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I Can't Sit Still!

Scot Butwell

Addressing the unique needs of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in your classroom.

Even when you understand why kids misbehave and you have strategies to maintain classroom order, you may still have one or more children who disturb their peers when they should be sitting quietly, blurt out comments when you ask them to listen quietly, and never seem able to make it through an entire Bible lesson without interrupting the class. These unique children may regularly turn your Bible lesson into a nightmare.

Perhaps that one child who always has trouble sitting still and paying attention is one of the millions -- some 3 to 5 percent of all kindergarten through 12th-grade students -- who've been diagnosed with some form of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These children don't misbehave deliberately; they have a neurological disorder that makes it difficult for them to concentrate and control their behavior.

If a teacher doesn't understand ADHD, the classroom can be a negative experience for children with ADHD. Psychologists and teachers recommend these 10 techniques to transform your classroom into a positive experience for children with ADHD.

1. Acknowledge the child's disorder. Teachers may make the mistake of attributing a child's misbehavior to a bad attitude, says Dr. Grant Martin, a licensed psychologist in Seattle, Washington, and author of The Hyperactive Child.

"There are a lot of teachers who just think a kid doesn't want to behave," says Martin who has worked with children with ADHD for more than 30 years. "Or a lot of people will say the parents are the problem or it's a spiritual problem."

Martin says it's important for teachers to recognize that ADHD is a neurological disorder that causes children to have difficulty focusing or creates an excessively high level of physical activity and impulsive behavior. Some children may have both of these characteristics.

"If teachers understand why ADHD children behave the way they do, it's easy to have compassion for them and recognize they need extra support from the teacher," says Martin.

2.Establish clear rules and expectations. "Structure is so important for kids with ADHD because they're so easily distracted by any little thing," says Barb Tjornehoj, a teacher at Trinity Christian School in Omaha, Nebraska. "If they see a teacher allowing one student to talk, they will not hesitate to talk, too."

Tjornehoj says, "When a teacher doesn't have clear rules and expectations, the classroom can be up for grabs. Sometimes it takes just one child with ADHD to set the tone for the rest of the class."

Tjornehoj suggests regularly reviewing rules before beginning a lesson because children with ADHD have a tendency to react in the moment and forget class rules. Consistency is also key, she says.

Both Martin and Tjornehoj stress that a teacher must have everything for the lesson prepared in advance. It's humbling to admit, but sometimes a child's inappropriate behavior is the result of a teacher's lack of preparation.

3.Dare to discipline. "Children need to know that when they break class rules or behave inappropriately, they'll be disciplined," says Dr. Janice Acker, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, and former elementary school teacher for 20 years.

Acker says class rules should be simple and enforceable with clear consequences. The consequences for negative behavior should relate to the innappropriate behavior. If a child intentionally breaks a crayon, for example, he can no longer use it.

With children who have ADHD, psychologists and teachers say immediate and incremental consequences work better than all-or-nothing losses. Losing a privilege for an activity that'll occur in 10 minutes is much more effective and reasonable than telling a child he'll lose a privilege for the rest of the year.

4.Anticipate problems. Seeking to prevent behavior problems before they occur is one of the best strategies for working with children with ADHD, psychologists and teachers say. And all it takes is a little time to notice a child's behavior patterns.

Is there any behavior a child does every week in class? If so, think of ways to eliminate whatever triggers the behavior. Two kids with hyperactive tendencies sitting next to each other, for example, is a nightmare waiting to happen. Try seating these students either next to calmer students to provide behavior role models or near you where direct eye contact or a tap on their shoulders can redirect their attention.

To respond to a child's recurring inappropriate behavior, Acker recommends a multisensory approach. "If a student has trouble remembering to raise her hand, a good strategy is to write the specific desired behavior on an index card and just hand the card to the child," says Acker. "This works just as well as saying, 'Mary, you forgot to raise your hand again.' "

5.Provide positive feedback. Since children with ADHD often get told what they're doing wrong, it's important to let them know what they're doing right, says David Childs, a teacher at Cimarron School in Lancaster, California, who has worked with ADHD children for 10 years. "Children with ADHD don't often get praised for good behavior, and they need praise like all kids," says Childs. Find specific behavior to praise, suggests Childs, even simple behavior that might not seem extraordinary. A teacher might say, for example, "Bobby, I like the way you've been sitting still for five minutes."

Marlane Henderson, a Sunday school teacher at Rolling Hills Covenant Church in Rolling Hills Estates, California, and the parent of three children with ADHD, recommends that a teacher report a child's positive experiences as well as the negative ones to parents.

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