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Ministry to Children With ADHD

Barbara Beach

CM: What discipline should teachers use if kids with ADHD consistently ignore basic class rules?

JUDY: In the classroom with the three boys, we have a yellow card/red card system. The teacher hands them a yellow card for a warning signal. Because they're fourth graders, they understand and think "Oops! I need to hold it back and get it together." And if they can't hold it together, they get a red card and I'm called. They sit outside the room in a secure place where I talk to them, pray with them, and help them enter back into the classroom. I also talk to the parents. If the situation is one where they have become so impulsive that a chair flies across the room, they automatically earn a red card. I'm called and I call the parent and discuss what should happen.

CM: How can teachers learn about ADHD?

JUDY: I have a teacher training about all different styles and kinds of children. As we go through that training, one of the types of children I talk about is the ADHD child and what might happen when one of them is in the classroom. We also talk about the perfect child and what's going to happen when a teacher has one of them in the classroom. All children need to succeed in Sunday school. I really try to train my teachers that Jesus has called them to teach all children. All of us as adults haven't made it either. We need to train our teachers and remind them that we're all on a path together. There's no difference between an ADHD child, Sally Slow Learner, and Billy Bright. They're all here for a reason.

CM: How can churches approach parents who have ADHD kids?

PAUL: An important point for teachers is to not use the label but to describe the behavior. Parents typically react to labels, but they'll agree to the characteristics you describe. Teachers could describe Johnny as (don't use the term "fidgeting") always moving his feet, or tapping his hands, can't sit in a chair for very long, blurts out and talks a lot, can't keep his hands to himself, doesn't really respond to discipline, or gets distracted off task really easily. Teachers should describe what's going on and mention that all kids have these characteristics, but mention that Johnny seems to be struggling more than most.

I think teachers should be honest with parents regardless of how they think parents will respond. If teachers base their input on how parents will respond, they may not be totally straightforward with them. Lots of times it takes parents two, three, or four different kinds of input from different places before they start to realize or accept that there's a problem. If teachers withdraw or withhold information, they're possibly slowing down the process of getting that child some help. Be honest and describe the behavior. Parents may react to the Sunday school teacher and think their child has ADHD and needs to be put on medication.

JUDY: I agree that we need to be honest with the parents and describe the behavior. We also need to be honest with the parents' feelings. Many of these parents are church-shopping with their child. They're trying to find which church is going to accept their child because they've been tossed out or rejected from three other churches. Those parents are also hurting. We as children's pastors or professionals need to come alongside and minister to those parents. They need a peer group and a support group.

PAUL: Usually they feel very blamed and guilty. They've been told they're bad parents and they just need to discipline more. So a lot of them are really hurting and discouraged. They maybe don't realize that it's not so much their fault, but it's that they have a very difficult child to deal with.

DONNA: I agree that you shouldn't put labels on the child when you tell parents, but I can tell you that parents already know how their kids are behaving. They know; they don't need to be told. They know their kid is more hyper or impulsive or whatever.

My husband won't admit that our son has ADHD. For him, if he can't see it, it's not real. The doctor has said that's what Mike has, and he's on medicine for it that obviously helps him. But my husband thinks that simply giving medicine or drugs to someone will make them change and act differently. He thinks Mike has a discipline problem. And if he has more discipline, he wouldn't act that way. He's been disciplined forever, and nothing worked with him no matter what we did. The behavior would still come right back.

It wasn't until I started giving Mike the medicine that his behavior changed enough to where he could sit still and really focus on things in school. It made such a major difference that it was obvious to me that he needed it. I really can't be involved in support groups. Most meet in the evening and I wouldn't want to go without my husband.

CM: What should parents who have an ADHD child expect from the church?

DONNA: It's good if teachers know the child has ADHD and know how to deal with it. I think it would be great if teachers would sit down and read a book about it so they know what it's all about. But obviously, they're not going to do that if it doesn't affect their personal lives.

I think the team thing is a real good idea. If the teachers could learn from the parents what message works best with their child, it might lessen the disturbances in the classroom. It would also help the other kids to not make a child an outcast or the bad kid. I know Mike has very few friends compared to my older son, and it's hard seeing it.

PAUL: I have an ADHD inattentive son who is 10 years old. I think it's reasonable for teachers to have at least some baseline information about what ADHD is so they can understand the challenges that might occur in the classroom. I don't think it's realistic for all Sunday school teachers to handle all different situations, but at least they're trying to understand ADHD characteristics and what small changes could make the classroom go more smoothly. I'd appreciate that kind of information from the church.™

Barbara Beach is departments editor for Children's Ministry Magazine.

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