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
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
CM: How can churches approach parents who have ADHD
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
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
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
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
Barbara Beach is departments editor for Children's Ministry