Today’s church going moms and dads have become accustomed to churches that provide special accommodations for parents with young children. Many churches in today’s society have a nursery, a children’s service, and sometimes even a separate room where parents can watch the service on a screen outside of the sanctuary while their restless little one eats gold-fish crackers and plays with toy trucks on the floor.
Sometimes I can be a little old-school in my thoughts on this topic. By the time a separate children’s service was introduced at my church growing up, I was too old too attend. I come from an era where you just sat on the pew with your mom and dad. And if you weren’t quite your mother would give you the “death glare”. If that wasn’t enough to scare you into silence, she had the “pinch of ever-increasing pain”. That would usually get you to sit still and quiet. My generation learned to be content with reading the hymnals on the back of he pew, wrestling with our fingers, and eventually falling asleep.
But that was then, and this is now. So what do you do when children’s church is unexpectedly closed? Or, dare I say, your church doesn’t have a separate children’s service or nursery at all? How do we tame these snack-eating, tablet-toting, water-bottle-needing children?
Here are my tips to help you train your little dragons.
1. Set your expectation while they are young.
The younger your child is when they start attending church the better. Obviously, there is very little you can do to get an infant to stop crying during service. Just sit near the back so you can make a quick exit when the bottle, pacifier, and Cheerios fail to bring peace.
However, very young toddlers can begin learning what type of behavior you expect of them during service. Just like you re-direct them at home, you do the same at church. When my toddlers would hop off the seat to start casually roaming the isle, I would lift them up and set them on my lap, or back onto the seat.
Give your child the game plan going into service, and give them reminders throughout.
Before Service: “Now remember, we don’t talk in service. We want everyone to enjoy the preacher. Okay?”
During Service: “We have to hush now. Remember, when we are talking others cannot enjoy the service.”
Like potty training, or any training for that matter, It’s not going to be an overnight success. You set the expectation and be consistent.
2. Less is best.
Let’s be honest for a minute here. No matter how much stuff you bring, your child is going to be bored with it all within 30 minutes. You come in service with your tote bag of cars, container of cereal and raisins, juice boxes, water bottles, the precious tablet loaded with your preschoolers favorite games, headphones, and a favorite stuffed animal or two. In you’r mind you think,
“I’m ready! My child has everything they love right here on this pew. They are going to be so quite and occupied.”
But, within minutes of the pastor standing, your little Johnny is bored by the options you’ve provided. He’s eaten all the snacks, spilled most of his water on the seat next to you, and is now sliding under the seats up the isle like a large sea creature out of water.
Here’s whats going wrong. You’re kids do not sit quietly and play with this stuff at home for long periods, so they’re not going to do it at church. It’s just that simple. And if you’re bringing all that gear to church and you have more than one child with you, …my goodness. You may as well announce, “Let’s get ready to Rumbllllle!” when you sit down.
For families with multiple children this is an especially crucial step. When you bring all that stuff to service, you are bringing all of the elements needed for a hostile-wrestling-swap meet to ensue on your row. When your kids get bored with what they’re playing with they are going to look to their sibling to give up what they’ve got. And now, that sibling, who was kind of getting bored with that Dr. Suess book, can’t get enough of reading it and refuses to trade it. You’re row has just become center stage for the main event.
So, less is more. Let the child choose one special item that they would like to bring to service. Children appreciate having that one special item at church verses a bag full of things that they kind of like. Truthfully, a crayon or pencil and a pad of paper goes a long way to keep a little one occupied. And it’s very quite. If you have multiple children, there’s no need to argue if everyone has the same option. This tip has worked very well for our large family. If your little ones are going to be complaining about being bored anyway, you may as well save yourself some drama and pack less.
3. Bribes work!
Remember those Klondike Bar commercials in the 80s? The one’s where people would do these outrageous stunts like ski off of mountain cliffs, or jump out of airplanes just to get their hands on one of those Ice Cream bars.
Much like the actors in those commercials, our kids will do almost anything for a pack of fruit snacks. No matter how many we give, they get excited like this pack is going to better than the last 300 they’ve eaten. Fruit snacks are like currency for small children.
Here’s how you can use this little nugget to your advantage. When you give your child snacks during service they learn, “If I roll around on my back under the pew for exactly 24 seconds, mom will offer me a graham cracker from her stash.”
I prefer to use the snack as an incentive for good behavior during service. Let’s face it, your kids aren’t hungry. You gave them a full breakfast and they had a snack in the car on the way to service. Most services only last an hour or two, so your kiddo is not going to pass out from hunger pains. Saving the snack gives you some leverage. Now you can say “If you sit real quite during service, I’ll have some fruit snacks for you in the car.” Now you’re #WINNING, because you can use this as a reminder during service. Don’t give up the goods for free!
So, let’s not be that mom that everyone slides away from when we come through the door. We have the ability to train our little ones to do so many incredible things. So, why can’t we train them to appreciate church as a pep-rally for Jesus, and not as a 2-hour period for us to entertain them every second? If we can’t come to service and enjoy being in the presence of the Lord and worshiping with others, then we may as well watch from home, right? It’s not going to happen right away, but over-time you’ll be surprised to see your little one curled up on the pew drawing pictures of angels. After all, we didn’t take anything to church and there weren’t any HD screens scrolling announcements with motion backgrounds in the sanctuary. But low and behold, here we are still worshiping in church.