Today begins with a question I received via email.
I could definitely use some helpful hints for church, during the service. We have Children's church during the sermon portion, but even just the songs and announcements part is horribly difficult for us.I thank God that we go to a church that allows my husband and I a chance to refresh and renew without our children crawling all over us. Truly, each week I come out of the church service "filled up" and ready to hit the week ahead. But when we go to my parents' church, we don't have the option of Children's Church. It is also really small so any noises made will be heard by all.
Here are a few suggestions that I have...
1. Set realistic expectations. For some children, sitting through an hour long service is beyond their ability. Start small and work up for the whole amount of time. Make it a goal to make it through 15 minutes. Each week increase it. Explain to your child your plan. Get excited about successes. But I believe most all children - even toddlers - can learn to sit on a chair quietly. I have seen it done many, many times even in the toughest situations.
2. Attend regularly. It is hard for a child to be consistent with the expectations if you attend church sporadically.
3. Allow and encourage the child to move and make noise when it is appropriate. Teach the child to participate in worship time. Don't use the quiet activities when you don't have to. I believe that a child should participate in the singing. When the congregation stands, have your child stand. Point to the words as you sing out of a hymnal or show them the words on the screen. Get a copy of the songs that you sing on CD so that your child can be familiar with them. By participating in the singing and moving (standing) section of the service, the child has less required time to sit still.
4. Have an activity for your child to do during quiet times. The Crayola Color Wonder Markers are amazing. Our kids only get to use these during times like this. We never play with these markers at home. That way, they are special and new. I have seen some kids play very quietly with a matchbox car or a book of stickers (the Melissa and Doug Sticker Collections are great). Dolls, Barbies, Polly Pockets are great for younger girls. Usborne has some great "I Spy" type of books. Dry Erase Board and markers are great for children who like to draw. (Be care with the marker on good clothes!) The ABCJLM Bible Coloring Book is another option. Find a Bible sheet that coincides with the sermon.
5. Prepare a snack for the quiet time of the service. (Don't use the snack until you absolutely need it.) Often times, church runs close to meal time. Before the service explain to the child when the snack will be available to eat. For some kids, suckers will keep them quiet for quite a bit!
6. Sit in the back and on an aisle so that you can easily leave if necessary. It will be less distracting to others and you will feel less pressure to keep the child absolutely still.
7. With you spouse, agree on expectations for your child's behavior and explain these to the child before you go to church. Can the child sit on your lap? Can you the child sit on the floor? Can the child stand? Is the child allowed to change activities?
8. This is so important. If you have agreed that your child will sit during the sermon, don't cave because the child isn't obeying. It is tempting to take the child to the foyer to play but if you do it once the child will expect it the next time. If need be, take the child out of the sanctuary and discuss the expectations. But then bring the child back in with the same expectations.
9. Discuss appropriate consequences for misbehavior. Be consistent and make sure your spouse is in agreement.
10. If you are unsure what to do, ask. There are probably some incredible Grandmas in your church who can train you and your child. Ask them to teach your child to sit through church quietly and then mirror them. Watch everything what they do. Most likely, they trained their child and the expectations were much higher 20 years ago.
11. Practice at home. This is key. If you don't expect respect and listening at home, it won't happen at church. If you entertain with TV and video games at home, the child will not learn how to play or sit quietly. (Remember my posts about "Teaching a Child to Play Independently?" This is another reason why this is so important.)
12. Role play at home. Using dolls or Lego people, hold pretend church. Explain what is acceptable and what behaviors are not. Explain the reason "why" this behavior is expected - so others can listen, so others can learn, etc. Then switch roles and have the child be the mommy or daddy and you be the "child." Behavior so that the child needs to explain to their "child" why he or she needs to be quiet during church.
Here is an example of role playing and how to set the expectations.
(A church scenario with Lego Men after you have explained the expectations to your child.)
Mommy: Bubs, church is ready to start. I need you to explain to your Lego Men how they are to behave.
(While Bubs is talking, be sure to interject or pretend to be one of the Lego Men and ask "why?" questions.)
Mommy: Do you remember how good your Lego Men did sitting through church? They did great. I want you to do the same thing today. I know that 30 minutes is a long time for you to sit so we are going to cut down the amount of time to make it easier. We are going to listen and obey for fifteen minutes. During that fifteen minutes I want you to ___________. After the time is up, we will leave to get a drink. The time will go fast if you sit quietly. I know you can do it! (Have a sticker chart at home to make the success.)
After a quick drink, set the expectations again and return to the sanctuary for another 15 minutes. Each week up the amount of time until the child is able to sit quietly during the entire sermon.
13. Pray. Michelle reminded me of one important tip. "Before you leave and every moment your in church is to pray. I tend to continuously ask God for peace in their hearts and a sense of calmness to fall over them. I truly believe God wants us to be "fed" in church and how can we be fed when we are constantly interrupted by our little treasures . The Holy Spirit will enter into that home, car and church if you pray for it!"
Every church and situation is different so this may not work for your church. I am hopeful that you can tailor it to your situation. Children, even young toddlers, can learn to sit quietly in a chair during church but some children take more training than others! Be sure you do everything possible at home to train before you ever hit the pews. This will help your child succeed.
Tomorrow: Worshipping with a Special Needs Child
How do you help your child be successful during church?