The issue of kids in church has come up again for me from a couple of places (one real life, one online) so I thought I’d do a couple of posts on it. I am going to start with the back-end — what should probably be the second half — and talk about the practical side: How do you train your little children to behave appropriately in service and even to learn to worship? In the next post, I’ll back up and ask why one would even want to do so.
Here then are my practical tips for training kids to sit through worship and to worship:
– Bring entertainment. Quiet entertainment. This depends upon the age of course and also to some extent what is acceptable in your congregation. In our church, having a snack is not out of bounds. I knew one family that brought pistachios in the shell because their daughter was so slow in eating them and it would keep her occupied all service. I would caution about this particular snack though as I have known a couple of situations in which one family would feed nut products though others had severe allergies. This is pretty insensitive and not a very good witness. Still, Cheerios for babies are good entertainment in my book. Books are also good, especially soft ones for babies and toddlers. Finger puppets work well too. Whatever you bring imagine it spilling all at once over the floor — how much noise will it make?
– As kids get older I like to think of activities which transition naturally into appropriate worship activities. For example, drawing is a precursor to taking sermon notes. (My 10yo loves to draw the preacher; she is especially excited when we have guest preachers. I am sure she looks as if she is soaking up every word because she stares at them so hard.) Looking at a book is in line with reading one’s Bible. As kids get older still, you can give them challenges which require them to listen such as “Write down three ideas you hear in the sermon” or even easier “Count how often the Pastor says _____. ” You fill in the blank. I knew one family who had a long drive home and so would always discuss the sermon on the way home. This is a good way to reinforce what bigger kids hear and to encourage them to pay attention.
– Make sure your kids are in a good place before worship begins. Make sure they have had a drink (but not too much) and a snack. Make sure they have been to the bathroom. Many kids will figure out that bathroom trips are hard to say no to and that they can get a break by saying they need to go. Be firm. Unless you are really bang splat in the middle of potty training, there is no reason they should need to go more than once a service. Make sure they are not overly tired. This can require planning ahead — don’t stay up late the night before; adjust nap times if need be.
– Make leaving service a bad ting. If they realize that acting up means that they get to go play in the nursery (and they will realize this at an astonishingly young age), what do you think they will do? Instead, if your child needs to be taken out either discipline them if they are old enough and it is necessary or just take them and sit with them somewhere else. Hold them on your lap; insist that they be quiet and still just as they should be in service.
– Worship at home. This is great preparation. The standards are lower at home and it is a good time to discuss what we do and why. Plus they will just be more used to worship and to the routine of it. Maybe they will get to know the songs etc. as well so it will make more sense to them when they are in worship services.
– Ask for help. The pastor’s wife is usually alone in the pew. Others may be as well. Or maybe both parents are there but you just have a lot of littles to deal with. It’s okay to ask for help. Get someone else to sit with you or behind you to help keep an eye on kids, particularly if you have to take one out. Teens are great for this too.
– Sit up front. This is helpful for slightly older children especially (say 5+). There is less distraction with fewer people in front of you.
– Use the nursery if necessary. I always though ages 10 months through 2.5 years were the toughest. If you need the nursery, that is okay. But always remember that your goal is to teach your kids how to worship. Start them off in service at least and see how long they can make it.
– Let them know that you make worship a priority. It is okay to tell kids “Shh! You need to be quiet, Mommy is worshipping now.”
– Know that this is a temporary stage and that the quickest way through it is to be consistent and to get through it. My own observation (and this gets into the “why” which I will come back to next time) is that delaying by putting them in children’s church type ministries does not make them any more ready to be in worship.
Those are my tips. What would you add?