Challenging Behaviour


Dealing with challenging behaviour can be frustrating particularly if it is happening often. It can spoil the atmosphere of a group and becoming draining on leaders but there are several ways we can handle this behaviour. With these strategies and lots of prayer you can help to manage the behaviour and build a better relationship with the challenging young person.


When thinking of young people with challenging behaviour I’m instantly reminded of Peter’s vision in Acts 10 where he is shown that not only is it acceptable to eat any animal, but the good news of Jesus is for everyone, not just the Jews. Yes, this means the good news of Jesus is even for those young people who we find particularly challenging and who know how to push our buttons. The young person and you can work together to manage their behaviour and build a relationship of trust so that you can share the gospel with them.

Jesus dealt with challenging behaviour in his time- the disciples kicked off when Mary anointed Jesus with perfume, Jesus’ actions are continuously questioned even when he has healed people, and the Pharisees asked him questions trying to catch him out over and over again. It’s nice to know we’re not alone! Each time we see Jesus’ love for the people overshadow his frustration with them, may we be people like Jesus.


Set rules:

It is important to set group rules and make them regularly known to the group. Everyone then knows what is expected of them. This also helps when dealing with challenging behaviour as you can refer the child to the rules so they understand how they are being disruptive. If a young person is misbehaving rather than saying ‘don’t do that’ you could try to give them clear guidelines as to the kind of behaviour you expect from them for example, ‘we expect you to listen when leaders are talking’.


Discipline procedure:

You may like to implement a simple discipline procedure. For example, a two warnings system: if a young person breaks one of the club rules they are given a verbal warning, if they receive two verbal warnings in a half term they are asked to not attend the group for one week.


Structure of a session:

For some children structure and predictability are really helpful. Keeping the same structure each session can help children to feel safe, if there is going to be a change then give them warning in advance. Although for many young people surprises are exciting for others it can make them anxious and therefore more likely to misbehave.


How to Communicate:

You might witness a young person acting up and need to ask them to stop. Instead of shouting across a room take the child to one side, away from their friends, and explain to them why their behaviour was inappropriate. This way you can talk to them calmly without embarrassing them in front of their peers.


Involvement of Parents?

If a child is being persistently naughty try talking to the parents. This may seem daunting but behaviour often improves when parents and group leaders work together. You might say ‘we want x to keep coming to the group, how can we deal with this together?’ You might like to set a review date to meet to discuss how the young person has progressed.


Safeguarding / Physical Contact and Young people

Government child protection guidelines clearly state that we must not touch a child. However, if a child is endangering themselves or others you do have a right by law to gently physically remove them from the situation. Consult your child protection guidelines or safeguarding officer about this and only use this as a last resort. You will probably want to call the parents in this instance and ask them to collect their child, explaining the event in detail to them. In the unlikely event of a young person refusing to leave the premises because of aggressive behaviour, physically hurting or threatening to hurt other children or adults you may need to seek help from the police. This seems like a drastic measure but it is your priority to protect the other young people in your care and the adults you work with.


Review & Evaluation:

You may find that you have a number of young people with challenging behaviour, if this is the case it might be worth reviewing the activities you provide. Some children find it hard to deal with lots of competitive games, for example. Do you have enough activities for the number of young people attending? Find activities they will engage with. You might find giving the young people responsibility helps them to settle in a group, feel ownership for it and find their place. They could help with the tuck shop or be in charge of a table football tournament. Many young people (and adults) find it hard to sit and listen to a 20minute talk, you could try splitting your talk up with a group task or giving young people something to do while you’re talking, like underlining a bible passage.


Young people with challenging behaviour can be really hard to deal with, particularly when you have 20 other young people to look after and a group of volunteers to manage. I find it hard to think on the spot so it’s important for me to have strategies ready before I begin the group just in case a situation arises.


At one youth group I was involved in a young person was becoming very disruptive when we moved from the games and activities to sitting down for the talk. We spoke to the parents and they were so pleased to have support and someone who cared about their child. We came up with a plan together- we put one volunteer in charge of him and made cards for him to show what was happening at what time, she spoke with him and showed him the cards when he first arrived at the group, and she warned him 10minutes and 5minutes before the activities were ending so he knew what to expect next. This worked so well and the behaviour became much more manageable, plus the volunteer responsible for this child has built a great relationship with the parents.


In one instance I was part of, a young boy was repeatedly very disruptive and had missed a few weeks of youth group under the two warnings system. We had talks with his carers and tried to work together, but eventually they became upset that a church was asking their child not to attend youth group (even if it was just for one week) so they left the church. It is very sad when this happens but it’s important not to become disillusioned- God knows our intentions were pure and he knows the hearts of those others and their motives too.


In my experience taking interest in the young people and building relationships with them has worked really well to improve challenging behaviour. When a young person feels that you care about them they are less likely to act up. Get to know them and what’s going on in their life, this may explain some of their behaviour too.


Displaying challenging behaviour is one of the ways in which a young person is expressing themselves. It can be disheartening to us and make us feel that we are failing if we cannot ‘control our group’, all we can do is try our best to manage the behaviour and pray for God to do the rest.


Get into the habit of reflecting on practice once a week and don’t worry if you find it difficult at first, it does get easier!

Having a mentor who you share your reflections with is the best way to engage in reflective practice and develop this skill.

Remember, you are not being assessed.  Record your reflections in a way that works for you.


This website offers helpful tools and online training in managing difficult behaviour.


This PDF document, issued by the Government, is based on managing challenging behaviour in schools but many of the practices are useful for youth groups too.

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