. . . ha!
No, no, sorry. I just couldn’t keep it in. They are NOT little angels in the pew every Sunday. They are perfectly normal LITTLE KIDS in the pew every Sunday, which means my husband and I have had to learn how to parent them in that context.
We’re not perfect at this yet (seriously, ask anyone in our parish), but there are a few things we’ve found over the years that really help our kids behave in church – and a few more that even help them to start learning to participate in the worship themselves.
1) We let them know what we expect – and we help them keep track of those expectations.
The easiest way to we’ve found to help our kids keep track of how they’re doing is rubber bands! (Sounds weird, right? It’s not.) We give each kid three colored rubber bands to keep on their wrists. If we have to ask them too often to be quiet or sit still or otherwise behave, we take one of their rubber bands. If they lose all of them, they lose a privilege. (Usually dessert at the post-church potluck. This is a real loss at our church – we have some awesome bakers!)
The advantage of the rubber bands is that they’re quiet. We don’t have to go into long explanations with the kids in the middle of a quiet service. They know what it means.
And it’s simple. It actually makes it easier for the kids, because they have a concrete reminder of how they’re supposed to be acting. I honestly can’t remember if any of the kids have ever ended up losing all three. It usually only takes one or two, and they shape up their own behavior. I don’t have to bug them about it.
I seriously love this. I don’t know if it’ll work for your family, but for ours, it’s been magic.*
2) Let them be part of the service.
There are so many ways a child can participate in church. Some of them are before the service (handing out bulletins, setting up chairs), some of them are during the service (acolyting, ushering) and some after (helping the Altar Guild carry things, helping the sextons clean up).
I don’t think what it is matters so much, but when children serve in church, it starts to be their church, you know? They know they’re a real part of what’s going on, and I think this makes a big difference in their behavior.
Instantly? No. Not really. This one’s more about long-term gains, and them growing up to be the sort of people you hope they’ll grow up to be. But I think it’s important, and well worth it. (Like training them to do the chores at home, training them to serve in church is going to be more work for you, in the beginning.)
3) Teach them follow along with the service.
This will be a bigger thing once they’re old enough to read, but even little kids can learn to say the Lord’s prayer, or to sing the doxology. Again, this is about helping them grow up with church participation ingrained in their bones.
But it also reflects a theological truth: these children really are part of the church body. This is their home, too. And as much as we can, we should help them take part.
4) Let them read.
They are still children. They probably won’t be up to following the sermon perfectly, or the priest’s long prayer.
But they can still have their minds focused on the Lord. Let them read the hymnal and the Bible. Let them bring along a Bible story book or two, or a comic book Bible (there are some really good ones out there).
Let them start on milk, if they’re not ready for meat. It’s still nourishment and – when they’re kids – it’s totally developmentally appropriate.
5) Let them draw or write.
This is sort of an echo of the point above. Have them draw the things they see in church: the crosses, the pictures in the stained glass window, the choir and the deacon, the Nativity scene at Christmas, the lilies at Easter.
Or have them take notes. Have them write a letter to the Lord, or copy down a verse from the pew Bible, or their own version of the Sunday school lesson they just heard.
Again, it’s just getting them used to the discipline of focusing on the Lord and his works and his word and his people. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Frankly, it won’t be. But it’s a start. And that’s good.
I hope these tips help! And if you have more to add, I’d certainly like to hear them! We’re only at the beginning of this journey, and I know there’s still a lot I have to learn.
Peace of Christ to you,
*We don't even use the rubberbands much anymore. But every couple of months, when the good behavior starts sort of dribbling into bad, we pull out this trick again, just to help them all remember how they're supposed to be acting. They remember, and then we can lay off the intense behavior-tracking for a few more months.
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