Lots of moms and dads struggle with their little ones during church services. It’s certainly nothing new to feel overwhelmed when trying to keep a wiggly child quiet and still when it’s time for a prayer or a sermon is going on. Here are a few tips on things you can do to help your children and others enjoy church more fully.
Teach Blanket Time
Teach your baby about boundaries. At home, put your baby on a blanket and train them to stay on it. Have a few special toys just for these training sessions. Whenever they begin to crawl off, as soon as their little hand touches the floor off the blanket, say “no” in a low tone. Place them back on the blanket and smile, say “Stay on the blanket.” Let them learn to play alone for this time. Don’t entertain them yourself. They will learn that when they are on the blanket, they are to stay there. Do this for about 5 minutes each day for a few days. Then increase the time by 1-2 minutes each day until you reach 30 minutes.
Once they are trained to stay on the blanket, you can take it anywhere with you! Church services, a women’s meeting, a friend’s house… and no need for a playpen. Just put the blanket down and they will stay on it and play quietly. (Read, “Be The MOM: How to Take Charge”)
2. Only a FEW Toys
Children will go through toys in a hurry if they know there is a boatload of them. Instead, have a few special quiet toys or books that are just for church time. They do not get these at home. They will learn to make those toys last and it will be much less for you to carry! Same for a long car ride. The fewer toys, the more they will use them and the less you will have to carry. This goes for snacks too.
3. Bathroom time BEFORE the service
Let your children know that bathroom time is before the service. Between Sunday school and sermon time, have them go to the bathroom and get a drink. Make sure they understand this is the time to do these things and don’t allow them to go during the service. If you make it a habit, they will understand your expectations. If they say they have to go during the service, remind them of the rule and tell them they will have to wait. Don’t give in and they will learn to stay put.
4. Make Pleasantness Where You Want Them to Be
Children often try to manipulate the circumstances around them to fit their desires. Sitting quietly is not the natural inclination of a child! They prefer to be somewhere playing instead of sitting in church, so they will do whatever they can to distract or entice you to take them out of the sanctuary. Especially if they know there is a room full of toys in the church nursery. All they have to do to get to them is annoy you enough, cry enough or disrupt enough and you will take them to the toys. They may have learned this from past experience.
If you reward them with playtime when they misbehave in church, you can expect them to misbehave. If you make leaving the sanctuary unpleasant, they will choose to behave in the sanctuary instead.
5. Involve Your Children in Church
Children will be much more excited about going to church when they are a part of the action. Get them involved!
Before the service, have them greet people at the door. (Read “Teaching Social Skills: Enjoying Your Child in Public” from this blog.)
For very young toddlers, hold the hymnal at their level (even if you have to sit while they stand) and tell them the words ahead of the singing… so they can sing along too. Even better, make a Mommy Tape (See “Creating Calm in Your Child: No More Bedtime Battles”) and they will learn the hymns themselves!
During offertory, make sure they have a coin to put in the collection plate, and allow them to pass the plate.
When it is prayer time, make sure they know to bow their head and close their eyes and wait to hear “Amen”.
During the service, allow them to draw, but only about the sermon. Do not allow them to draw randomly about things that have nothing to do with what they are supposed to be listening to. This will encourage them to listen. Then, let them thank the minister and hand him their drawings as a gift. They will feel so proud and the minister will be blessed to know they were listening.
After the service, have them pick up hymnals and put them back where they belong. Pick up trash and other items left in the sanctuary.
The more involved your children are in the functions of the church, the more invested they will be in going each week and in getting to know the members as they grow up.
6. Reward Good Behavior