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5 Tips for Praising Kids’ Behavior

A positive and nurturing environment is key for any VBS or children’s ministry event. But what’s the best way to redirect kids’ behavior when they aren’t listening? Maintaining the fine line between having fun and keeping things in order can sometimes be easier said than done.

Make sure your leaders have a full toolbox of techniques for positive reinforcement so that kids have fun and stay focused on the real purpose of your children’s ministry event—Jesus and His saving work! In the book Reaching Every Child, section author Karen Wittmayer offers the following five tips for keeping kids on track through words of praise.

Catch Good Behavior

It is easy to focus on negative behaviors; we often must intentionally look for good behaviors. Praise will encourage more good behavior. Use statements like “Thanks for sitting down quietly today” or “I like how you listened while others were reading.”

Be Specific with Praise

Don’t just say “Great” or “Good job.” Look for specific actions that define good behavior and comment on them. Defining good behavior helps children understand what good behavior is and what you as a teacher expect.

Be Sincere

If you praise too often or for weak effort, praise loses its effectiveness. Children won’t believe you mean it. Children are very perceptive in this.

Praise Effort, Not End Results

If a child struggles but completes an oral reading, it is more effective to say “Wow! That was tough and you kept at it” than “Great job.” You both know that the reading was not really great. Let the child know that hard work pays off.

Redirect Problem Behavior

Praise positive behavior; ignore inappropriate behavior unless it is truly disruptive. If a child is trying to distract others, praise the appropriate behaviors being displayed by the others in class. This reinforces the appropriate behaviors of others, makes clear to all students the behavior that is expected, and often quickly causes a change in behavior of the child not receiving the praise. Once that child has changed his or her behavior, be sure to specifically praise the new, more appropriate behavior. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Encourage one another and build one another up.”

Building up God’s precious children through praise and encouragement can be a daunting task, especially when one has a challenging student—but what student needs it more? Remember that it is through your words and actions that children see the loving face of Christ. As we are encouraged by Christ, we can share that encouragement with all of God’s children. What a privilege it is to serve our Master!


Looking for even more ways to help reach children in your VBS, Sunday School, or children’s ministry program? Be sure to add a copy of Reaching Every Child to your church library. It offers a wide variety of short articles and suggestions that are perfect for your children’s ministry toolbox.


This blog post is adapted from pages 56–57 of Reaching Every Child, © 2015 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture: ESV®.


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