Every parent and teacher knows, if given a choice, kids would rather get up and play than sit still for long periods. However, some children have difficulty behaving even if attending a fast-paced, exciting children’s church. There are plenty of reasons why a kid would feel a compulsion to behave badly but a frazzled parent doesn’t have time to stop for counseling sessions in the middle of a service. If you are having difficulty getting kids to behave in church, there are a few things you can do to make the experience a little easier.
Share Your Expectations
Kids know church is special but it’s up to you to explain why. Talk to kids ahead of time about how to behave in church. You should explain to them what’s expected and how everyone else will behave. Have this discussion in advance of church but remind kids again on the way to church. Give your child a good meal before church so hunger pangs don’t encourage bad behavior. Avoid giving kids candy, like chocolate or sugary drinks that make little nervous systems fidgety before service.
I loved this idea as soon as I heard it and I can attest that it does work. When my oldest was small, long before I became involved in children’s church, I used the “seat game.” On the first visit to our new church, we sat on the back row. When we arrived at church, I told my son Jesse that if both he and I were both good, we would sit on the next row, just ahead of us, the following service. We sat on bench seven, then six and finally two. The seat game really worked for my son who loves a challenge. After a few weeks, we were almost on the front row. However, if this doesn’t work for your child, don’t be discouraged. A good seat on the back row will suffice until your child gets a little older.
Special Church Bags
Pack a special backpack just for church. Put small games and toys in the bag and don’t let kids play with it until you’ve arrived at church. Special bags make this time even more exciting for little ones. Please observe sanctuary rules about snacks and drinks. These are no-no’s for church except for infants.
Enforce Time Out
If you have to leave the sanctuary during church for a “timeout” don’t reward children with a visit to the nursery. Make your child sit quietly for timeout in an out of the way place, like the restroom where you can monitor him. Timeouts should be short though. The minute rule is best for enforcing timeouts. For example, one minute of seat time for a one-year old.
Show kids what church is all about by leading by example. Encourage worship by praising God with singing and clapping your hands, if appropriate. Smile frequently at your child to involve him in the service.
Kids like dressing up, there’s no denying it. Donning new or special clothing makes Sunday School and church seem even more exciting. Set aside a few outfit for church and don’t allow the child to wear them any other time.
Attend kid-friendly churches. While all true churches love all the members of the congregation, some are more kid-friendly. Find a congregation that places an emphasis on family ministries or that have understanding, supportive members.
Read more about Mimi on her blog, Encouragement for Christians.