Karen Sunderhaft: Expert Tips on Teaching Kids With ADHD (Part One)


Nationally recognized educator, author and ADHD expert Karen Sunderhaft will be sharing teaching tips this week for ministry leaders and volunteers serving kids with ADHD. Today, we’ll focus on tips for ministry volunteers.

C4EC: Any ideas for the volunteer Sunday School teacher or small group teacher who has a couple of kids who can’t seem to sit still, keep their hands to themselves or stop talking during the lesson/group?

Karen: What seems to work for some teachers in our Sunday School classes is what I call “front end loading” your efforts. You need to take the time at the beginning of the year to set up some classroom rules and expectations so the rest of the year just flows peacefully and successfully….at least most of the time.

I believe in always beginning the year with a group conversation to create some simple, but clear rules. As the teacher you should have a few rules that are most important for you to keep order, but allow the class to generate the main list. Try to reword any comments so they stay positive. For example, instead of writing down John’s suggestion of, “don’t shout out answers”, you could agree and write down, “raise your hand to speak”.  Create this list and then have everyone in the room sign it….including the teacher.

Our church classes are usually held on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons from 4:45 – 5:45 and from 6:00 – 7:00, so you can imagine how hard it is for my ADHD friends, who are just coming off of their medicine, to keep interested, engaged and focused. It becomes even more important for this time together to be fun. In the spirit of keeping it fun, try to set up some type of simple reward system to give positive, consistent feedback for when you see your students following the rules. This will allow the kids who really want to follow the rules, but sometimes can’t, to know exactly which behaviors get rewarded.

One of my favorite teachers had a stop sign with the big green circle, yellow circle and red circle on a poster board. She had each child’s name on a clothespin. Every one started the class on the green circle. If someone started to break some of the pre-established rules, then they may get a gentle reminder from the assistant, but if that didn’t work, then their clothespin name may move to the yellow circle. Now…there are two ways for this student to go…if they can get it together, then their clothespin can move back to green, but if things get worse it moves to the red circle.

This system only makes sense to the kids if they know the consequences for when the clothespins move. At the end of class, everyone on the green circle gets a small piece of candy, but those on yellow may get a sticker and those on red may have to have a talk with the teacher and parent. Do what will work for your students and families…but try to keep it fun and positive.

I forgot to mention the most important part, my favorite teacher had a secret weapon…..an ASSISTANT. If your church classes can be taught by two people…..then I highly recommend it. Having one person to teach a lesson and one person to go around and assist students, by helping them with a kind word or a gentle redirection, keeps the whole class moving in the right direction.

As noted before, keep the same general routine that works for everyone. Perhaps the time together begins with a quiet, settling coloring activity. Mandalas (see attached) are great for older kids. Native Americans believe that by coloring from the outside in, it can bring focus and clarity. By coloring from the inside out, it can bring creativity and openness.

  • Change in location is the easiest way to get attention
  • Teachers can move to the back or side of the room
  • Go outside when possible
  • Switch classrooms
  • Mini  Field trips….even around your church grounds or to see the inner workings of the building
  • Surprise the group with a piece of music or artifacts
  • Have students present learning to one another
  • Guest speaker
  • Switch it up
  • Overall – provide a rich balance of novelty and ritual. Novelty ensures attention getting, ritual ensures predictable structures for low stress

The most important thing to remember, that if you or a student has a not so successful day, then remind yourself (and them) that next week is another time and a new chance to try again.

On Friday, Karen will focus on tips for pastors and ministry leaders who work with kids with disruptive behavior associated with ADHD. We’ll finish on Sunday with teaching strategies for parents of kids with ADHD. For more info on Karen, click here.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
This entry was posted in ADHD, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development, Strategies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Karen Sunderhaft: Expert Tips on Teaching Kids With ADHD (Part One)

  1. Excellent advice from an excellent resource. Thanks, Karen…we’re glad to have you as part of our team!


  2. Pingback: Coming Attractions | Church4EveryChild

  3. Pingback: The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol (October 2010) | Dad in the Middle

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