We belong to a fairly large active church with lots of kids and we love it !!!! But I’ve watched the young families come in with the diaper bag and baby carrier, holding the hand of another toddler. The struggles that they faced to even just get here are seen on their weary face. I see them bounce and pat their baby as they try to quiet them during service and I know they wonder is it really worth all the effort. Getting squirmy kids washed and dressed (sometimes twice), diaper bag packed and then the long drive (10 minutes is a long drive with a fussy baby) and finally finding a seat where you think you might be the least disruptive is not for the weak of heart. When my daughter was little I remember leaving church more exhausted than when I started and I didn’t even get to hear much of the sermon.
But it really, really, really matters a lot – to you and to us !!!!!
I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the rustling of baggies filled with cereal and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to greet someone she’s never met. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the church. I hear the echos of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the congregation says it together. I watch a little boy raise his hands in worship during the singing and a baby sway to the beat of the music. Now that is precious to me and I know it is to God too. They are learning and participating in worship in such a pure way as only a child can do.
When they are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When they are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present and alive.
I’ve said all that to let you know we want you here. But I also want to share some techniques to make your time here at church, as a family, more fulfilling and so maybe you can get to hear just a little more of the sermon. How many of you have seen kids running around at the doctors office or crawling under the chairs at restaurants?
Have you ever witnessed a full blown temper tantrum in the grocery store? Not pretty right? The parents were embarrassed and the kids frustrated. So these techniques work for doctors offices, restaurants, concerts, grocery store visits, and even school when they get older too. Believe me, their future teachers will thank you and their school experience will be richer.
1.) Realize that you are not stifling, or harming your child’s personality in any way. In fact you are adding to their self-esteem to know that they can control themselves in certain situations. Successful adults have learned how to behave in public. I always told my daughter that good manners would serve her well in the presence of kings !! We are not expecting our kids to act like adults or robots but to know the appropriate time to behave.
2.) Be realistic about age appropriate expectations of behavior. And know that this is not a quick fix. Like all behavior it is learned. It won’t happen overnight but will take consistent hard work.
3.) Teach your children to sit still at home first. When they are very small cuddle them in your lap and read to them. Some of my favorite moments with my daughter came when I was reading to her. You might only get through a few pages with a very active child but gradually you will be able to lengthen the time they are able to sit still. Have a quiet time in the afternoon (this is as much for you as them !!!) where you let them lay on the floor and listen to soft, soothing music. There is something so fun about laying on the floor !!!! Practice having the family sit together at meals without any interruptions. This is a great time to teach social skills also. Have your children sit in front of you, again on the floor, while you sit on a chair and tell them a story. Make snack time a sit down time also. Let them sit and color. Make a game of learning to whisper. Kids absolutely need the rough and tumble of playtime but they also need to learn to sit quietly and still.
4.) Prepare for outings. I know this is work and it can’t be a last minute thing so have an away bag packed and waiting in the closet. Inside should be things that they only see when you are out and about. Coloring and sticker books, (many good Christian ones are available – check with your Christian Book Store) small quiet toys, puzzles, (again can be Christian) word searches (why not make one with Bible words) all will keep little hands and minds busy. Pack a baggie full of cereal or a small box of raisins (my daughter’s favorite) and some wet wipes.
5.) Visit the rest room before church with your little ones. Smaller children might not still make it through a whole service but this will eliminate some trips out of church. And speaking of trips out of church – if you have to remove a child for mis-behavior, hold them the entire time you are out of service. Don’t let them run or play during this time or they will think this is a fun escape.
6.) Let kids know what is expected of them at church. (restaurants, grocery story, concert, library, etc.) Make this a short discussion on the way to your outing in the car so it sticks with them. Be a good example – if they see you talk during the sermon or quarrel with the checkout girl they won’t know what the appropriate behavior is that is expected of them.
Finally it’s vitally important, if you want your kids to learn to love church, to bring them to church early and often. Make church a family affair that is joyous and fun, not dull and boring. Talk about the church and the people there in only the most positive light. Get them involved. Even in their limited capacity, they have a role to play and a lot to give to others and God.
A lot of frustration and agitation can be avoided simply by teaching kids how to behave in public. And adults remember to always be welcoming to all who enter into the church – young or old. I’ve been a greeter at the door and you should see the smiles when you lean down to their level and take the time to acknowledge the little ones too.They will soon be the church of tomorrow.
How have you taught the appropriate behavior in a positive manner?