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Behavior Challenges

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

My youngest is having some challenges at school. For the past three years, he's been at the Montessori school that has been an extended family for our family. He had the same teachers in the same classroom for three years. When he went through some rough patches in his behavior, they helped us all weather them by remaining connected and loving, even when it was more challenging. Feeling secure in his attachments at home and at school, Micah was able to come through those rough patches and back into "better" behavior at home and at school. This year he started kindergarten at a new school, and he's still navigating lots of new relationships there. I know it can be frustrating and overwhelming to deal with challenging behavior, especially with all of the other challenges that are facing teachers this year. I'm working with his therapist and teacher to try to find ways to support him and encourage more appropriate class behavior, but it's not easy. I'm pretty certain that both of my boys have ADHD, though it manifests very differently in each of them. For Micah, we see it come out in impulse control, and in rejection sensitive dysphoria, which means he gets very overwhelmed with feelings of rejection, even under "normal" behavioral correction strategies. We see this at home - he gets embarrassed and runs and hides, and sometimes he lashes out. He's a great kid, and very loving, but it can be challenging, for sure. It's not just that kids with ADHD can be more sensitive to rejection, they also tend to hear many more negative comments about their behavior than kids without it - around 20,000 more negative messages by the age of 10 than their neurotypical classmates. I was a "good kid" all through school. I rarely got in trouble, I excelled academically, and I was always very responsible. The way I am wired is highly compatible with educational and social expectations. Add to that the inherent institutional and societal biases towards white children, and girls in particular, and it's no wonder it was easy for me. In many ways, it still is. Living with and loving people who are wired very differently from me has made me confront on a regular basis the ways that our world can be unforgiving for those who have brains or brain chemistry issues that cause them to fall outside of what we deem normal and acceptable. Of course, those differences are rarely perceptible to the outsider. The outsider just wonders why someone "can't just..." We assign moral judgments about behavior without considering what might be going on beneath the surface. We hold expectations of others that may not be compatible with the way their brains work. This is true for ADHD, ASD, and many forms of mental illness, to name a few. How often do we, in the church, make room for all of those differences? How do we welcome the full diversity of God's creation and seek to understand better how we are made differently, and what that means for our life together? I know of some parents who have had their children essentially kicked out of church and banned from participating in activities because of some of these neurodivergencies. Do we talk about mental illness? Addiction? Chronic or invisible illnesses? Or do we wonder why so-and-so isn't following through on their commitments? Church can be like school in many ways. We expect people to remain seated, quiet, to display appropriate social behaviors, and know the unspoken rules of belonging. Yesterday I spent more time and energy than usual trying to get my kids to quiet down during worship. I'm grateful that we are in a forgiving community that doesn't expect a pre-determined (but unspoken) kind of "perfect" behavior from our children. I think that as church communities go, we do have more room for diversity of all kinds, a more genuine welcome for those who fit norms, and those who don't. But we still have room to grow. I still have room to grow. I'm thankful for my little, often loud and exuberant, teachers, who frustrate me and amaze me on a daily basis. I'm grateful for a community of love and support that surrounds them and me. And I pray that we will continue to grow into God's beloved community, in all the ways.

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