What to Do When Your Child Misbehaves at Church
There was a time when the threat of being sent to the pastor’s office was a big deal.
My husband tells a story about being sent to his pastor’s office when he was a boy.
He and his friend Matt had been cutting up in Sunday School, and their frustrated teacher sent them to talk to the pastor.
The pastor looked at my husband and said, “Chip, where is Jesus?”
Chip, ever the cool customer, did not answer.
The pastor must have thought Chip simply didn’t hear or wasn’t paying attention, so he got louder and repeated. “Chip where is Jesus?”
He didn’t answer.
So, the third time the pastor, in frustration, yelled, “Chip where is Jesus!?!?”
Chip bolted from his seat, ran into the hallway, and said, “Come on Matt, Jesus is missing and their trying to blame it on us.”
I think the story is made up, but I can’t be sure because a scene like this would not have been unusual in the 1980s.
Today, we don’t expect pastors to act as principals.
Today, our kids’ behavior is all on us.
Which is tough because even within a congregation or small group, philosophies of discipline and child rearing can vary widely.
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And while it is uncomfortable for your son or daughter to misbehave, having your parenting put on blast is worse.
These five steps will help you to find out why your child is misbehaving at church and set them on a path to prevent the same problems in the future.
1. Talk to your child.
This may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget to actually talk to our kids.
And I’m not talking about a brief conversation.
I mean clear the schedule, sit down together, and really dig in.
Ask your kid why they’re misbehaving at church.
Is this out of character for them?
Are they the kid that’s always in trouble?
Are they doing great in school and wild at church?
You know your child.
You need to figure out what is going on in their heart so that you can move forward with a plan.
Don’t let the conversation end until you’ve at least gotten a sense of what is going on behind the scenes.
And do your best to make it obvious in the conversation that you are on the same side as your child.
Don’t make it an interrogation, but rather a time for them to open up to you because you love them and care enough to stop everything and just listen.
It may take a while for them to open up.
Don’t get discouraged.
Just keep being there.
As parents, we are often tempted to fill in the gaps and make conversations with our kids.
Resist that urge.
It’s totally fine to have long periods of silence and tell them you aren’t quitting until you get to the bottom of it.
2. Ask your child how you can help.
Once you’ve figured out why your child is misbehaving at church, it’s time to start working on solutions.
The first step should be to ask your child how you can help.
They’ve just trusted you enough to explain what is going on to cause them to misbehave, trust them enough to listen to their ideas for solutions.
As parents, often times we just want to get problems solved as soon as possible.
We are the parents and we have more life experience, so obviously, we know the best way to solve the problem.
And while all of this is true, it is also a bit irrelevant.
Your child will not be a child forever.
Your job as a parent is to prepare them to be a competent adult.
Part of being an adult is problem-solving and part of being a parent is teaching kids how to solve their own problems.
So ask your child how you can help and then just LISTEN.
If they’re anything like my kids, they’ll say, “I don’t know??” 533 times before they even attempt to come up with a solution.
But eventually, they will start giving some answers.
And those answer may surprise you.
Here are the main three reasons I hear from parents about why their kids are misbehaving at church:
1. Kids want their parents to be more present.
If mom is in charge of the women’s ministry and dad is leading the youth group, kids will act out to get some attention from their parents.
If this is the case, it may be time to reevaluate your place of service and head to the children’s department for a while. OR youth. Or wherever your kids are.
2. Kids want some space from their parents.
If you have moved up with every promotion your child has gotten so that you’re always working where your kid is, it may be time to give some space.
Your church should be a safe place.
It is okay to let your child go to Sunday school or AWANAS or VBS or whatever without you right beside them. (And if your church isn’t a safe place, you may need to reevaluate where you’re going and why).
Your child needs to learn to obey other adults and submit to their authority.
Kids really don’t have a lot of negotiation tools.
So while it seems very counterproductive to misbehave to get your parents to trust you and give you space, they don’t really think things through like that.
3. They’re having issues with other kids.
The actual issues vary greatly, but often times when kids are struggling with their peers, they act out.
This can be something simple like not having friends so they act like a clown to get laughs.
Or it could be more complex where they feel like they’re being bullied.
You’ll need to really dig into what is happening to help your child process it and come up with some solutions.
As Christians, this should go without saying, but as parents, we often need the reminder to stop and pray.
We know that we should turn to God first and wait for His answer.
But sometimes when our kids need us, we jump into action first.
Try to use this as a chance to model the right way to approach a problem.
Pray with your child right then.
Pray with your child when the conversation is over even if you haven’t reached a solution.
Pray together that God will direct you.
Pray about it every time you start to worry about it.
Pray with your spouse.
“Pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17, KJV
Fun fact: the Greek word for “without ceasing” is adialeiptōs which is translated to mean “constantly recurring.” So Paul is telling us to pray over and over, not that we have to pray without ever stopping.
4. Read the Bible together
The Bible should be our parenting manual.
But like most manuals, it’s long and filled with complicated text and it’s really hard to find the instructions you need when you need them.
To combat this, we use Google.
Granted, I’ve got a pretty great advantage in that my husband is a seminary graduate so he actually took classes in Greek and Hebrew.
But it’s still tough.
They didn’t offer Parenting with the Bible at Southern Theological Seminary.
So if my kids have been saying unkind things, we Google “Bible verses on kind words” and read them together.
We write them big and hang them all over the house.
We print coloring pages and color them.
We go to God’s word together and learn from it together.
We do our best to show them that we should turn to the Bible to find answers to our problems.
5. Seek wise counsel
In addition to praying, seek wise counsel.
The key word here is wise.
If you go blabbing to your entire Sunday school class that your kid is wild and you don’t know what to do, you are shaping their reputation within the church.
You love your child fiercely and fully no matter what.
That’s not true for everyone else.
When you say that your child is wild, bad, disobedient, willful, sneaky, dishonest, etc., people believe you.
Then they look for that in your child.
Then your child has the reputation of being wild, bad, disobedient, etc. and kids usually live up to reputations.
So choose who you talk to very carefully.
And please don’t take this as me saying not to talk to anyone.
You absolutely should talk to people.
You should have at least one mature Christian in your life that you can go to and get wise advice from.
If you don’t, maybe it’s time to pray for God to send you some Christian friends.
Or maybe you’ve accidentally isolated yourself from people at the church and it’s time to come down off the pedestal and work on being more relatable.
However you approach it, seek wise counsel. And the more wise counsel, the better.
I tell my grandma, Mimi, everything because she is my favorite person.
She is 84 years old and has been a pastor’s wife for over 50 years. She raised four kids and had a successful career as an RN. She reads her Bible and prays for hours every day. She’s an incredibly wise and mature Christian.
But her parenting advice is coming from a hindsight perspective and that view is often skewed. Her advice to me is usually just to love my kids and give them candy because they’re going to grow up so fast.
So while I do tell her about my parenting struggles, I take her advice with a grain of salt.
I put much more stock in the advice given to me by my parenting peers or women that are only one season ahead of me (they have high schoolers I have elementary kids).
So make sure to get some advice from people that are in this season with you.
Your pastor or children’s minister or anyone on your church staff should be a great person to talk to.
Talk to people that know the struggles you’re facing because they’re facing them too, or they can still remember the difficulties of parenting.
6. Talk to your child’s leader
You may have already had a conversation with their leader about your child’s misbehavior and that’s what prompted this whole process.
But that conversation was probably more of an information gathering talk.
The leader was telling you about your child’s behavior and you were just listening.
I know for us, those conversations are horribly awkward for everyone involved and we all want it to end as soon as possible.
Because who wants to talk to their pastor about his child misbehaving??
But now that you’ve had time to talk to your child, pray, and seek wise counsel, it’s time to go back to the leader.
Before you go, make sure you’re in the right headspace.
If you are still very worked up or upset, wait.
My son was once assaulted by another child during a church activity, and it was weeks before I was ready to talk to the leader.
I simply brought my son with me to my activity during that time until I was ready to have a civil conversation.
And as the pastor’s wife, that was hard.
I often feel the need to be a perfect role model and that bleeds over onto my kids.
Pulling my son out of a regular weekly activity for several weeks in a row, got attention.
People asked me why my son was with me instead of with his class.
I just told them that I needed to spend a little extra time with him this week.
When people pressed the issue and asked if something had happened, I was honest and said, “Yes. There was an incident, but we are working to find a solution.”
And don’t feel like you have to have all the answers.
This is your first time parenting this child.
They didn’t come with a manual, and it’s okay to not know exactly what to do.
It’s okay to go to the leader and get their perspective on what has been going on with your child.
After they’re finished telling you about what your child has been doing, ask for their advice.
This doesn’t mean you have to take it, but this person has probably been praying for you and your child too.
God may have laid something on their heart that you need to hear.
In conclusion, it’s always tough when your child makes a bad decision.
But it’s especially tough when they do at church.
By following these six steps, you can get to the reason for your child’s misbehavior at church and redirect them to a path that leads them to be more like Jesus.
Has your child ever misbehaved at church? How do you handle it? Tell us in the comments!!