This is the eighth post in our Fall series Beyond Zero Tolerance: When Kids Become Aggressive at Church. Today, we’ll take a look at what it’s like to walk in the shoes of parents of children at chronic risk of aggressive behavior.
The demands of raising a child who experiences repeated episodes of maladaptive aggression are often overwhelming. It’s important to keep in mind that the level of vigilance such parents need to demonstrate to maintain their homes as safe places frequently limits the time and energy they have available to attend to their own spiritual growth, much less attend to the spiritual needs of their children. Your ministry experiences a win every time the parents or siblings of the child with aggressive behavior are able to attend worship, go to a class or Sunday School or participate in a small group.
Imagine the anxiety parents experience in bringing a child prone to aggressive behavior to church! After all, one of the most troublesome aspects of their child’s disability is behavior that in many instances can be characterized as sin. There’s the discomfort that results from the sense of being judged by others. As a parent from my practice put it, “people in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”
Having a child with severe aggression is very socially isolating. Parents have to carefully consider where they can take their child in public…daily activities like trips to the grocery store, to a sibling’s athletic event, or attending family events often require careful planning…one parent may have to stay home. Marital strain is common. Parents can’t ask any teenager on their street to babysit. While the data on divorce rates among families of kids with autism spectrum disorders is mixed, divorce rates among families of kids with ADHD under the age of eight (when they are most likely to exhibit aggressive behavior as a component of the clinical presentation) are double the rates seen in similar families. For more information on special needs and divorce, click here.
High-quality treatment for kids with maladaptive aggression may be difficult to find. I received an e-mail in the past week from a pediatrician seeking advice after a mother of a young child on five different medications for aggressive behavior called her looking for help because of concerns about all the medication her child had been prescribed. The parent wasn’t able to get an appointment with a new child psychiatrist for another two months. Another challenge parents face is weighing the risks of antipsychotic medication commonly used to treat severe aggression (marked weight gain, increased lipid and cholesterol levels, elevation of prolactin levels with some medication, long-term risk of movement disorders) against the potential benefits. Medications for impulsive aggression frequently wear off in the late afternoon or early evening, creating difficulties for families who would like their children to participate in evening programming.
Bottom line…families of kids with maladaptive aggression have lots of needs. They need a welcoming church where they can grow spiritually so that they can fulfill their responsibilities as the primary faith trainers to their other children. They have relational needs. They need Christian community, but they also need time to build their relationships with one another. They also need a place where they feel accepted.
Next…Steps parents of kids with aggressive behavior can take to more effectively partner with their church.
Key Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!
I have a 13 year old child who was beat up in Sunday School by 5 other boys. I was banned from observing this sunday school class and my concerns were over looked by the pastoral staff. We left that church and went to a smaller church. When a youth group grows to large for the staff to monitor all the children’s, they need to get more staff or cut the groups into smaller and more manageable groups.
If the church is aware of children with aggressive behavior, they need to take steps to have extra adult supervision to help the children manage their anger, agressiveness.