Setting Behavior Limits With Children

Posted on Posted in Children, Homeschool

As adults, we will come into contact with children.  For most of us, this will be often–even if we don’t have children of our own.  And at some point, many of us will be the authority over a child or group of children.

Weather we are teachers of formal school, homeschool teachers, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, or VBS instructors–we have at least one thing in common.  There will be a difficult child, or group of difficult children.  At some point, all children misbehave.

If we are the authority figure for a group of children, we realize bad behaviors are bound to happen here and there.  Are you equipped to handle this situation?

Here are some questions to ask yourself in preparation before you start this journey (or if you’re already there but would like to revamp your approach).

1.     What will your boundaries for behavior be?

I have fallen into this trap myself during Sunday School lessons.  I know what’s appropriate and what’s not, so I didn’t see any reason to think this through.  I wish I had.

Behaviors will come up with children that are not your own.  You will not be able to deal with these behaviors the same way as you would your own children.  Are you prepared for that?

If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve either been told, You’ve got to pick your battles or If it isn’t obedience the first time, then it’s not obedience.  Maybe you’ve been told both.  It’s important to evaluate the reasoning of both and come to a conclusion that’s appropriate for your unique situation.

When you begin working with your own child (either informally, or during a devotional/homeschool time), what will your limits and boundaries be?

I would highly suggest writing these down to help you stay accountable to your own standards.

2.     How will I communicate boundaries to the children?

I confess that as I began teaching Sunday School a decade before I even had children, I just thought children knew what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And I thought they had all been given the same rules from all their parents–after all, they were all Christians, right?  Silly me…

I learned very quickly this wasn’t the case.  Nearly all the children had different rules.  None of them were “evil” rules–they were just different.

There needs to be a way to communicate to all the children what rules are expected.  This can be accomplished by reciting a short list everyday, putting a handout on the cover of their binders or notebooks, or posting them on a wall or poster.

If you are a parent in this situation, perhaps consider writing the family rules on the wall somewhere or making a sign that you will display.  Maybe you make book marks for their favorite book or Bible that they will see often and have access to at all times.  The possibilities are plenty.

Always remember that children are children–the rules will need to be repeated or referred to more than once.  This is especially the case with very small children.

3.     What will my reactions be for a broken rule?

It may seem silly, but there are plenty of behaviors that may take you by surprise or even invoke your anger.  Prepare for them.

You want to be prepared not to have that look, or that voice, or (God forbid) those words.  If you are working with someone else’s children, remember that the look that you give your child to calm down may be inappropriate or intimidating to someone else’s.

New to the whole process?  Write down and/or rehearse what you will say.

Now Mary, could you sit down and tell me rule #5?  [Response]  That’s right, never raise a hand to hit.  Did you follow rule #5?  [Response] What do you think we should do to solve this situation?  [Response]  Let’s put into practice fixing what we’ve just done.

Our reactions and what we say will all be different.  But I highly suggest working out a few possible “what I will say” scenarios to get your heart and mind trained to respond in a protective manner yet with grace.  Shock and anger should be avoided at all costs.

You also want to work out in advance things like, will I give a first warning?  a second warning?  then what?  This will protect your heart and keep you away from favoritism.

If a child you have a soft-spot for acts out, it may be tempting to give them a warning or two.  But a child who is always acting out may get an immediate consequence.  This is favoritism, and can be harmful to you and the child. Parents, especially must avoid favoritism.

Clear cut rules help keep everyone’s hearts in the safe zone.  Policy is the best honesty, one of my mentors used to tell me.

4.     What will consequences be for broken rules?

After working out whether or not you will give warning, and how many warnings, if necessary, have a set of consequences ready.  And have a back-up in case that set of consequences doesn’t work.

You want to appear in-control.  You want to be in control.  Don’t get caught on empty.  Some children are more challenging.  Be ready.

If you’re a parent, this will be especially important with your own children. Consequences that were once unbearable, might seem “not-bad” or down-right delightful as children grow and mature.


By consistently having a first-time every-time readiness, even the adult or parent who doesn’t feel in control, can be in control.  We’ve heard the joke tossed around, children can smell fear.  For a child who likes to push buttons, I think this is true!

When she/he starts pushing buttons or simply acting out because she/he doesn’t recognize authority, you want to be prepared.  And have a back-up.  And have a back-up for your back-up.

A child who recognizes your authority will likely push less buttons, less often. And a child who recognizes your authority is building their understanding of submission–which will be infinitely valuable in their walk with Jesus.

When we are in a position of authority of young children, are we prepared for misbehavior? Four keys to assist with the boundary setting (and keeping) that young children need so dearly.

Who do you teach?


5 thoughts on “Setting Behavior Limits With Children

  1. This is great food for thought. My daughter, at almost 9 months of age, is now starting to understand cause and effect and she’s asserting her will a bit. My husband and I are having to think through questions of what limits we will set and how we’ll handle discipline. There aren’t always easy answers!
    These questions you presented are a good starting point.

  2. This is so helpful! My husband and I have been finding our way on setting limits for our own child, but it’s much harder with situations where I am dealing with other children. I volunteer often in our church nursery, and with the toddlers, that’s definitely an issue that comes up.

  3. This is good advice. As the mother of 2 grown daughters, 3 grown step-children and on round 2 with 8 and 11 year old step sons, I can say that the ground rules you lay down when they are younger are the basis for what comes when they are teenagers and everything is tested. Now is the time to stick to your guns, so to speak, but also to learn to choose your battles.

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