In case you’re visiting the blog for the first time, this really isn’t a “parenting blog” but I’ve focused on training little ones for the last few weeks and will finish up our “mothering series” next week. On Tuesday, I talked about involving your children in the worship service at your church. Yesterday I gave some suggestions for preparing them through the week for Sunday, and today I’m sharing a few tips for the big church adventure with little ones!
It helps to remember that your little ones are kids. Don’t place expectations on them beyond their age and maturity level. If you haven’t put time and effort through the week preparing for Sunday (check out yesterday’s post with suggestions on that), then don’t expect your child to suddenly know how to behave in church.
Sunday “Prep Talk”
At some point on Sunday morning, either before leaving the house, on the drive to church, or in the car in the parking lot, have a “prep” talk with your children about listening to God’s music and His Word in church and how to behave in the church building. Go over the guidelines that you’ve discussed and been training through the week (guidelines like: sitting quietly with a happy heart, singing to Jesus, drawing a picture or taking notes related to the message, etc.). Pray with them, asking God to help them follow these guidelines.
One thing I’ve found helpful is to prepare items: cloth books or soft toys kept in a special “church bag.” These are toys and items that are only used on Sundays. This again, sets this day apart as “special” in a very simple way. I always included a large drink and a snack. I like to use raisins in church because they’re quiet, not messy, but also they take a long time for the little ones to eat. I encourage waiting until after the music portion of the service to give the snack. Wait until the child gets wiggly, or until after the message begins, and use the snack as a helpful way to occupy very young ones.
We recommend keeping little ones in your lap until at least 3 years of age and for parents to sit between children until they are old enough to show self-control in their listening behavior. A toddler can easily get out of control when out of your restraint. If they are accustomed to moments of loving restraint at home (holding them in your lap while requiring them to sit quietly) it will not seem as foreign to them in a church service. This is where holding regular times of family devotion and Bible study with them at home is helpful.
Quietness Can be Trained
Affirm and reward your children for sitting quietly in church. (I even whisper words of affirmation in an infant’s ear that is sitting quietly in my lap during the service.) This encourages them to repeat their good behavior. When children are under 2 years old, it is not too early to train them to be quiet, they can understand this concept. When a child starts speaking out, or making noises, gently place your fingers over his mouth and whisper “no” in his ear. You can even explain again (in a whisper) reminders of what you said in your “prep talk” before church. If this is practiced frequently the child will begin to understand there are times for quiet and times for speaking.
Loud is Aloud!
During the song portion of Sunday service, encourage children to sing to Jesus, to clap, to praise Him, with the reminder that this is a time for being verbal while the teaching time is for quiet and listening.
When the child misbehaves in church, don’t feel badly or like you’re a failure—it is part of the process of learning—they will test you, but stay consistent. If they are not following the guidelines you’ve given, or are misbehaving, take them out and quietly talk to them, go over the guidelines again, asking them to agree with you that their behavior was wrong and require a sign of “age appropriate repentance.” Pray with and for them before returning to service.
Participation Pays Off
As children grow, encourage their participation. Have them draw pictures based on what the pastor is preaching or when they are old enough to spell, to write one word or phrase that they hear. Ask them questions about the message later and use this as an opportunity for further spiritual discussion and training.
Regular church attendance is important. When the pattern of regular attendance is broken, it is more difficult for the child to develop a consistent practice of behavior and you may find that you have to start over your training every time you return to church after an absence.
Finally, don’t give up!! I know it’s hard. I know it would be easier some days to stay home, but trust me, one day you’ll sit through an entire service and look down in amazement and realize . . . a child really can sit through (and enjoy) a church service!
How about you? Any suggestions you’d like to add will be greatly appreciated!