What can a teacher do about irreverent behavior in Sunday classes?
January 1979

“What can a teacher do about irreverent behavior in Sunday classes?” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 14

I’m frustrated as a Sunday School teacher because I struggle with the irreverent behavior of the children. What can I do?

Mary James, mother of ten, instructor of teacher development basic course, Provo Eleventh Ward, Provo Utah West Stake Any irreverent behavior of children in our church classes is certainly cause for concern. Children must learn to walk and sit quietly, sing, and take part in class in the right way. I call this kind of reverence “manners for church.”

But there is a higher kind of reverence. You may have noticed it in classes where the students seem to want to listen and learn. Good manners seem to be spontaneous. What makes the difference?

Teachers who achieve this kind of reverence seem to have at least one thing in common. They define reverence as a profound respect for the Lord based on a personal testimony of the reality of spiritual principles.

I reasoned that if this kind of reverent behavior is based on a testimony of God and Jesus Christ, then maybe irreverent behavior is caused by lack of testimony—or by failure of a class member to realize that he has a testimony. If this is true, then helping students recognize their own spiritual feelings would create a more reverent atmosphere. Though children may not have the same kinds of spiritual experiences that adults have, they can certainly recognize the promptings of conscience and other manifestations of the Spirit in their lives. I therefore try to include three things in my lessons:

First, I always try to make things real by bearing testimony and, where appropriate, by sharing information to which classmembers can relate. I try to use experiences I had when I was their age so that they can identify with them more easily and recognize their own experiences. The response? One little mischievous ringleader said, “Be quiet, you guys! I want to hear this.” Teens in one stake after a fireside said, “That was really good. How come nobody’s ever told me that I could do faith and repentance?”

Second, I use ideas from the lesson manual to help children recognize their own spiritual feelings and experiences. I stress that Heavenly Father is no respecter of persons. He loves us just as much as he loved the prophets who shared their experiences to help us with ours.

Third, when appropriate to the lesson, allow time for students to share their experiences and discuss their feelings. When students tell how they felt during good and bad experiences, I am able to help them identify what kind of feelings come from the Lord.

I have found that as our students learn to recognize the Spirit in their lives and live by it, reverent behavior becomes more spontaneous, and as a bonus, such things as church attendance, missions, and temple marriage also become so desirable that more of our children will set them as personal goals.