We have a ticklish issue relating to a family in our children's program. The family has two young sons whose behavior causes problems in school, church, daycare, and at home. These boys shove and hit other children at church, and act in wildly inappropriate ways at church functions. The boys have been diagnosed with ADHD but the parents have refused treatment. The parents believe their children are just being boys, and that they will grow out of this "phase."
We have lost children's teachers because they can't handle the stress of dealing with these boys. The other children are beginning to avoid playing with these boys. Other parents are growing weary of the situation. We are concerned about losing new families who have bad experiences with these children.
The church leadership group has tasked the pastors with working out a gentle but fair solution. We are a small congregation and want to help this family, but we don't know what to do. What are our options?
I had this problem in my last parish. I did not handle it well because I depended upon my Christian Ed. person to do this. What I didn't realize was that my C. Ed. leader had had a child with ADD and didn't know what to do either.
This will take the concerted effort of the ministry team in your congregation. First of all, you must call the parents in for a conference. They need to know that hitting and violence is NOT allowed or tolerated. They have to know that their children are acting out in ways that are injurious to other children and possibly the elders in you church. You must be willing to 'lose' this family if they are unwilling to address the problems but make it clear that you want to work with the family in helping the children become happier in the congregation.
Kids and adults with ADD need to have good structure for them to function well. If the parents won't provide it, you will have to. As pastor, you, with your team, will need to set clear boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior and be absolutely consistent in providing consequences for bad behavior. If you are not the pastor, you will need his/her agreement on this or it will not work. I would suggest the following:
• One parent must be with the children at all times. Must attend Sunday school classes and be responsible for their behavior at other functions such as coffee hr. church dinners, etc.
• Various alternatives for the children must be provided if they act out--clear outlines about behavior outlines for the removal of the children from an activity when they become obstreperous.
• Just as children are socialized by being in classes with other children, parents need to know that other children do not behave like their own. Parents need to know how their children are acting in Sunday School classes. It might help them recognize that their children need professional help.
I must say that after a very uncomfortable scene in my own parish, we were able to work out a way of dealing with my little ADD guy and the parents did work with us rather than leave the parish. And finally both the parents and the kid got the help they needed. The most important thing is not to become exasperated by the situation. Know that the children are not happy acting out. And what you want for them is to become happy and integrated into the community of Christ. This is not a faith issue--it is a social /mental health issue and with a bit of education on what causes ADD and how to deal with it, you, your staff and your pastoral team will be happier too. Most of all pray for this family.
Sounds like you’ve been put in a tough position and that the parents are undoubtedly having a rough time, too. What kinds of guidance and help can the parents provide and what kind of help would they like from you?
Recognizing that such a meeting might not result in everything going swimmingly, I’d suggest that one of the teachers who has witnessed some of the difficult behavior attend the meeting with the pastors and parents as well. Do share your concerns, but perhaps begin with some positive comments. What are the things that teachers and others are saying are positive about these boys? Couple those comments with stating that “you want to help this family” and lead with those positive statements. Invite the parents to tell you what works well at home and to strategize with you about the behaviors you’re seeing. Ask for what you need from them—do you need the parents to be more present to their children at church functions? Do you need their permission to help support better behaviors?
I wonder what you’ve noticed about when there are problems—some children with ADHD have trouble being in large rooms with lots of activity and become overwhelmed and overstimulated.
Offer resources, if they seem willing to accept help. Are there other parents in the life of the congregation with kids with ADHD? Could they be of help and support?
At best, try to have as one of your goals concluding the meeting with information shared by all and strategizing shared by all. It’s a sensitive and important opportunity to model what it means to be pastoral, supportive, with everyone’s best interests at heart.
And Sharon, who blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offers:
The question in this situation is, for me, not "how can we make the kids behave at church?" or even "how to we get the 'injured' parties to understand?" The question is really, "How will we be the church in this very challenging situation?" Unlike any other community or organization, we claim that God gathers the church together, not us. So sometimes we get to respond to God's gift to the church of the person or family who doesn't seem like a gift.
This is a special needs situation. Are those in church leadership, along with the other parents and teachers, willing to be part of a care plan rather than delegating the response completely to the pastors? A group of two or three could go with a pastor to visit with the family -- at a park or playground -- to hear the parents' stories. Pick lay people who are relatively mature in their faith, intense listeners and deeply compassionate. "What can we do for you?" might be the approach rather than "how can we solve this today?" If there truly are safety issues, then let the parents help come with ways to address that. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a "care circle" for this family, meeting with them monthly to listen to them and to offer support and care.
Parishioners seem to have a high expectation that things in church will run smoothly, that everyone can be advised how to behave "appropriately," and that the pastors have super-powers to clean up messes and solve dilemmas. When something very confounding shows up in church, we can be too quick to give up on each other and on the church. I think this could be named as a faith building moment for this family and for the congregation. It was through "problem people" who came to Jesus that the signs of God's realm were made visible. May it be so for you and your congregation!
What wonderful responses from our matriarchs! What about the rest of you? What wisdom would you share? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.