Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How to Survive Church with Wiggly Children

This week we have been discussing the series "Surviving Church with Children."  Ideas to help you return to church, keep your children quiet during church, and how to worship with special needs children.  I pray that you will glean practical ideas to help you not just survive church but truly be refreshed each week.

Today begins with a question I received via email.
I could definitely use some helpful hints for church, during the service. We have Children's church during the sermon portion, but even just the songs and announcements part is horribly difficult for us.
I thank God that we go to a church that allows my husband and I a chance to refresh and renew without our children crawling all over us.  Truly, each week I come out of the church service "filled up" and ready to hit the week ahead.  But when we go to my parents' church, we don't have the option of Children's Church.  It is also really small so any noises made will be heard by all.

Here are a few suggestions that I have...
1.  Set realistic expectations.  For some children, sitting through an hour long service is beyond their ability.  Start small and work up for the whole amount of time.  Make it a goal to make it through 15 minutes.  Each week increase it.  Explain to your child your plan.  Get excited about successes.  But I believe most all children - even toddlers - can learn to sit on a chair quietly.  I have seen it done many, many times even in the toughest situations. 

2.  Attend regularly.  It is hard for a child to be consistent with the expectations if you attend church sporadically.

3.  Allow and encourage the child to move and make noise when it is appropriate.  Teach the child to participate in worship time.  Don't use the quiet activities when you don't have to.  I believe that a child should participate in the singing.  When the congregation stands, have your child stand.  Point to the words as you sing out of a hymnal or show them the words on the screen.  Get a copy of the songs that you sing on CD so that your child can be familiar with them.  By participating in the singing and moving (standing) section of the service, the child has less required time to sit still.

4.  Have an activity for your child to do during quiet times.  The Crayola Color Wonder Markers are amazing.  Our kids only get to use these during times like this.  We never play with these markers at home.  That way, they are special and new.  I have seen some kids play very quietly with a matchbox car or a book of stickers (the Melissa and Doug Sticker Collections are great).  Dolls, Barbies, Polly Pockets are great for younger girls.  Usborne has some great "I Spy" type of books.  Dry Erase Board and markers are great for children who like to draw. (Be care with the marker on good clothes!) The ABCJLM Bible Coloring Book is another option.  Find a Bible sheet that coincides with the sermon. 

5.  Prepare a snack for the quiet time of the service.  (Don't use the snack until you absolutely need it.)   Often times, church runs close to meal time. Before the service explain to the child when the snack will be available to eat. For some kids, suckers will keep them quiet for quite a bit!

6.  Sit in the back and on an aisle so that you can easily leave if necessary.  It will be less distracting to others and you will feel less pressure to keep the child absolutely still.

7.  With your spouse, agree on expectations for your child's behavior and explain these to the child before you go to church.  Can the child sit on your lap?  Can you the child sit on the floor?  Can the child stand?  Is the child allowed to change activities?

8.  This is so important.  If you have agreed that your child will sit during the sermon, don't cave because the child isn't obeying.  It is tempting to take the child to the foyer to play but if you do it once the child will expect it the next time.  If need be, take the child out of the sanctuary and discuss the expectations.  But then bring the child back in with the same expectations.

9.  Discuss appropriate consequences for misbehavior.  Be consistent and make sure your spouse is in agreement.

10.   If you are unsure what to do, ask. There are probably some incredible Grandmas in your church who can train you and your child. Ask them to teach your child to sit through church quietly and then mirror them. Watch everything what they do. Most likely, they trained their child and the expectations were much higher 20 years ago.

11.  Practice at home.  This is key.  If you don't expect respect and listening at home, it won't happen at church.  If you entertain with TV and video games at home, the child will not learn how to play or sit quietly.  (Remember my posts about "Teaching a Child to Play Independently?"  This is another reason why this is so important.)

12.  Role play at home.  Using dolls or Lego people, hold pretend church.  Explain what is acceptable and what behaviors are not.  Explain the reason "why" this behavior is expected - so others can listen, so others can learn, etc.  Then switch roles and have the child be the mommy or daddy and you be the "child."  Behave so that the child needs to explain to their "child" why he or she needs to be quiet during church. 

Here is an example of role playing and how to set the expectations.

(A church scenario with Lego Men after you have explained the expectations to your child.)
Mommy:  Bubs, church is ready to start.  I need you to explain to your Lego Men how they are to behave. 
(While Bubs is talking, be sure to interject or pretend to be one of the Lego Men and ask "why?" questions.)

(Before church)
Mommy: Do you remember how good your Lego Men did sitting through church?  They did great.  I want you to do the same thing today.  I know that 30 minutes is a long time for you to sit so we are going to cut down the amount of time to make it easier.   We are going to listen and obey for fifteen minutes.  During that fifteen minutes I want you to ___________. After the time is up, we will leave to get a drink.  The time will go fast if you sit quietly.  I know you can do it!  (Have a sticker chart at home to make the success.)

After a quick drink, set the expectations again and return to the sanctuary for another 15 minutes.  Each week up the amount of time until the child is able to sit quietly during the entire sermon.

13.  Pray.  Michelle reminded me of one important tip. "Before you leave and every moment you're in church, pray. I tend to continuously ask God for peace in my children's hearts and a sense of calmness to fall over them. I truly believe God wants us to be 'fed' in church and it is hard to be fed when we are constantly interrupted by our little treasures. The Holy Spirit will enter into your home, car, restaurant, and church if you pray for it!"

Every church and situation is different so this may not work for your church.  I am hopeful that you can tailor it to your situation.  Children, even young toddlers, can learn to sit quietly in a chair during church but some children take more training than others!  Be sure you do everything possible at home to train before you ever hit the pews.  This will help your child succeed.

Update:  View the YouTube Video of this post.

Tomorrow:  Worshipping with a Special Needs Child

How do you help your child be successful during church?


  1. One thing we do at home is "sitting still practice". When the children are toddlers we have them sit on our laps for five minutes without wiggling, trying to get away or talking. It takes a lot of practice so I try to do it every day. Older children sit in a chair and practice for 5 or 10 minutes. I've also done "standing still" practice by having them stand next to me while I'm in the kitchen and practice standing without pulling on me, sitting or laying on the floor etc....K

    1. Very wise. The child will act in public only as well as you have trained at home.

  2. My husband is the pastor and I play the piano so for the first 20 minutes or so. So, my children have to sit with someone in the church and I gotta say, #10 is not always true (the part about the grandmas having higher expectations and better ideas than you) haha. It is the most trying part about training our 2 and 4 year old. The older people let them get away with and sometimes even encourage (!) behavior that we have already said is not acceptable. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from older people that the children cannot be expected to sit that long and quietly. Some are starting to come along and see that children CAN and should sit quietly through church, but the majority still feel children should be given unlimited candy, be allowed to draw on all the offering envelopes, hide under the benches, etc. Ugh! Another pretty difficult thing is that I am single-handedly having to train both because my husband is always up front. I have his full support, of course, but obviously, he cannot stop his sermon to deal with our children if they are misbehaving. One thing I do have to say is that once you train your child, you will be SO grateful! It's so nice to know my children will know how to behave themselves when they need to, whether that's a church service, funeral service, concert, play. These are all things we have had to do with our children and it was nice that they were already trained so we didn't have to worry about them being loud and obnoxious in a funeral service and we were able to enjoy the concert and play with our very young children while other kids around us were acting like crazed monkeys - haha.

    1. You are exactly correct. Not every idea will work in every situation. But, I pray that you can glean at least one idea to help. In my situation, there is a difference between grandmas and great-grandmas. What you described sounds just like the great-grandmas that I know! :)

  3. I love this post, it definitely encourages me to continue training my child to respect church and to behave. One thing that I am seeing as a problem are kids wanting to come sit with us. Last week we had 2 other kids (ages 3&4) sit with us and it was rough. They ate all of my 18month old's snacks and wanted to play on their I Pads. We do not allow electronic devices on our 'pew' so I guess we are the 'uncool' row. We, my husband and I , try very hard to train up our child, but what can you say to prevent other children from sitting with us? Their parents allow them to walk all around the church DURING service, run around church, and play on I Pads. This is not happening nor respectful in our household. I would hate to be 'that' mom, but I view my child's upbringing as more valuable then being a babysitter to other children.

    1. That is a rough situation. The one thing that I can say is that there is a reason why these kiddos are drawn to you and your children. There is something that you are offering that their parents aren't. Not sure what that is but praying you can see the balance.

  4. hi, I have a 20 month old and she just wants to run around and around the church. My 3 year old was like that even worse but now since he's turned 3 he sits very still and is quiet for ages so has this got to do with age, is it still realistic for a 1 year old to not run around?

    1. Cara - Thank you for this question. I find it amazing that 50 years ago children as young as 1 sat in church every Sunday and you rarely heard a peep out of them. When I was a child we sat through the entire service.
      A couple of things, because the church is a place of reverence and respect, our children are taught not to run. Also, there are many people - often times older people - and running could hurt others.
      Second, yes, I believe 1 year old can be taught to sit quietly. The internet is filled with quiet activities (many are available on the ABCJLM website) for a toddler to do. Of course save the favorite and quietest for a sermon time. (Snacks too) But the training must begin at home. I am going to be hosting a Periscope on training a child to sit quietly. Be sure to watch Facebook for this announcement.
      Please let me know what additional questions you have.


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