One of the questions we get asked the most about child training is....
HOW DO YOU GET YOUR CHILDREN TO SIT STILL IN CHURCH??? and AT WHAT AGE CAN YOU EXPECT THEM TO SIT STILL???
Over the years of having more and more little ones, we have learned more and more about kids sitting in church. Here are some of them:
#1: Kids don't need food, books, and toys to be entertained during church. Some people have chosen to go this route, and that is fine, but for us, we found it more hassle than it was worth. So now we come to church with our Bibles and a diaper bag with bottles and diapers and that's about it. Every once in awhile one of the younger ones will ask for a pen and paper from Mark's Bible, and sometimes we say yes, sometimes no. We will often have a sippy cup for our babies to tie them over for a late lunch and very rarely they have had a snack if they didn't eat a good breakfast, but for the most part, that's all. This cuts down on a lot of "extra activity" in church.
#2: To teach your child to sit in church, we have found it is easiest to do the training at home. In church everything is quiet and we want our children to be quiet as well, and this makes training them in church very difficult. So we start with our children when they are quite young (depending on the child, but usually before a year). Mark usually does this at a time when they are most unlikely to sit still (before a meal, when they are 'wired'). We choose to train them at this time because let's face it, it's easy to make a child sit when they want to....it's when they don't that it's a challenge. So in order to train them, we need to choose our times wisely. We have had parents tell us that they practice getting their children to sit at home and they do just fine, but once they get to church it all falls apart. Sometimes it is just because the child is having a bad day (and we all have had those), but other times it is because we are making them sit at times where they fine with sitting. Therfore, no real training is done. So we will start at home, making them sit for 15 min. for a few days, then 20 min. and so on, until we have it that we can get them to sit with us for as many minutes as we want them to sit (within reason). It's important that when they are sitting, they are sitting relatively still and quietly. If they choose not too, we usually squeeze their leg, or something to get their attention. If we use this method (squeezing the leg), we can easily do this during church if they choose to be noisy or not sit still, and we do not have to take them out to deal with it. So at home, it's important that you get to a point that if they squirm or fuss and you squeeze their leg, that they don't let out a howl, rather they take it quietly. Like I said, takes practice. Use words like, "You need to get self-control" or "You need to obey quietly". Once you have your child sitting at home, "when you choose to have them sit" then you should be able to have them sit in church. Now like I said, there will be the odd day that the child will choose that "this is the day to misbehave", but just keep trying again the next time. It will come.
#3: We don't take our children into the nursery to play. Children are not dumb, they will get the pattern, "If I fuss, I get to go play!". I will go into the nursery with my children when I am nursing them and if, when they are older, I need to take them into the nursery, I do not let them down to play. They have to sit on my knee just the same as they would have in the service. But our nursery visits are very limited.
#4: When your children are older and can sit by themselves, and they get the 'wiggles' the little trick of folding their hands usually helps out quite a bit. It helps them to gain self-control. We use this often.
#5: For the older children you can do role playing or practice at home. Sometimes when we feel that the children are being a little more squirmy than they needed to be during church, we will have a refresher lesson. We will set up some chairs just like church and practice how we sit in church and go over the rules once again. Everyone needs a refresher now and then :)
#6: Every once in awhile, if we feel that a particular child(ren) were sitting very nicely that Sunday, we will reward them with something small (usually a couple of smarties or something like that). But we don't do this on a regular basis, rather very randomly. We don't want our children to sit nicely in order to get a reward, rather we want to reward them because they sat nicely. There is a big difference! One trains the behaviour, while the latter trains the heart. We always want to train the heart.
Our goal in all this is to raise children who respect God and others. In learning to sit and listen in church, they learn from God and His Word. I think many parents would be surprised how children can understand an adult service. There have been many times when one of our children will comment on a sermon that I thought was way "above their head". In learning to sit still and listen in church, they learn to respect the one who is preaching and the people around them who are trying to listen and in doing so they honour God.
How about you? What works for you in training your children to sit quietly and respectfully in church?