Kids With Aggressive Behavior at Church…How Can Parents Help?

This is the ninth post in our Fall series Beyond Zero Tolerance: When Kids Become Aggressive at Church. Today, we’ll take a look at what parents can do to help church staff and volunteers maintain ministry environments that are safe for everyone.

Last winter, we spent two months discussing the importance of family-based ministry approaches with families of kids who have hidden disabilities, emphasizing the importance of partnerships between church staff, volunteers and parents. The need for partnership is especially important in serving kids with a history of frequent and/or severe maladaptive aggression.

Partnerships usually involve mutual goals, rights and responsibilities. Parents of kids at risk for aggressive behavior have responsibilities they should meet in order for everyone (their child, other children, volunteers and church staff) to have a God-honoring experience that promotes Kingdom building and spiritual growth. Here are four steps parents can take to help improve the likelihood their child will be safely and successfully included in church programming and activities…

Do share information with ministry team about techniques shown to help prevent/reduce aggression at home and school. Knowledge of  specific antecedents associated with aggressive behavior, early signs of behavior escalation and strategies found helpful in diffusing anger or irritability at home are invaluable to church staff and volunteers.

Do administer medication shown to help reduce the frequency and severity of aggressive behavior during church activities, with the approval of the child’s treating physician. Many kids at risk of maladaptive aggression attend schools staffed by teachers with additional training and experience in special education. If a child needs medication to be successful in a learning environment staffed by trained professionals, why would parents think they would do well without medication in a church environment staffed by (mostly) untrained staff and volunteers?

Do be aware of the concern that aggressive behavior presents in church settings with largely untrained volunteers. See above.

Do consider (for the sake of other kids and volunteers) keeping your child at home when he/she exhibits aggression that you can’t successfully manage at home. To borrow from language used in the schools, church may not be the “least restrictive educational environment” for every single child. We need to remember what the goal is. Isn’t our directive from Jesus to “make disciples?” Where does it say in the Bible that the process of becoming a disciple has to occur inside the walls of the church for every single kid every single week?

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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

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.
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