Part 1: Charting Behavior

Have you ever dealt with challenging behavior in your small church kidmin or youth group and had no idea what to do? Has bizarre behavior got you scratching your head, losing volunteers, or affecting attendance? Behavior Analyst Holly Sharpe is here to share the tools to help you understand and address behavior in your small church ministry! Learn behavior management and how to chart problem behavior in part 1 of this three part series.

We’ve all been there.

Have you ever dealt with problem behavior in kidmin or youth? Things like…

  • Defiance
  • Disobedience
  • Bad attitude
  • Bullying
  • Aggression

These types of recurring behavior can really affect the hearts of your kids and youth, volunteers, and parents…and derail your ministry mission if not properly handled.

Maybe you feel like you have tried it all!

When problem behavior happens, we do our best to handle it appropriately—we might try…

  • Reasoning
  • Contacting parents
  • Punishment
  • Bribes
  • Rewards
  • Consequences

Sometimes these standby approaches work for a time and stop, don’t work at all, or cause more problems than we started with. 

So what do we do?

Thankfully, there is a tried and true method to understanding behavior and successfully addressing it! 

First, we must remember: Behavior is communication!

To properly respond to problem behavior, we need to understand why it is happening. 

Part 1 of Children’s Ministry Behavior Management: Chart the Behavior

The first thing to do when you notice a problem behavior that requires more than just a quick correction is to write it down. This will help you objectively see what is actually going on.

To chart behavior, I recommend a basic ABC Chart

Using the ABC Chart for Behavior Management

  • Antecedent: this is a fancy way of noting what happened before the behavior occurred.
  • Behavior: now, write down what the behavior looked like.
  • Consequence: how did teachers, volunteers, or students respond or react to the behavior?

Here is what your chart might look like:

What happened before?What did it look like?What was the response?

Once you’ve drawn and labeled your chart, take some time and fill it out, including as many incidences of each type of behavior as you can remember. For example, you may do separate charts for aggression and defiant or uncooperative behavior.

A – Antecedent

When you are thinking about the antecedent or what happened before the behavior, think about:

  • What did an adult do/say?
  • What did another child or youth do/say?
  • What was going on in the classroom?
  • What time of day was it?
  • What conditions were present?

Think about what someone may have said to the kiddo that exhibited the behavior, right before it happened. What was already going on in the classroom—Playtime? Lesson? Snack? Was it right after drop off, in the middle of class, after playtime, or before time to go home? Was it loud or chaotic, or quiet? Was it right after breakfast or close to lunch time? All of these things could be important factors to consider when trying to understand a problem behavior. Your chart might look like this:

What happened before?What did it look like?What was the response?
Right after he was dropped off by mom, I asked him if he wanted to play with blocks with the other children.

In this example, we see that right before there was a problem behavior, the kiddo had just been dropped off and was given the opportunity to go play with the other children. This could be a clue to what causes or maintains behavior!

B – Behavior

When you are ready to chart the actual problem behavior:

  • What did you see and/or hear?
  • What did the behavior look like?

When you are charting behavior, it is important to only write what you saw/heard or what the behavior looked like. Be careful not to imply intention when you describe the behavior. Here are some examples:

DO:

The child said “No!” and ran to the classroom door. He opened it and ran out of the classroom.

DON’T:

The child was rude to the teacher and wanted to find his mom in the sanctuary.

See the difference? We don’t want to assume why the child did what they did, but instead we want to write only what we saw or heard so we can have a clear picture of the behavior, otherwise our bias can get in the way of our understanding. 

Here is what your chart might look like:

What happened before?What did it look like?What was the response?
Right after he was dropped off by mom, I asked him if he wanted to play with blocks with the other children.He said ‘no!’ and ran to the classroom door. He opened it and ran out of the classroom.

C – Consequence

When you are thinking about the consequence of the behavior, think about:

  • How did the adults or teacher react when the behavior happened?
  • What did adults or children say?
  • What body language were adults using?
  • What response does this behavior usually get?

Consequences don’t always refer to punishments for behavior, although that is what most people think of when they consider consequences for behavior. When you are charting behavior, consequences include anything that happened, was said, or was done in response to problem behavior. Here are some examples of consequences:

  • An adult scolded the child, saying “Stop that!”
  • Another child began crying
  • A volunteer offered the child a cookie to distract her
  • He smashed his finger in the door and began crying
  • The block tower the children built fell over

Here is how your chart might look:

What happened before?What did it look like?What was the response?
Right after he was dropped off by mom, I asked him if he wanted to play with blocks with the other children.He said ‘no!’ and ran to the classroom door. He opened it and ran out of the classroom.A volunteer ran after him, calling his name and caught him. Then she brought him back to the classroom while telling him it is dangerous to run out of the room.

Behavior has been charted! All done … Just kidding!

Charting one instance of behavior is great, but to get a clear picture of what is happening around problem behaviors, you need to chart multiple incidences. A good rule of thumb is to chart at least three instances in order to see if a pattern is emerging. More about identifying patterns in part 2 of this blog series!

Tips for Behavior Management in Your Children’s Ministry:

  • Chart the behavior ASAP after the behavior occurred so you remember as many details as accurately as possible.
  • Keep a notebook in the classroom so you can easily chart behavior, and other volunteers can also access it to chart behavior.
  • Review the ABC chart with your volunteers or staff members at the end of the day so you can fix any mistakes or add any details.
  • Chart similar behaviors on different charts: aggression on one chart, defiance on another, etc.

Good luck charting! Find me at The Creative Little Church Facebook Group for questions or post here in the comments. Look for Part 2 in the Behavior Management for Small Church Ministry series: Identifying Behavior Patterns!

READ MORE ABOUT CHILDREN’S MINISTRY IN SMALL CHURCHES:

Behavior Management: Identifying Behavior Patterns for Small Churches

Behavior Management: Address Behavior for Small Churches