Lesson 24: Helping Those Who Become Disruptive

"Lesson 24: Helping Those Who Become Disruptive," Part B: Basic Principles of Gospel Teaching—Create a Learning Atmosphere, ()


Speaking about the environment in the home, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “When little problems occur, as they inevitably will, restrain yourself. Call to mind the wisdom of the ancient proverb: ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath.’ (Prov. Proverbs 15:1.) There is no discipline in all the world like the discipline of love. It has a magic all its own” (“The Environment of Our Homes,” Ensign, June 1985, 6).

As President Hinckley observed, little problems will inevitably occur. Whether you are teaching in the home or at church, your lessons may at times be disrupted by the behavior of those you teach. In your efforts to help those who become disruptive, remember that you should not simply try to correct inappropriate behavior or make sure everyone is quiet; you should help learners become better disciples of the Savior. The following information will help you handle disruptions in a Christlike way.

Remember the Worth of Souls

The Lord counseled, “Remember that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). Those you teach have divine characteristics and divine destinies. Your responses to their actions can help them remember their infinite worth as sons and daughters of God. Through your example, you can help them increase in their desire to help each other learn the gospel and live according to its principles.

Seek to Understand Those You Teach

As you think about ways to help those who become disruptive, consider all possible reasons for their behavior, including the classroom environment. Pray for the guidance of the Spirit. Sometimes people act disruptively because of something you do or something another person does. Sometimes they speak and act improperly because they are troubled, angry, tired, or frustrated. You should carefully review these possibilities as you think about the causes of problems. When you understand those you teach, you will be able to help them contribute to lessons in positive ways. (See “Understanding Those You Teach,” pages 33–34. To review the needs of learners in different age-groups, see “Teaching Children,” pages 108–9; “Age Characteristics of Children,” pages 110–16; “Understanding and Teaching Youth,” pages 118–20; “Understanding and Teaching Adults,” pages 123–24.)

Evaluate Your Own Efforts

When those you teach behave disruptively, it is easy to focus on their conduct and fail to review your own. But the Savior said: “How wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? … First cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (3 Nephi 14:4–5).

In your efforts to solve problems with disruptions, first consider whether the real source of the problem is something that you are doing. Ask yourself, “Am I keeping the Savior and His doctrine at the center of my teaching? Am I doing all I can to teach by the Spirit? Have I helped those I teach take responsibility for their learning? Have I helped them contribute to a learning atmosphere? Do I give them the opportunity to learn from one another? Could I improve my lesson preparation? Am I continually seeking to improve as a teacher?”

Examine the teaching methods you are using. Ask yourself, “Do they help those I teach understand and apply gospel truths? Am I using a variety of methods in order to help those I teach stay interested and participate actively?”

Evaluate Your Motives

The Lord taught that those who have desires to assist in His work must “be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity” (D&C 12:8). Only those who are motivated by love will have a positive, powerful influence on those they teach. Pray to be filled with Christlike love toward every person you teach, especially those who sometimes behave inappropriately. (See “Seeking the Gift of Charity,” page 12; “Love Softens Hearts,” pages 31–32.)

Ask yourself, “Am I more concerned about helping others learn the gospel or about presenting my lesson material without interference?” Think about the experience class members are having rather than the experience you are having. As you continually reach beyond your own needs to the hearts of those you teach, they will feel more comfortable participating in edifying ways.

Help All Class Members Contribute to a Learning Atmosphere

From time to time, you may want to review with learners the principles that will help them contribute to a learning atmosphere (see “Teaching Others to Contribute to a Learning Atmosphere,” pages 77–78). Remind them of their responsibility to participate in discussions, allow each other to contribute, listen to one another, and bring their scriptures. Also tell them what you will do as the teacher to contribute to this learning environment. Assure them that you will prepare well to teach them and that you will conduct discussions and other activities that will give them all the opportunity to participate.

Respond in Simple Ways to Occasional Disturbances

Sometimes it is best to simply ignore small disturbances and focus on good behavior. When you need to respond to an occasional disruption, consider the following suggestions:

  • Be silent. Wait quietly until the person stops talking or being disruptive.

  • Move closer to the person being disruptive. This small action can serve as a quiet reminder to be more attentive.

  • Use light humor. With a lighthearted touch, you may be able to turn the person back to the lesson. However, you should never be sarcastic or use humor to embarrass or control.

  • Help the person participate in positive ways. Consider asking him or her to read, paraphrase something, give an example, or respond in some other way. The point of this idea is not to humiliate the person but to invite him or her to participate.

  • Help everyone participate. If one person dominates a discussion, make an effort to call on those who have not yet contributed. Give them the first opportunity to answer questions. If this does not work, gently turn the focus away from the individual and back to the class by saying, “Let’s hear from someone else” or “You have made several interesting comments. Would someone else like to add to what has been said?” (For specific suggestions about conducting discussions, see “Conducting Discussions,” pages 63–65; “Teaching with Questions,” pages 68–70.)

  • Redirect discussions that do not invite the Spirit. If someone argues with you or others, speaks irreverently, or raises controversial issues, use love and meekness when deciding how to respond. You may simply say something like, “That is an interesting observation, but it will probably take us away from today’s lesson.”

  • Introduce a different activity. Provide an immediate break by changing to an activity that requires different participation.

Make Special Efforts to Help Those Who Persistently Cause Disruptions

In spite of your efforts to create a learning atmosphere, someone may persistently disrupt the lessons you teach. If someone is seriously disrupting the learning of others, you should neither ignore the problem nor act in an unkind way. In such a situation, remember the Lord’s instruction to maintain influence only “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

“That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:41–44).

In applying this counsel, it is helpful to understand the words betimes and sharpness. Betimes means promptly or in good time. In this passage, sharpness refers to the need to give clear, well-defined instructions.

You should be gentle and meek when giving correction. Note that reproving should be done only “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” and should be followed by an increase of love.

The following suggestions may help you if someone you teach becomes persistently disruptive. You can find ways to adapt some of these suggestions for use at home.

Speak Privately with the Person

It is sometimes helpful to speak privately with a person who persistently causes disruptions. You should do so tactfully and with love. Describe the conduct that is disruptive while at the same time making clear that you love and respect the person. Ask for the person’s support, and try to find solutions together. Then do all you can to show increased love. As Brigham Young counseled, “Never chasten beyond the balm you have within you to bind up” (in Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 278).

Seek Help from Others

Your leaders want to help you with your teaching challenges. You can benefit from their ideas and assistance. For example, they might ask someone to help with certain activities or sit next to a child who is misbehaving. In your regular contact with a leader in your organization, you can discuss ways to help individuals in your class (see “Obtaining Support from Your Leaders,” page 28).

You may want to ask one of your leaders to attend your class and give special attention to the learning atmosphere during the lesson. After class, discuss the problem with the leader and work out solutions together. Continue to counsel with your leaders as you implement solutions.

If a child or youth has a pattern of disruptive behavior, seek the help of his or her parents. Parents want to know about their children’s behavior, and they are willing to help. If possible, include the young person in these conversations; this will show your respect for his or her maturity and agency. Together you can make specific plans and later review your progress.

If the person causing disruptions has special needs, learn what you can do to help him or her learn more effectively and behave more appropriately (see “Teaching Those with Disabilities,” pages 38–39; see also “Ministering to Members Who Have Disabilities,” pages 310–14 in the “Gospel Teaching and Leadership” section of the Church Handbook of Instructions).

Be Patient

Remember that change takes time. Keep working patiently, and never give up on someone who is having problems. Be consistently positive in your approach to the person. Do not be discouraged if he or she has a negative attitude in class. Even if the person seems to be getting little out of the lessons you teach, he or she still has the opportunity to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ and feel the influence of the Spirit. He or she also has the opportunity to be with a loving teacher and caring leaders and friends.

Specific Suggestions for Primary Teachers

If a child is causing a disruption, kindly ask him or her to stop. For example, if a class member named Linda is disturbing another class member, you could say, “Linda, please do not do that.” Thank her if she obeys. If she does not, state your request more firmly, but still with kindness: “Linda, you need to stop doing that now.” Thank her if she obeys.

If she still does not comply, arrange to talk privately with her about what is expected in class. Tell her what bothers you and why. For example, you could say, “Linda, I was disturbed about what happened in class today. We cannot learn when the class is not reverent.” Then you could ask her how she feels about the situation. After listening attentively to her response, you could let her know that you understand her feelings. Perhaps you could say, “I understand that you feel restless and that it’s hard to sit still.” Then ask, “How can we solve this together? What can I do to help? What will you do?” Discuss a solution together.

After speaking with Linda, you would need to develop your own plan to help her and the class if her disruptions continue. The plan might include any of the following actions:

  • Move a chair away from the other children. Have Linda sit there quietly for a short period of time, such as two minutes. During this time, do not interact with the child. Invite her into the group when she has been quiet for the assigned time.

  • Ask a member of the Primary presidency or another leader to take the child to a vacant room or quiet place in the meetinghouse where the parents can help. You might say, “I am sorry you have not kept the class rules, Linda. Sister Davis will take you to talk with your parents. I hope you will be back soon. When you have decided to keep the rules, you may come back to class.” The leader should stay with the child. When the child is in control again, she can be invited back into the group. Let her know that she is loved and that she is an important part of the class.