One of the benefits I experienced during my days on the lecture circuit was the opportunity to meet wise and learned senior colleagues who shared pearls of knowledge that helped me see clinical situations in a new light. One such colleague is Dennis Rosen, a developmental pediatrician in Western Massachusetts well-known for treating kids with a variety of emotional or behavioral problems. He shared the anecdote below after an evening lecture:
Before he finishes a consultation, Dr. Rosen regularly asks parents “Deep down inside, is there anything you were afraid you’d find out as a result of our meeting today?” By far and away, the most common answer he receives is “I was afraid that I did something to cause my child’s problems.”
I suspect the fear of being told that their parenting strategies, family values or choices are the cause of their child’s emotional or behavioral problems presents a major obstacle to families becoming actively involved with a local church.
I came across a post from a pastor discussing signs suggesting a child may be unnecessarily provoked to anger by their parents. I suspect the pastor’s intent was to show that children posing behavior challenges may be the product of scripturally unsound parenting…five specific examples he used in his outline are shown below:
Signs of parent provocation in a child:
- When you see kids pulling away from their parents
- Angry outbursts from a child
- Lack of joy in a child, seldom smile
- Rebellion against authority
- A child who says mean things to their parents or others
When you see kids pulling away from their parents: A common sign seen in kids suffering from depression is the propensity to isolate oneself from friends and family members. Kids who have been adopted or kids in foster homes often pull away from parents in response to difficulty processing attachment issues related to early trauma, abuse or neglect.
Angry outbursts from a child: Kids with ADHD very frequently exhibit difficulties with the ability to regulate emotions. Kids with Bipolar Disorder often experience marked increases in anger and irritability during mood episodes. Kids with obsessive anxiety are prone to anger outbursts during transitions or when they’re perseverating on intrusive thoughts.
Lack of joy in a child, seldom smile: Common symptoms of depression
Rebellion against authority: This is pretty much the definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. A propensity to disrespect authority is seen in conditions associated with poor executive functioning and a lack of capacity to delay gratification.
A child who says mean things to their parents or others: This behavior can be attributed to pretty much any condition in the DSM-IV.
Getting to the root cause when kids experience the behaviors listed above can be pretty challenging. That’s why I had to do four years of med school, three years of general psychiatry residency and a two year child psychiatry fellowship in preparation for my job. There are all kinds of developmental, environmental, biological, genetic, psychosocial and spiritual issues at play in kids with issues. Is it possible that “scripturally unsound parenting” could contribute to the behaviors listed above? Absolutely. How might a parent of a child being treated for ADHD, depression, Bipolar Disorder or Reactive Attachment Disorder hear the message described in the post? If that parent is exploring Christianity, would they experience grace in the teaching they experienced?
There are topics that are very difficult to discuss outside the context of a relationship. After I’ve gotten to know parents for a while, I can talk about “scripturally unsound parenting” because I’ve taken the time to understand all facets of their child’s situation. There may be parents who are trying their best visiting your church with kids who have bad genes, kids who experienced trauma or abuse, or kids who haven’t yet developed the skills to effectively self-regulate their emotions and behavior. How do we welcome them and share with them the unconditional love Christ has for them? How do we as the church best communicate so we build the relationships necessary to cast influence in their family?
There’s a lot to say about how churches handle this issue.
Key Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!