In part 3 of this 4 part series we looked at an example of gentle, determined consistency when enforcing classroom limits. If you missed any of the earlier parts, you can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. You can also download the entire article as a PDF file here.

To help you learn to enforce limits in a gentle, consistent way, I want to list some hurdles you many face with suggestions about how to deal with them. Prayerfully consider them and ask God to help you overcome any hurdles that you find present real challenges to you.

1. Old Habits — If you’re not used to enforcing limits, your first attempts to do so may make you feel uncomfortable. In turn you’ll find it easy to revert back to familiar ways and be tempted to let inappropriate behavior slide.

But swallow hard and set your mind to tolerating the discomfort of your new ways of following through with enforcing your limits. Remind yourself that each time you do this, it will get easier. Also, stay focused on the fact that an orderly classroom is good for everyone, including the student on whom you are enforcing limits.

2. Fear — As we touched on earlier, you may fear that if you begin enforcing limits, the children in your class will come to see you as a harsh, joyless disciplinarian.

While this is certainly a possibility, you can avoid this becoming a reality. What it takes is for you to commit yourself to remaining calm and in control of your emotions as you enforce limits. As much as possible treat your enforcement actions nonchalantly. If you can keep your emotions under control, you’ll be much more likely to avoid harsh behavior.

Don’t let fear hold you back. The advantages are worth the risk.

3. Failure with Early Attempts — You may try being consistent and find that your attempts are ineffective. There are two dynamics possibly in play. If your class is used to inconsistency, it will take time for them to adjust to your new way of enforcing limits. At the same time it may take practice for you to get good at taking your new approach.

Don’t let your disappointment in some early failures keep you from continuing to try. Just remind yourself that proficiency in any new skill takes practice.

4. Difficulty with Extremes — Maybe you have a personality that tends to deal in extremes. If you try to enforce limits, you may find yourself being too harsh. But if you back off, you may find yourself enforcing almost no limits.

Just like the previous item, practice will improve your ability to take a more balanced approach.

As you try to enforce limits, if you find yourself starting to lose your cool, pause a few seconds and focus on regaining your composure. Then as calmly as you can, gently but persistently follow through on enforcing your classroom limit.

5. Lack of Energy — Enforcing limits can be a real drain on energy, especially if your class has several children who constantly challenge your authority.

If you find that trying to maintain an orderly classroom is sapping your energy, you should feel free to ask for help. Don’t be afraid that asking for help makes you look weak. And don’t feel bad if your request is met with disappointed surprise.

Just keep in mind that some classes are harder to control than others. And some teachers have a more natural ability than others to control a class.

So what?

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. But what’s important here is to make your classroom the best learning environment you can. And if that means you need someone to help you keep order with some of the children, then ask for help. And if you actually get the help, make good use of it.

6. Unreasonable Limits — Sometimes we can have limits in mind that are impractical, either because the limits we want to impose are too hard for the age of children we are teaching, or because we have children whose family situations or background make it very hard for them to be able to follow our limits.

Therefore, I suggest that you give careful thought to the limits you have in mind. Clearly you need to minimize distractions in your classroom so that learning can take place. But consider if you’re expectation will be for everyone to learn everything that you are teaching. Or is it more reasonable to expect that every child will avoid being a distraction but will not necessarily learn what you teaching.

Ideally we want every child to learn everything we have to say. But if you set limits that are too strict and then end up focusing most of your attention on enforcing them, you’ll get very little actual teaching done.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for setting challenging expectations for children, but I also believe we need to be realistic. Some classes can live with stricter limits than others. My rule of thumb is this. If one or more children are persistently a challenge, I try to set classroom limits that focus on keeping those children from being a distraction. By setting a limit at this level for the entire class, I only have to focus on enforcement when children’s behavior distracts others. I then rely on presenting my lessons in a fun and interesting way to try to engage every child’s mind in what I’m teaching.

7. Inappropriate Penalties — It’s important that any penalties you impose to enforce limits are appropriate. There are three ways to ensure that they are appropriate.

First, they must be strong enough. If a penalty is too light or is something that does not matter to the student on whom you are enforcing the limit, the penalty will not provide sufficient motivation to stick to the limit.

Second, penalties must not be too severe. An overly harsh penalty will build resentment and discourage a child from any desire to stick to a limit. Your goal should be to penalize just strongly enough to to motivate the student to want to stay within the limit.

Third, penalties need to be something you can actually carry out. For example, if you decide to make a student stay after class but his parents are not willing to wait around for his penalty time to expire, the penalty will have very little effect. In the heat of trying to enforce a limit, it’s easy to overreach with the penalty you choose and then find yourself in a situation you can’t enforce. So choose carefully

Your goal as a teacher of children in your church is to create a classroom with a positive environment that nurtures learning. It’s easy to undermine this environment if you set limits but then enforce them in a hit-and-miss way.

If you are inconsistent with the way you enforce the limits you set, you’ll be like a police chief who announces the end of speed limits.

Consistency is the key when it comes to keeping order in your classroom. Be consistent in the way you enforce your limits. You’ll create a fun and positive setting for effective learning.

Did you like this article? You can download this entire article as a PDF file here.

© Copyright 2006-2008 Robert Favero and his licensors.
All Rights Reserved.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.