The Infiltration of Whirlwind Kids – What Do You Do?



Have you ever had a class or group and all was going well until …….. that one child walked through the doors? You know what I’m talking about. It’s the child that seems to bring a tornado into the room with them leaving a path of destruction all along the way.

You may ask

  • What causes a child to be a whirlwind kid?
  • Can you ever learn to love them?
  • Is it possible to build a relationship with a tornado like kid?

I’ve experienced many whirlwind kids over the years. These kids are different than the child who just has a lot of energy and is active. These kids seem to live in a different world than the rest of the children in your groups. That is because many of them do live in a different world. As a matter of fact they live in two different worlds. Worlds that many times are conflicting and full of stress.

There are many reasons children of divorce, others who are under stress, or have experienced a trauma of some sort can come across as “whirlwind” or even as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder). They will mimic some of the same symptoms as a child diagnosed with ADHD but might not have ADHD.

  • They are reacting to the divorce/trauma situation
  • They are reacting to what is being modeled for them at the time
  • Their minds are on over load trying to keep up with crazy schedules and what each parent wants and expects of them
  • For some children it is a lack of sleep
  • For some it is nutritional issues
  • For others it is a disorganized life style
  • Some children are full of fear
    Fear of not knowing what is going to happen next
    Fear of pain
    Fear of feelings
    Fear of being forgotten

Many of the children who live in a world of chaos will need structure when they come to your church groups. While you can’t structure their lives outside your environment, you can incorporate structure into your class and ministry.

In the book Blame It on the Brain by Edward T. Welch, structure is referred to as “…… boundaries, guidelines, reminders and limits. It is a fence that can help contain and direct.” He says this means having clear, simple and written rules. Each week you may have to rehearse these same rules with the same child.

Rehearsing and Practicing

An example of “rehearsing” and reinforcing structure is to use a class schedule. The first time, walk the child through the schedule. The next week, hand the child a personal schedule and rehearse it by talking the child through it. The rehearsal could go something like this,

 “Scotty, last week I helped you by staying next to you all evening. This week I  want you to follow this schedule on your own. Think you can do that?” Wait for the child’s answer.

If he says, “No, I can’t,” take the time to physically stay with the child            throughout the session.

If he says, “Yes,” quickly talk through the schedule. “Scotty, what is the first   thing on your schedule you hold in your hand? What comes after that? Scotty,  I also want you to show me what you are going to do with that paper when   you are not looking at it.” (Help him make a commitment.)

You might have to help the child decide where to put the paper schedule. It could be in his pocket, on a bulletin board, on a clipboard, etc., but the child needs to have a plan regarding what he’s going to do with the schedule. Having a plan for a piece of paper is helping him change the chaos to order in his brain. Next week when he walks in the room, you can say,

“Scotty, what’s your plan for your schedule tonight?” meaning what are you going to do with your time tonight and where are you going to be keeping your schedule.

Use the Child’s Name

You may have noticed in the conversation above that the child’s name was used each time the leader was talking to the child. Research tells us that hearing one’s own name in everyday situations is an attention grabber. It causes a sudden rise in our own self-awareness.

Using PET scans; researchers were able to see what happens in the brain when people hear their first name. There was an increase in blood flow to the part of the brain that plays a role in our processing of “self” (Perrin, F. et al. [2005] Neuropsychologia, Vol 43[1], 12–19).

Help active children make a commitment

For some children, especially those diagnosed with ADHD, allow them to use the session schedule as a checklist.

In the book  Enriching the Brain by Eric Jensen (Jossey-Bass Education), it says to “supply prompts for upcoming events or changes, and memory assist devices.” The session schedule can become the ADHD child’s memory assist device. The schedule will alert the child as to what comes next. As he or she completes an activity, encourage the child to physically make a checkmark next to the item on the schedule.

When a person makes a commitment, carries through with the commitment and acknowledges the success of completion, serotonin levels in the brain are increased. Brain research shows that serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects our emotions. It has a calming effect on us, and it can keep a child from exploding with aggression. Serotonin also bonds us with each other.

Research also shows aggressive behaviors, obsessive compulsiveness and even depression are linked to low levels of serotonin. (Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey)

The checklist should not be used as a means for getting a reward (such as a sticker, gum, candy, etc.) but as something the child has control over.

The reward is the child’s sense of accomplishment and the feel-good feelings he or she has when making the checkmark and realizing he or she has accomplished completing a goal.

When you notice the child checking these items, comment on the child’s effort.

“Karin, look at you. You are using your schedule checklist, and it is helping you stay focused.”

Describing what the child is doing and commenting on her effort will also add to her sense of success.

It Has Been Working for Them

One other very important reason for active children is some of these children simply don’t know how else to act. Unfortunately for you, this behavior has been working for them. They have inadvertently been rewarded for being hyper and/or disruptive by all the negative attention it has brought them. Take away the negative attention.

Don’t judge them, but simply describe what they are doing. Example: “You walked across the room and pulled the chair out and sat down. That was helpful.” Watch them, and comment when they fit in, when they follow the rules and when they are calm. Do not tag the experience with praise but simply describe their actions.

Steps to Take

Try to assess what is causing the excessive energy and the “can’t sit still” syndrome. Next, be the adult in charge of the situation and accommodate each child. This doesn’t mean let the child run rampant, but it may mean these active kids

  • Don’t always have to sit down and be quiet.
  • Might need a piece of paper to doodle on while a story is read.
  • Should probably stand while working on a project.

It may mean you have to adapt and adapt! It’s okay to ask the child what is best for him or her. Example:

“Sally, I noticed you have a hard time sitting down at the table to work on your activity sheet. What would be better for you than sitting down?”

For some children you may have to put your hand up like a stop sign and say in an assertive voice,

“STOP! Running is not safe (or helpful, or appropriate).”

An assertive voice has self-confidence and assurance to the quality. It is not a harsh voice but is firm. Then ask,

“What could do that would be safe (or helpful, or appropriate)?”

Other children may need for you to tell them what needs to happen. A conversation might go something like this,

“Johnny, I have noticed you can’t seem to make a decision about what you want to do. When you run from area to area (or you don’t listen), your body is telling me you need my help. I am going to give you two choices.”

Then offer the child a couple of choices such as,

“You could walk. Or you could tip toe. What do you choose?

What these children need

Keep in mind some of these children have several different environments to adapt to each day. They may start out at the mom’s house in the morning; go to their grandparents before school; attend school for six hours; go to an after school program; get dropped off at church for a mid week activity after going to dinner with dad. How many adults could adjust successfully to this many environments with different sets of rules and expectations in each place? Not many, I suspect, yet we expect and even demand the kids do it.

When helping these children be matter of fact with an attitude that says, “this is the way things are going to be.” Be careful how you approach these children. Some adults think because a child’s family life is disruptive, the child needs their pity. Children don’t need your pity.

  • They need your empathy.
  • They need boundaries.
  • They need structure within the confines of a loving environment.
  • They need for you to be an adult they can depend upon and trust.
  • They need for you to give them dignity. Kids deserve their dignity, and too many adults in their lives have taken their dignity away.
  • They need to be able to count on you, the adult, to be in charge, to be the leader, to be in control, not controlling but in control.

Whirlwind kids can be a delight to work with in ministry. When  you can understand their situation and accommodate them, your class might very well be the only place where this child can learn about himself and how much Jesus loves him during this stressful time in his life.


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2 thoughts on “The Infiltration of Whirlwind Kids – What Do You Do?

  1. Thank you for sharing this helpful information with us as we prepare for our inaugural DC4K session. I am using these articles to build a quick reference file for those of my team who may have missed them the days they were spotlighted or for myself when faced with a situation and don’t have a computer handy for researching or time to look it up. I’m sure they will be read many times.

    • Shirley, Great idea. I hope more DC4K leaders will follow your lead. I believe the topics discussed can help not only DC4K leaders but anyone in children’s ministry to better understand these hurting kids. Thanks.

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