s best for the kid to have a break from the group. Have one of your leaders/assistants quietly take him/her out in the hall (or down to the yellow room) and try to connect with your service coordinator or one of our additional support team members so they can help with the situation, and possibly relieve you to go back to your group.