My husband and I keep our children (currently ages almost 4 and 2) with us during the worship service at church. We have always kept them with us. It is not that we are necessarily against Sunday school, but that we are for worshiping together as a family. Just like everything else in parenting, it is about training. This post is not going to tackle the why of keeping your children with you at church, but the how. If you are looking for the why, I can recommend the book Parenting in the Pew and I will also link to some resources on that subject at the end.
First, you have to evaluate how child friendly your church is. If your church requires all children to be in the worship service (has no other option for children), then I would guess that they would also have more leeway as far as noise level and wiggling goes =) Your church may be smaller and understanding of distractions (everything from cell phones ringing to babies babbling). Maybe your church does not encourage children in the worship service, but also doesn't give you dirty looks when you walk down the isle to your seat with your children it tow. I hope that you church does not flat out refuse children in the service, if so, I would strongly question their theology on children and have some serious discussions with the pastor. This post is targeted at parents who want to worship with their children, but need to keep them very quiet out of respect for others listening and the pastor.
Are you ready for the Ultimate Guide to Keeping Young Children with you at Church?
How to prepare:
- If your child is struggling to sit quietly still through your church service (and what young child doesn't?), it is a good idea to practice at home. This can include:
- Simply practicing obedience ("Tommy, quiet while mommy makes this phone call." "Kate, sit still while you eat your dinner") and expecting obedience!
- Have family worship (devotions) during the week and expect the same the behavior that you are striving for at church.
- Have a baby/toddler sleep in your arms or sit in their car seat to practice what being still is like (keeping a baby quiet at all times is impossible, but you can work on stillness)
- Have a preschool/young elementary aged child sit an listen to a sermon during the week to practice correct behavior.
- It is much easier to train in the comfort of your own home that it is in the midst of a Sunday sermon.
- Right before you enter the service make sure everyone has gone to the bathroom and give your kids a peptalk of what you expect from them. As young as 18 months my kids could answer the question "How do we act at church?" with a "shhhh" or a "quiet" showing me they are beginning to understand.
- Here are what some other wise ladies have to share about this...
- Smockity Frocks on Training Little Children for Church
- Yes They Are All Ours on Getting Children to Sit in Church
- Preschoolers and Peace on Training Little Ones in Church
- Raising Olives on Family Worship
- Yes They Are All Ours on Getting Children to Sit in Church
- Baker's Dozen on Training Children to Sit Through Church
Where to sit:
- Up front. This may sound like exactly what you don't want to do, but hear me out! Sitting up font puts your kids near the action. There is more for them to look at and pay attention to. They may feel more important, thinking that the pastor is speaking right to them! If you do this, make sure you are not coming and going all service long...when we sit up front and have to leave for a minute, we slip in the back after or wait until the end if it's almost over.
- In the back. If you have a small baby who is awake and babbling, fussy, or a child who you know is going to need some extra attention/training, it my be best for your to stick to the back =) You definitely don't want to be a distraction to others if you don't have to be! When my children were babies, I liked being able to walk them in the back until they fell asleep and then be able to quickly slip back in the pew with my husband.
- The end of a pew. Generally speaking it is best if you can stick to the end of a row. If you foresee having to leave at all, it is doing no one a service to have to climb over others in order to 'slip out.' =) That being said, for a while my daughter was obsessed with stairs. Where we sat in church was up some stairs, so for a while my family sat on the end of the pew, but we positioned my daughter farthest in so she wouldn't be tempted by the stairs. So, evaluate your situation, consider others, and pick a good spot!
- By a door. If your church is not tiny, try to sit by an easy exit. This is merely for the consideration of others, your pastor included! If you can go from your seat to a door with no one noticing, that is fantastic! In our church, there are even doors up front, so we have the option of sitting just about anywhere. When my kids were babies, instead of sitting by an EXIT door, we would sit close to the cry room door. Just think about the layout of your church and pick a spot that makes the most sense and is going to distract your pastor (and others) the least if you have to get up and walk out!
- Here is a great idea from another mom...
- Life in a Shoe on Children in Church
What to bring:
- Something to keep the hands busy. I do not advocate entertaining your child with many toys because I do not want children to grow up thinking that a church service is something they need to distract themselves from, but I understand that young children get fidgety and keeping their hands busy can help.
- Keep it quiet. Lauri toys or stickers are good options. A simple busy bag might do the trick. Be careful of loose papers for drawing on and books with thin pages as they can be loud (think crinkling and constant flipping).
- Something to keep the mouth quiet. This should be reserved for very young children. Once you child is preschool age, they should understand that they need to be quiet. This should also not be brought out at the beginning, but reserved for times they need to be extra quiet or for near the end when they are needing help for the last little bit of the service.
- Keep it clean. Avoid things that can make a mess on their hands or the floor (I avoid suckers/fruit/etc. and crackers/pretzles/cereal/etc.) My favorites are gummy bears (not so healthy) or dried fruit because they are in small pieces that can be put right into the mouth.
- Keep it quiet. If a food is going to be noisy, don't bring it! My son likes to bite hard candy, so we don't let him have it. Crackers/cereal/pretzles/etc. are also noisy when crunched, so that is another reason we do not do them. We bring a sippy cup for each of our children and have found that certain cups are noisier than others. As a side note, we also do not offer the drink until the very end, and only if they need it to help during the last few minutes because drinking inevitably leads to bathroom breaks =)
- Something to aid in learning. This will vary with different ages, but the ultimate goal is helping your child to learn, so always be thinking to that end.
- A preschooler can trace over relevant words you have written on a paper or circle pictures that they have heard the pastor say (ex. Bible, Jesus, etc.) A beginning writer can copy a verse from the text or write down a few words they hear the pastor say. They can look for the passage in their Bible or read the number of the chapter in the Bible.
- Some great ideas from other ladies.
- My idea for Engaging a Preschooler During a Sermon
- Mama's Learning Corner with Listening Pages for Non-Readers
- Mama's Learning Corner with Christmas Listening Pages for Non-Readers
- Mama's Learning Corner with Easter Listening Pages for Non-Readers
- Raising Arrows on Helping Children Learn to Listen in Church
- Smockity Frocks on Children in Church
- mmmcrafts Worship Notes for Kiddos
- Grocery Shrink on Getting Children to Sit in Church
- Serving Pink Lemonade on Quiet Books
What to train:
- General Concepts
- Consider others better than yourself. We are not teaching our children to be quiet for the sake of being quiet. If we consider others better than ourselves, we will not keep them form being able to pay attention and learn. We will also not be a distraction (think running up and down the isle for multiple bathroom breaks) to the pastor because that would hinder him being able to share his sermon with us as he had practiced.
- Self control This is a worth wile thing for any child to learn. If we control our hands, they will not be waving in the air or poking our sister =) If we control our mouths, we will sing at the appropriate time and be quiet at the appropriate time.
- What the body of Christ looks like. A child partaking in a church service gets to see what communion looks like, what a group of people praying looks like, what their father singing to the Lord looks like! They see their parents (and others!) valuing the work of the church by tithing and the entire congregation supporting new believers in baptism and membership. These types of activities and experiences are not and cannot be replicated in a children's church.
- Here are what some other ladies have to share about this...
What to expect:
- Baby (0-6months) - Sleep, nursing/bottle, pacifier. Begin to associate the church service with being calm. Take your baby to the back or out of the room if needed, but do not take them to play (this will associate inappropriate behavior with a reward.)
- Toddler (7months-2 years) - Sleep (encourage napping if the child still would normally take a nap at this time, which should be easy if they have been trained in this since day one), sitting on parents lap (do not let them walk back and forth in the row, but model stillness), folding hands during prayer, bathroom break for early potty trainers, not making it through a long sermon (if my toddler does a good job, but starts to get fussy at the end, I don't mind taking him/her out early and telling him/her that they did a great job!)
- Preschooler (3-4 years) - Standing and sitting along with the rest of the congregation, folding hands/closing eyes during prayer, looking at a Bible, filling out a page about the sermon (coloring page, copying /tracing words, etc.), one bathroom break tops.
- Young Elementary (5-7 years) - Full participation in the service, no bathroom breaks, no toys only a paper to write notes or draw a pertinent picture.
- What another mom has to say about expiectations...
- Raising Olives on Keeping Little Ones in Worship
Other Great Ideas (or posts that cover more than one of these topics)
- Hope for the Family on Ten Ideas for Keeping Your Child Quiet in Church
- Parenting Methods on Helping Children Behave in Church
- The Common Room on 4 Moms with Children as Quit as Church Mice
- The Common Room on Children in Church
- Life in a Shoe on Children in Church (part 2)
- Raising Godly Children on How to Train Your Children to Worship
- Alpha Omega Publications on Should Your Children Be In Church?
- Training Your Child to Sit in Church
- Community Baptist Church on Children In Church
I hope that this has either given you some ideas if you keep your children with you in your church's worship service, or has encouraged you to at least think about this subject (or even give it a try!) If you have any questions or other ideas, please let me know! If you have written a blog post on this subject and would like me to like to it above, let me know and I will most likely add it (I'll have to make sure it is on topic, in line with the point of this post, family friendly, etc.)