Sam Donoghue and Catherine Truelove give their perspective on two tricky questions asked by youthworkers
Question #1 We have a new child who is extremely boisterous and is being quite disruptive in our sessions. His father thinks he might have ADHD but isn’t sure and also admits that he struggles to cope with his son’s behaviour. We want to welcome the child as he comes from a difficult home life, but we are feeling out of our depth.
A.The first important thing to say is that all children will find joining a new group unsettling, and will probably need some support to help them in finding their way in a new group, which is always going to take a little extra effort. In this case, that is especially true, but what an opportunity for you to make a real difference in this child’s life and that of the family. Remember that church is essentially weird in the context of most of the rest of the child’s life so it will always take a bit of time to settle in and get used to how you do things. Equally, you might just need to ensure that your processes to manage behaviour are up and running properly as they usually slip into a settled pattern as behaviour settles down and requires less work.
It’s worth saying that it’s perfectly reasonable for the parents not to be sure about whether their child has ADHD. Diagnosis is not always easy to get as it relies on a doctor making a judgement based on what they have observed in the child or heard from the child’s parents. This means that some parents can be convinced their child has it but are unable to find a doctor to agree with them. So my advice would be to assume that the child has it, as the things I suggest ought to help whether the child specifically has ADHD or not.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Children with it can have a short attention span or be easily distracted; they can become restless with constant fidgeting and can be impulsive. So you will need to extend some grace to this child and realise that their poor behaviour is nothing personal but something that you are going to have to help them with.
When new children join, I generally try and ensure I am with the group every week for a while to be a consistent face for the children and that will really help in this case. Structure is going to help so that the child knows what’s going on all the time and knows what is expected of them, with clear boundaries. Be really positive, taking every opportunity to praise the child, try and avoid vague instructions that are harder to follow (say ‘could you pick up the pens’ rather than ‘could you tidy up’) and if you don’t already have a sticker system that rewards good behaviour, you will probably find that having one helps. Make sure you are planning sessions that are not making unreasonable demands of the child: include physical activity in your sessions and don’t expect too much sitting still. You can find out a lot more if you use Google and read some of the advice there.
Keep working and showing this child how loved and valued they are and over time, as they get to know you, you’ll find they will settle in and you’ll be so blessed to have them in your group.
Sam Donoghue is the head of children’s and youth ministry support for the Diocese of London
Question #2 I have a new line manager who has no experience or skills in leading children’s ministry – how is it going to work?
A.It is quite normal for a line manager not to have experience or expert skills in every area that they oversee: that’s why they employ you! It is important, though, that they understand what you do and how they can be there to support and coach you.
If you feel that they haven’t yet taken steps towards understanding your role, then there are various things you can do to ‘manage up’ and ensure they are clear about your goals and aspirations, as well as, of course, the contribution and value that you bring to the church.
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First, you will need to establish what the church needs your role to deliver; you can do this by reviewing your job description, speaking to other ‘stakeholders’ in your role eg congregation, wardens. You will then have the information you need to set out for yourself what you think the important issues are, before you discuss them with your new line manager. If you do not yet have regular meetings in the diary with your line manager, book some in. This is a chance to talk through plans and clarify expectations and understandings. Send a suggested agenda in advance so that your line manager has a chance to prepare. Answer their questions, listen to their views and openly discuss them. You could also invite them to some key meetings where they can have input into long-term plans and where they can learn about what has happened in the past.
You will both need to learn quickly how each other works, which is particularly important for you to do, and you may be one of a handful of people that they are line managing, so your time with them may be limited and precious. Simple ways of doing this could range from working out whether they prefer email, phone, or face-to face contact, if they are a detail or strategyfocused person and what they see as their role in the church. Remember that they will have different skills and experience to bring to the table and they should undoubtedly be able to help you in the long term. The key to success will be if the two of you can build an honest and open relationship where you respect each other’s expertise.
Catherine Truelove is senior HR Adviser for the Diocese of London