Relationship Based Discipline

Relationship Based Discipline Cover

If you have preteens who aren’t behaving, it can cause a huge distraction and keep you from accomplishing your God-given mission.

That’s why we want to equip you in creating an environment where discipline is a positive part OF your God-given mission.

The underlying mindset behind “Relationship Based Discipline” is this:

The most effective discipline takes place in the context of meaningful relationships.

Part I

Let’s start our training in Relationship Based Discipline by getting a basic understanding of what discipline really is.  We’ll do that by studying the difference between discipline and punishment.  Listen to this podcast to get a full understanding of the difference:

Part II

Part of why discipline within the context of relationships is so effective is because through relationships, we begin to see the story behind the misbehaviors.  Until we understand the story, we can not fully discipline the preteen.  Heathen Dunn joined Sean for the following podcast, which is about a mindset shift – from looking at the behavior in front of us, to looking at the story behind the behavior.

As a bonus conversation starter on the topic of “Seeing the the Story behind the Behavior”, check out this article.

Part III

Relationship Based Discipline requires that we discipline each student in each situation based on the student and the situation, and not on some predetermined set of consequences.  As our mindset toward discipline changes, some of the old ways of disciplining need to go, including systems-based consequences.  The following podcast is fuel to move you toward your goal of effective meaningful relationship based discipline.

Part IV

Before continuing in our discussion of discipline, it’s important for us to consider what actually constitutes a discipline issue, as opposed to what constitutes a developmentally appropriate (but annoying) behavior.  Chris Santos joins Sean to discuss the difference between annoyances and “Crimes against humanity”, and fighting our tendency to lump these two together when it comes to our response.

Part V

When approaching a misbehavior in a student, we tend to use the techniques that we experienced growing up.  However, some of the types of consequences that we incurred growing up may not be the most effective or appropriate if our goal is to build students up.  In this next podcast, you’ll examine three different types of consequences and consider which is the most appropriate in different circumstances:

Part VI

The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Yes, but the squeaky wheel is the one that NEEDS the oil. OK, but how do we balance that with the fact that there is a room full of students with needs?

Do you ever find that one misbehaving student is getting all of your attention? Do you think to yourself, “That’s not fair to the rest of the group.”? But then you think, “Well Jesus told me to leave the 99 for the 1.”

Relationship Based Discipline takes time, energy, and focus. However, if we focus on one student who is having issues and misbehaving, to the point of ignoring the rest of our group, we’ve allowed that student to become a thief. The next podcast is about balancing our compassion for the individual with our responsibility to the whole group.

Part VII

Imagine trying to teach a bird to climb a tree. Do you think you might have some “behavior issues” from the bird? Would they succeed? Would you, as the teacher, be frustrated? When we don’t consider where preteens are developmentally, we are setting them up for a similar failure, and setting ourselves up for a similar frustration.

Sometimes what we think is a behavior issue in a preteen is just an outflow of where they are developmentally.

Understanding preteens’ development can help to approach their behavior with empathy and peace, as opposed to judgment and frustration. It can also help us to structure our events, environments, and services in ways that set them up for success.

Here are three ways you can begin the journey of understanding preteens:

  1. Read the research paper by the AMLE.
  2. Read a book about developmental stages, like Yardsticks.
  3. A Google Search for “Developmental Stages” will help you in further understanding this age. Notice especially the work of Piaget and Erik Erikson.


There is a certain art in effectively responding to preteens when they misbehave.  Here are two different effective approaches to misbehaving students:

Part IX

When preteens misbehave, we are responsibility (in some measure) for the misbehavior. If we haven’t set up our preteens and leaders so that students can thrive behaviorally, then how can we expect that behavioral excellence from them?

In the following podcast, you’ll hear 4 ways to set up the people in your ministry for success:

  1. Set expectations (See Karaoke Night for an example)
  2. Show you care
  3. Have SMALL groups
  4. Give leaders relational positions, not task positions

Part X

The program and space where your ministry takes place can help or hinder good behavior from your preteens. How do you make your space and program more engaging for your preteens? Nick Diliberto wrote about this concept in this article.  check out the three podcasts below for a bunch of PRACTICAL things you can do to make your ministry a SPACE where preteens thrive: