Everyone is an expert on parenting. Especially those who have never done it.
Well, children at church is something I’ve been working on for 6 years, so I’m not yet an expert, but I have been working hard and starting over with a new baby every 18-24 months, so I feel like I’ve got a few tips to share. The main one is: Encourage the habits you want to see. Have a grown-up version of your children in mind so you know your destination.
- Make being in the chapel the most comfortable place for them. Let them sit on their own on the bench, color on the program, read their Friend or quiet book. If they misbehave or scream, take them in the hall and hold them tightly on your lap. Remind them that if they are quiet and reverent they will get to go back into the chapel and sit on their own. Don’t let them roam the halls or else that is all they will want to do. Even if you are going in and out and in and out and in and out–don’t give up. Make the chapel be the place where they are comfortable.
- Bring snacks (if you want) that aren’t messy and aren’t a big production. Don’t put sugar in your kids to try to keep them reverent. Don’t bring stuff that crumbles. Cheerios and other little cereal (that aren’t sticky) are good to divy up. Goldfish too. Bread, bagels, etc. just crumble and make a mess. We actually don’t bring snacks for our kids after they are about 18 months. They’ll get a snack in nursery. The chapel isn’t a place to eat for big kids.
- You shouldn’t have to bring a big bag of tricks each week. Kids need to learn how to handle being bored and entertain themselves quietly. The program is great for them to color on, or fold into an airplane (but no throwing!), little puzzles are fun if they can fit on the hymn book. The Friend or a quiet book might be appropriate. But too many toys produces fights and coveting and general disruption. We used to just take turns drawing alphabet letters on each others’ backs when we were kids, and having to guess what the letter was. That took a good 20 minutes of the meeting. Then, there were the “cut off circulation to your hand games” that made them tingle, that was another 10 minutes (by the time everyone got a turn). The hymn book has all of those conducting patterns that are another good back-tracing game. Handling themselves when they are bored is an important skill in school and work and even some conversations. Don’t deny your kids the chance to get good at this. Again, it takes time, but they eventually settle in to the routine. They WILL.
- When someone they know is talking, turn their attention to it. If their dad is giving a prayer or testimony, make sure they are listening. When their primary teachers or friends’ parents get up, make sure they listen.
- If your new nursery child is having a hard time adjusting, consider having another trusted adult (not one of their parents) take them and sit with them for a few minutes before leaving. Our son resisted nursery for months, so my husband sat with him with no end in sight–then one week our friend took him and dropped him off and he jumped into the games and puzzles without a whimper.
- We don’t let our kids do their books/activities until after the sacrament is over. We try to keep the sacrament distraction-free and peaceful (of course it isn’t always). This approach also makes their toy/book excitement last till the end of the meeting because they aren’t done with them after the youth speaker. During the sacrament, we sometimes quietly whisper a reminder of what the symbols represent. Again, our oldest is only 6 so we don’t have great expectations for profound reverence and respect for the ordinance. But we do expect them to sit on the bench. And we do let them take the sacrament even though they aren’t yet 8. I’m sure there are valid opinions on both sides, but it seems like a good reward for them for sitting still, and I think we would have serious caterwauling if we tried to pass the trays over their heads.
That’s all I have for now. Remember, it does take time and consistency but they will adjust to sitting and playing on their own, quietly. And hopefully, they will start listening and understanding as they mature. They will already be in the habit of being reverent and respectful in church.