I Can’t Sit Still!


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

For more great articles like this, subscribe to our magazine. Buy 3+ subscriptions for only $12 each.

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.

Kids love our Sunday School resources!

“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

“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,

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

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

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

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

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

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.

1 2 3

About Author

Children's Ministry Magazine

Children's Ministry Magazine is the most read magazine for people who minister to children from birth through sixth grade. We're partnering with you to make Jesus irresistible to kids.

Leave A Reply


Only $12 with 3 or more subscription purchases