Church can be a particularly difficult experience for a hyperactive child, especially if your child is required to sit quietly for any length of time. In fact, it can be so difficult that many parents simply opt out of church altogether. However, many parents are able to bring their ADHD children to church services and/or Sunday School with some preparation and perserverance.
You may feel that it is easier to leave your child in Sunday School. This can certainly be the case if you have a supportive teacher and classmates, or a teacher with a lot of energy!
However, not all churches have Sunday School for all services and ages. There is definitely something to be said for your child being able to stay with you during worship services. Some children do not like to go to a class with unfamiliar children, or fear they will be teased because of their behavior. Here are some tips for making your child’s experience with church services more positive:
First of all, pray. The Bible says that God wants you and your child to gather together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). But God doesn’t promise it will be easy or that things will always go smoothly. So pray. Pray for your child, that they will feel welcomed and wanted, or if they don’t, that God will help him or her to be patient and to love Him despite bad experiences. Pray for your church, that God will show them how to minister to your child and see his or her special gifts. And you may also want to pray for wisdom and patience for yourself!
Don’t expect a younger child with ADHD to sit through a service quietly without support. Eventually your child can learn to do this, but it will usually take quite a lot of practice before they can. Be patient and supportive.
1) Do voice your expectations. You may have said it before but do it again because ADHD brains do not have great memory for things like this. Remind your child before the service starts that people don’t get up or run around because it distracts others and that if your child does, you will remind her (with a tap or hand squeeze) or ask her to leave temporarily (after a specified number of reminders). Do not frame this as a punishment. Simply state that after a certain number of reminders you will assume that he needs a break, and you’ll be there for them to help him take it.
2) Do allow nondisruptive types of movement. Doodling, fidgeting with a small quiet toy or pen (the nonclicking type), chewing gum (remind them that they may not blow bubbles or make snapping noises), or folding paper can help many children with ADHD concentrate better since they do not have to concentrate on holding completely still. It seems against reason that allowing movement would allow them to concentrate better, but it really does. If your church allows children to serve during the service (passing out programs or doing things behind the scenes), this might be a good outlet as well.
3) Do teach them how to squeeze their hands, press their knees or do other types of isometric exercises to relieve muscle tension without moving. Work on this at home for practice.
4) Do work out a signal for your child to tell you they need a break from sitting still, so that you can leave the sanctuary quietly, instead of after they start dancing in the pew. An alternative is to learn the signs that your child is getting restless, and initiate a break yourself. Yes, it interrupts the service for you, but at least you got to experience part of it, which is better than none. Some churches have closed circuit TV in the lobby so that people who have to leave the sanctuary can still listen to the sermon. Some children find the TV easier to pay attention to than the live service. With time, you may be able the lengthen the time your child is able to tolerate sitting in the sanctuary. If you know your child will have to leave, remember to seat yourself appropriately.
5) Do be involved with church in ways other than sitting through weekly services. Whether its helping care for the grounds, playing with younger children, making music, or doing drama for the service, participating helps your child understand in a concrete way that God gave him the energy he has for a purpose, and that he is a valued and loved part of the church community.
6) Finally, do praise your child for what they did right. It takes a lot of energy and practice for a child with ADHD to sit through a church service quietly. If he put in the effort, let him know you noticed. If you have a hard time remembering this very important step, consider a star chart and give stars for every 5 to 15 minutes your child stays put.
7) If your child is disruptive of the service on a weekly basis, and Sunday School is not an option, you may need to rotate child care duty with a spouse or other supportive individual, such as a grandparent or close friend. Talk to your priest, minister, or pastor about it and see what options there are. You may be able to trade child care with another family in the same situation, or the church may be able to suggest materials you can use with your child at home. If you have to leave your child out of church on Sunday, it is doubly important that they are involved with the church in some other capacity during the rest of the week.
US Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, Teaching Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices, Washington, DC, 2006.