Training Your Child to Sit in Church
How I Train My Children to Sit in Church
My children sit in church with us each Sunday. They sing and pray with us and listen to the sermon. Many families have asked, "How in the world do you do that?" That's why I'm writing this. Let me clarify that I am not writing this to explain why we keep our children in church with us. I am writing this to explain how we keep our children in church with us.
Why Should Children Be in Church?
My husband and I believe that we are called by God to train up our children to love, serve and worship Him. Training our children to worship God includes training them to worship Him each Sunday in our church service.
Just Starting Out
When We Only Had One Child
When we had one child, we fed him a steady stream of Cheerios, puff cereal, and goldfish crackers during the quiet parts of the service (prayers and the sermon). We held him in our laps and would occasionally flip through books for him to look at during longer sermons.
As he got older (about 18 months), he became a little chatterbox. He was constantly asking questions and making comments (sometimes about what was being said in the sermon, but still not appropiate). We incorporated the Lollipop sermon time. I put a star next to where the sermon was in the bulletin and would cross off each segment of the service as we went through them. When we got to the starred section (the sermon), we gave him a small lollipop to keep his mouth occupied. I still laugh when I remember all the comments that were made about how delightful it was that we had a child that got so excited over the sermon. Little did they know it had more to do with the lollipops and less to do with the sermons. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this approach anymore, but it is what we did.
As our family grew, our practices changed. Now that we have more children, our younger children are able to watch their older siblings and follow their actions.
Training at Home
One of the most important aspects of training children for church on Sunday is to train them at home during the week.
Preparing for Your Church's Service
What does your church do every single week? Our church has particular aspects to the service that they repeat each week like singing the Doxology and saying the Lord's Prayer together. In order to teach our youngest ones these, we sing and sign (using sign language) the Doxology and pray the Lord's Prayer every day until they learn them. That way even our youngest child (currently 18 months) can fully participate in that aspect of the service. (After our youngest child learns those, we sing and pray them less often.)
At various times our church will include the Nicene Creed, Apostle's Creed, and the Lord's Prayer in the worship serivice. I use the below picture books with my children to teach them these. The books contain only the words of the creed or prayer, with one line per page. Each page has an appropiate drawing related to that phrase.
Get a Church Bulletin Early
If you are blessed by having a church that plans out their service earlier than Saturday night, you can do even more. Occasionally our current church will e-mail us the bulletin for the upcoming week a few days ahead of time.
I will sing through the hymns that we will be singing that week in the service with my children twice a day so that the non-readers can be more familiar with the songs. We will recite the creed or responsive reading together if those will be said in the service. We will read through the passage for the sermon at least once so that it will be familiar to them when the pastor reads it on Sunday. If there is a song that has a repetitive chorus, we will sing that song even more times as the youngest ones will quickly learn it and be able to sing that part of the song loudly and clearly when we are in church.
For some reason my youngest children love holding a hymnal while they sing and will sing loudly if they're holding an open hymnal (even if it's upside down and on the wrong page), so I will pass out hymnals for them to hold while we sing.
In order to find out if you can get a bulletin ahead of time, you can simply ask the pastor or church secretary if they can e-mail the bulletin to you earlier in the week so that you can prepare your children for the service. If that doesn't work, offer to help out with the bulletin. In order to get the bulletin earlier in the week, one of my sisters volunteered to proofread her church's bulletin. She even offered to type it up for them whenever the church secretary needed help.
Sitting Still and Sitting Quietly
Learning from the worship service is vital to the spiritual lives of our children. Having them sit still through the service is one step in that direction. Every day we practice sitting quietly and still. As we read the Bible together in the morning, the children sit close together (just like they would on a pew) and listen quietly (usually). After they answer questions on what we just read, I then tell them to fold their hands in their laps and to sit quietly. We all sit together. When I first started this, we would sit silently for 60 seconds. My youngest two would squirm quite a bit, so I would discipline them immediately and then start the time again. Our quiet/still time now lasts a couple minutes and everyone does pretty well. My 18 month old has started to get kind of squirmy, so I hold her in my lap.
I have explained to my children that we do this so that they can pay attention in church and not distract others. One time my parents called during our quiet/still time. My son informed them that they we were "practicing sitting still for church."
As a side note, teaching this form of self-control has been quite beneficial in other ways. When my children get riled up sometimes, I tell them to sit on the sofa, fold their hands, and practice being quiet and still. They will. It allows for a few minutes of peace and quiet in the house and it also helps them to calm down a bit.
I know of other families who extend this period of "sitting still" time. They will have their children sit together on a sofa and quietly listen to a Bible story or a sermon for 10-30 minutes each day. I haven't tried this yet.
Sitting Still While Reading
I try to have everyone (even babies) together when I read books to the children. Sometimes I tell the children that it's my turn to talk and their turn to listen as we read through a book. This gives the children additional practice in sitting still and also in controlling their urges to speak constantly.
Teaching Children to Pray
After we read the Bible together in the evening, each of our children pray, starting with the youngest child and ending with my husband praying. Yes, even our toddler (18 months) prays. We feed the words to her word for word and she'll repeat each word or phrase after us. For example, my husband will say, "Brooke, say, 'Thank you - God - for - doggies - and grapes. Thank you - for - Mommy - Daddy, etc.'" As our toddlers get older, we ask them what they would like to thank God for and then will lead them to pray that. For example, my husband will say, "Brooke, say 'Thank you God for kitty cats. Amen."
Not only is this important because it is teaching our children to be thankful and to pray to God, but we are also training them to be still, quiet, and reverent during prayer.
How old is your youngest child right now?
Ages and Stages of Training
Nursing Babies (0-6 months)
When my babies are very young, I try to nurse them just before the service starts. Then they usually sit in their car seat, sleep through the service, or contently sit in my arms.
Older Babies (6 - 14 months)
When my babies start to eat solid food and want to move around a bit more, I offer them cheerios, puff cereal, or goldfish crackers when they start to get noisy. I'll also bring a few quiet "chew toys." We'll have a pacifier or bottle handy if that particular baby uses one. Either my husband or I will hold them in arms and in our lap during the entire service.
Toddlers (14 - 24 months)
My youngest daughter is currently in this stage. Either my husband or I will hold her in our lap during the sermon and any other time she tries to escape down the aisle. During the sermon, she scribbles across the pages of a notebook or drawing pad using a pencil. (Pen markings are much more difficult to get out of clothing.)
If she starts to fuss and won't stop, we will take her out of the service briefly, discipline her, and then bring her back to the service. I have seen a number of parents take their noisy children to the nursery or to a Sunday school class where they then let their child play. Those children seem to continue to fuss week after week. Maybe the child quickly learns that misbehavior has a reward.
There are weeks when my toddler does become too disruptive and will not quiet down. For the sake of others, I keep her out of the service until the sermon is over. We sit in an empty Sunday school room. I hold her in my lap and do not let her go. At that point I make a mental note that we need to be more diligent about training at home that week.
Young Preschoolers (2 - 3 years old)
My next youngest child is in this stage. During the sermon she sits by herself or sits on my husband's or my lap if she gets fidgety. She usually scribbles and draws on a drawing pad using a pencil. As we drive home from church or as we eat lunch after church, she tells us what she drew and what she learned at church. Usually the response is, "Jesus."
Tip: If your child does get ink on their nice Sunday clothing, spray the spot with aerosol spray hairspray as soon as you get home and wash it as quickly as possible. The ink comes out! I have even gotten permanent marker out of a white skirt this way. I think it's the alcohol that does it, so possibly any product with a high concentration of rubbing alcohol should work.
Older Preschoolers (3-6 years old)
My younger son is in this stage. During the sermon we will whisper to him what to draw (always something relevant to what the pastor has just said in the sermon) and he draws it. Now that he's learned to write letters, I'll also have him copy the sermon Bible passage at the top of his page. Yes, some weeks we have to get really creative in what we tell him to draw. As we drive home from church or as we eat lunch after church, he tells us what he drew and why.
Elementary Age (6-10 years old)
My oldest son is in this stage. As soon as he was able to write decently, I had him take notes. When he was first learning to spell, I would whisper to him important words to write down from the sermon. (No, he didn't usually spell them correctly, but he did try.) As his writing and spelling improved, I would tell him a few sentences to write down from the sermon. Next he progressed to taking 3 "notes" himself. (He would usually write 3 pharses he heard the pastor say.) Now he is taking 6 notes himself, and we're working on training him to actually write important sentences from the sermon. As we drive home from church or as we eat lunch after church, he tells us what he wrote from the sermon and why.
A family I know passes out a photocopied "Sermon Notes" sheet to each of their children every week. It has lines for the date, pastor's name, sermon title, sermon passage, 6 notes, and application. They give the sheet to even their youngest children (who doodle on it). As the children get older, they do take proper notes. The papers are hole-punched so that the children can keep their sermon notes in a binder.
I sometimes get a comment such as, "You just must have good kids. My children could never do that!" My children are definitely not perfect. Some weeks go more smoothly than others. We do have the occasional week that my toddler screams and tries to escape down the aisle, my preschooler repeatedly tries to sit upside-down in the pew, my younger son decides he'd rather draw a race car than the 10 Commandments, and my oldest son insists, "There's nothing I can take notes on!" We continue to train nonetheless. Yes, training your children to worship together with you each Sunday in the worship service can be hard work, but it is worth it! The reward is sweet! You will have children who love to worship and praise the Lord from as early as they can remember.
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Are you training your children to sit in church?
© 2011 Shannon