Training Little Children for Church

 

I have been asked a few times how I train my little children to sit quietly in church. 

Before I answer that, I would like to state for the record that I am not a licensed psychologist, doctor, or plumber. The methods we use within our family work for our family (most of the time) and generally make us happy.  We do not think we are smarter, holier, or happier than you are if you don’t do things the same way.

Now that I have that out of the way, here are a few of the things we do to train our little children (ages approximately 15 months+) to sit quietly through a church service of an hour or more.

  • Practice at home. We routinely have read aloud time when we expect everyone to sit quietly and listen. We occasionally accompany this, when we see the need, with practice standing to sing or pray, or turning to a particular song in a song book.
  • Provide a picture Bible and a doll or one other small item for them to hold and look at while they are listening quietly.
  • If the child is disruptive during the service, take them out to a quiet place. Have them sit in your lap without getting down and with no toys or books. Make sure they understand that they may go back inside and look at a book or hold a dolly when they are ready to be quiet.
  • DON’T provide too many activities or distractions. This will only teach them to expect to be entertained. See my post on children in church to read what we do provide during worship.
  • Keep them in the worship service with you from the beginning. If they don’t expect to be going to a room full of toys or play type activities, they will conform more readily to what everyone else in the assembly is doing: worshipping reverently.
  • Don’t give up. There will be times when little children balk at sitting quietly. Continue your at home practice (daily if needed) and soon they will understand what is expected of them.

What about you? How do you handle children in church?

This post is linked to Works For Me Wednesday.

  • Share This:
  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this Post
  • Share on Twitter

Comments

  1. thank you for posting this my children are LOUD rowdy and unruling and it is VERY embarrassing.. part of it is our own fault for not raising them in church but they are 4 and 2 and i think old enough to know when told to sit quietly . We take coloring books , a chalk board , soft blocks for our son and a car and a dolly for our girl.. never thought about practicing at home.

  2. Well, I must admit, we look for churches with children’s programs. If they don’t have them, we go somewhere else. I like the fact that they get to worship with their friends and be kids, while I get to worship without looking at them, or feel tugging on me for a bathroom break or me politely reminding them to put their feet on the floor. :)

  3. Stephanie says:

    oh i am so glad you posted this! We feel like families need to worship together – its kinda discouraging when your (i mean mine of course ) 5 mo is screaming — and my 15mo is fussy since its nap time and my 2yo is the only one sitting quiet- normally when that happens we will leave the service and go to the foyer – they have the sermon playing over loud speakers so we can still hear- we just are sure to sit on the back row- and we still sit quietly.

  4. Thank you for this post! My husband and I found a family integrated church (finally) and are thrilled with the opportunity to worship the Lord together! Before, we attended a “cowboy church” and they didn’t like the idea of children in the service. So now my 2, almost 3, year old boy hears the word “church” and thinks “playtime” because that’s all they did in nursery. = ( I know that littles can’t have lessons but hearing the word of God is good for them and he absorbs so much from our nightly Bible time! Thanks for the tips, we have a lot of re-training to do. = )

  5. We keep our kids with us. I heartily support all the tips you’ve given. I wish we had done less entertaining of our first in the pew. These days they just get a doll (for the youngest) or paper and a pen or crayons. I give the older ones verses from the sermon text to copy or words to listen for or other things to try to get them tuned in to what is going on. I believe the command to keep the Sabbath and worship corporately applies to our children as well as ourselves.

  6. A dose of benedryl right before the service helps too. – Just kidding! ;-) Your ideas are great and I think it’s wonderful when families can worship together. :)

  7. I love your ideas! I agree – too much entertainment makes the expect it. I also don’t allow “napping” in church, unless it’s a baby or young toddler, of course. I see big kids getting comfy as soon as worship is over and sleeping through the service. I decided early on that was a no-no.

    I also like your disclaimer at the beginning. I was wondering how to begin an upcoming post with something very similar. I may plagerize!

  8. Thank you for this! My husband is a minister and we recently moved to a new small church that doesn’t have a nursery during the service, so my 3 and 4 year olds are having to learn how to sit quietly and worship with me in “big church”. It’s been pretty challenging for me so far, but your tips were great. I will be practicing sitting still with them very soon! And I love the idea of only a doll or a book in the pew. I’ve been taking way too many things with us to keep them busy, only to have them balk and complain about what I bring.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Can I have the benadryl?????? Ok fine. Our children go to Jr. church but are with us for the second service. I let them draw but that is about it. I like your reasoning on why you do not bring lots of toys to church. I used to bring lots of things as well but realized like you did that I spent more time corralling toys than listening. And a note to Melodie I have 5 children ranging from 16 mths to 24 mths apart and I never spent much time in the service either. But then they grow up and you have a hard time sitting still yourself because it has been so long since you have sat through a whole service. I always had a baby to feed or a little one to take out. I never realized church was so long! :)

  10. Thanks, Smockity! I needed some encouragement in this area. My two year old is not a “quiet sitter” like my seven year old has always been. It’s a good thing I color my hair, because every time we go to church, I’m sure I leave with more gray hairs than when I walked in.

  11. I’m so glad you say from about 15 months. We’ve been having a very difficult time getting Pearl to sit through service, and I’d started thinking we were failing as parents in some way. :-/ But she’s only 13 months, so I feel a little bit of pressure off my shoulders.

  12. We have used a lot of the same suggestions that you mentioned. We have been blessed with our children being pretty good during church service. :)

  13. This is a great list of very practical ideas!
    While I don’t think it’s wrong to allow kids to have their own children’s programs where they are also learning, I have never thought the nursery was very productive. It starts your children off from the beginning believing that church is where we come to play while everyone else is worshipping.

    But I also understand that we all have different kids to deal with but I do think that taking the time to deal with them earlier will be beneficial in the long term.

  14. I agree with all of your points! We’ve always taken our children (ages 7, 5, & 18 months) with us for the entire service and for the most part, they sit quietly and don’t disrupt.

    I will add one more tip that works for us–sit near the front. We are “regulars” in the first few pews. In fact, our children often ask if we can sit in the very front pew. HA! The closer we sit to the front, the more our children pay attention. If we sit in the back, they start to think of the pews as a playground and things can go downhill…fast. So we routinely look for seats in the first three pews.

  15. I try to have a coloring book and crayons that my kids (1.5 and 3.5) can use during the “quiet times” in church when they have to sit in the service with me. I try to encourage them to participate during the singing and Bible reading (giving them a Bible to look at). Thankfully, our church usually has a nursery for the littlest kids and children’s church during the sermon, so it’s rare that they have to sit through an entire service.

  16. Great post, Connie.

    I also have idea planned for one of my future posts. I’ll be sure to link you in when I do.

    Blessings to all of you as you raise your children in the nuture and the admonition of the Lord.

    penny

  17. Karen B. says:

    well, mine are 13 and 15 now, so it’s been a while since i’ve had littles in church…i don’t really have any original ideas, but i would like to reinforce some of the ideas already mentioned — our kids went to the nursery until they were two, then started sitting with us; we always sat in the first few rows of our large auditorium, so the kids could see and hear what was going on; we encouraged them to participate in singing, praying, and giving; during the sermon, i would give them something out of the “church bag,” usually a book or small toy; this seemed to work pretty well, i don’t remember ever having to leave the auditorium (except for potty breaks, which were also pretty rare) — God bless all you moms who are teaching your kids to love Jesus and His church!!

  18. We’ve always made it a point to make church a very loving time. We sit on the front row and we have 4 kids, 2 of which are under 2. We cuddle and when our 18month old starts talking we quietly in her ear tell her to listen to the pastor, or explain what is going on for her. It quiets her down, and we give lots and lots of cuddles, and lap sitting during church. We have never had a problem with any of our children in church and we have never brought activities for them to do. We go to church as a family to worship as a family. Why do we sit on the front row? So the kids can see! :)

  19. We have 6 young’uns, aged 9 1/2 to 9 months. Our children have always sat with us in church, even when visiting others family members’ church. If we are at a different church, most people around us cringe when they see all 8 of us pile into seats around them, but we always get so many compliments on our children’s behavior once the service is done. It’s not because our children are exceptionally well behaved (I’m their Mom. Trust me. Their not.). I think it’s because this is normal for our children and they understand what is to be expected. When most churches shuttle the littles out the door so the grown ups can worship without them, it is a great disservice to the children and the grown ups. Children can be taught to sit still. It just take practice.
    The one thing that we do that wasn’t mentioned, is make sure our children get their potty breaks and water before the service starts. Except for the young ones, both in diapers and being, or just, potty trained, children are (usually) not allowed to get up and leave. This causes too much distractions for the other people.
    And just so you don’t think we “have it all down”, in the 2 1/2 years my son has been alive, between my husband and I, we’ve missed about a years worth of services. Even though we do have a family bible study every night we don’t have church. And we “practice”. Every. Night.
    Yeah.

  20. My husband is a pastor and we used to send our toddlers to “children’s church” during worship service. This time around (number 5) we, mainly I, decided I wanted to do things differently. Mainly, it was my experience with previous kids of having to de-children’s churchaphy them. My 4 year old now sits very quietly and listens to the sermon, but when I first started bringing him in with us a year ago, he was disappointed to be taken away from his friends and toys. Like you said, I didn’t want to have to go through this tough transition again.

    So, this time I blanket trained the baby from around 6 months of age- never had to slap her little hand or anything- she was VERY teachable at this age. When she got off her blanket, I would just put her right back on. After a few minutes she got it. So we continued with the blanket training during family worship and she did well, but our family worship is at home in a more casual environment and it usually only lasts 15-20 minutes.

    Then from about a year when she started walking until around 18 months, we really struggled in church. I almost gave up so many times, but then one day it just clicked again and she’s been a gem ever since. I take a plush Bible in with us that has a little lamb that fits into a pocket on every page and that’s it. She still naps in the morning so she usually falls asleep about half way through the service. If I can train my fifth and quite spoiled little girl to sit through church and enjoy it, anyone can.

    • Jenn Kallman says:

      @Celee, TCelee -thanks! This is encouraging to me since we are in the middle of those “maybe we should just give this up days”! We really are committed to the principles behind though so your experience gives me the strength to keep workin’ at it! Thank you!

  21. GREAT POST!

    My kids are 10 and 8 now and they can sit in church, but I had them sitting in church from the beginning like you say. Everyone thinks my kids are just ‘good’ kids. So not true. ;-) Anyone who wants to can teach their kids how to sit in church. It just takes time for them to learn. I did all those things on the list too. For me it was especially helpful to have a story-time at home where they had to sit quietly. Kids are capable of SO MUCH. Often we just don’t give the chance and training to prove themselves.

  22. I love our church because they actually have a curriculum starting at a very young age before they’re 1. They learn to sit on a blanket or rug during story time. As they grow older the curriculum time gets longer as the story gets more in depth. They start coming to “big” church when they’re 5 which my oldest will start in a couple of months. I love all the suggestions & plan to implement them. Thanks!

  23. Jenn Kallman says:

    Ok, now that I read of a kindred spirit in the “family worshiping” world (although I should say our kids go to their age appropriate class just as we do AFTER the worship/sermon service so we get to enjoy both “worlds”) I need some help! We are currently the only family at our church who keeps their young children with them for the service so we are figuring this out on our own (and fielding LOTS of questions from families who may want to try it)
    Ok, my first two babes (now 2 & 3 yrs) were taught to sit in church with us very successfully from about 18mo. (well and about 0-3/4ish months) We do many of the things you suggest -I think the most profitable being practicing at home and only have ONE object (book, toy, whatever). However, they both also still had a pacifier (for sleep time only usually) that we also let them use in church -to keep that sweet mouth busy and I think this was a huge help! :) Well, baby #3 will soon be joining us in church and she most certainly does not take a pacifier :( so I am wondering how you get your young toddler to understand being quiet in church -or anywhere else. I am trying to teach her about being quiet but it is not going well and I am not sure if she is just stubborn or too young to understand (she is currently 14mo). So what do you do to keep your 15mo olds from babbling during church?
    You talk about getting a baby to sit well in church from about 15mo on, but then say to do it from the beginning -how do you do it from about 4/5mo until they reach 15mo? Before that they are quiet b/c they are so young, but then with our children at least they get a bit older and much more “vocal” but they still aren’t old enough(at 6, 7, 8 moths) to understand quiet -are they? We tried keeping #3 in with us since birth but had to give it up at about 5mo because she was just too noisy and we needed two parents in the service to continue training our older two(since middle child was just learning to sit in church). We are expecting baby #4 in Dec and I would LOVE to have him/her in with us consistently from birth on but I am at a loss for what to do with those in between baby months!?
    THANKS! :)

    • Smockity Frocks says:

      @Jenn Kallman, When I feel like my children are being disruptive, whether they are doing it intentionally or not, I take them out. Until they are about 15 months old, I feel like they may not understand what “Shhhhhh” means, but they do understand cause and effect. If we are consistent with the EFFECT, they soon relate the cause, and since we make it more desirable to remain in the worship service, they eventually conform to what we want.

      • Jenn Kallman says:

        @Smockity Frocks, Thanks! Encouragement to be consistent is always good and I really really appreciate your thoughts on this topic it is one we are passionate about!
        We struggle with whether the constant in and out of parent & child is too distracting for other worshipers (especially since the little ones left behind want to know where mommy went and if they can go too…) Do you worry about this? -maybe your church service is structured different (cry room, or lots of parents with babies etc.) and it’s a non-issue.
        We like to sit in the front of the back section in the sanctuary since we have found that feeling more exposed also helps our children sit better but it also means that at least half of the others in attendance can see us leave and re-enter -maybe we will have to sacrifice this technique for our toddlers in order to keep our babies with us.
        Thanks again :)

        • Smockity Frocks says:

          @Jenn Kallman, I sometimes worry about distracting other members, but I try to make a quick get away and even anticipate when the little one is getting worked up enough to start making significant noise.

          We sit near the back when we are in the “in and out” season. (It really does end!)

  24. I have to admit that is one of the things that I really love about our church (which I think it pretty typical of churches in our denomination) — the only choice is to have your children with you. When the kids were smaller, we had to sometimes go into a vestibule area where we could still hear what was going on until they calmed down, but they really always did a pretty good job. I really love that we are all together as a family to worship. At our church, the kids don’t even have Sunday school — they do weekly religious education at a totally separate time.

    Great tips, Connie! We did many of them ourselves when we had littles. (Now that the youngest is five, it isn’t really an issue anymore.)

  25. AMEN!!!! This is a fabulous post and I think the most important is that you train them at home. If they sit quietly through devotions at home, they will naturally sit quietly in church.

  26. We attend church as a family too. Recently we attended a baptism, and my husband and I were part of the ceremony and the helper we’d arranged for didn’t show up! So we left our 8 children in the pew… alone… in the front row, gulp! But they did fine.

    A few other tips I have- pay close attention to who sits next to whom. If my eldest daughter sits next to the baby, she’ll poke and play and fiddle with her during the whole service and I’ll have no peace. If child #1 and child #3 are next to each other, an elbowing match is guaranteed. Also, my husband and I do not sit next to each other. We spread out a bit for more “coverage”. It’s easier to gently correct bad habits or issue warning before things get out of hand that way. I also have no qualms about nursing a hungry baby in the pew!

    We’ve also had a longstanding rule that they may read “religious” books only (we have a selection of kid’s books, such as Our Father cloth books, illustrated bibles, and a board book of religious art masterpieces). We’ve never allowed snacks or toys so that cuts down on a lot of commotion and fights. I figure my kids will not die of hunger if they are forced to go for an hour or 90 minutes without cheerios!

  27. It’s so great to see all these comments in favor of children in the church service!

    We, too, have had our children in with us from the beginning. I think everything I wanted to add has already been said, but I wanted to re-emphasize someone’s comment about cuddle time.

    There was a season when we were trying to adopt and so we had a couple boys fresh out of the foster system, where they had been for years. Training a 7 year old ADHD-diagnosed child to sit for 90 minutes was going to be a challenge. What I noticed helped the most was to have him sit next to me and while he had a children’s Bible to look at, I would scratch his back or discreetly rub his neck. He craved that quiet attention and it really helped to bond him to our family. AND, he learned to sit quietly during the entire service.

    I take advantage of the church service hour to show some gentle affection to my children (with 7, there’s always a few who clamor to sit next to mom or dad, which is nice for the others in the church to see), teach them how to find their way through the Bible, use my finger to underline the words in the hymnal as we sing them (especially when we don’t accomplish reading aloud much during the week!), and – as others have mentioned – be an example to the other parents that children truly can grow up to enjoy and learn from a church service without relying on programs to entertain them.

  28. I once talked to my pastor about this. One of the things that he told me was that teaching my children to worhsip was MY act of worship. As my children get older and are able to do this themselves, then my act of worship will change. Right now I am molding His sheep.

  29. My approach is very similar to yours, but one thing I think is under-mentioned here is directing your child’s attention to what’s happening in church–it’s not just about being quiet and still so older people can worship. My son is 5, and we’re Episcopal. I say, “Listen to the story,” before each reading, “Stand up for the story of Jesus,” before the Gospel, “Kneel for Confession,” and, “Here’s the story of the Last Supper,” if at any of those points he looks distracted. He knows some of the songs that are in every service and is especially fond of the Doxology, so when we hear the organ intro for that he stands up and gets ready to sing. When he started wanting to receive Communion, we talked about what that means and how it is very serious, and he really seems to get a lot out of it.

    You have a great point about making removal from church very boring, not fun, so that kids aren’t motivated to get taken out. That’s worked really well for us!

  30. Thanks for the tips – great ideas! I’ve been struggling with wiggly kids in church the last few months, but will give some of your ideas a go!

  31. I love these tips and know people who have had great success with similar ideas.

    A woman I used to go to church with had a great strategy for getting her older tweens to behave as well (they had a little trouble now and then!) They had ice cream for dessert every Sunday. That was the only day of the week that they had ice cream. Every kid started with 3 scoops and all the toppings they wanted. Every time they “acted up”, she simply made eye contact, and held up some fingers…misbehave once, you only get 2 scoops; twice? you only get 1. Keep it up, and you get NOTHING! This also applied for the children’s Sunday School. If the teacher had to give a negative report, the kid lost ice cream. It was a genius plan and worked really well. Of course, they were expected to sing and pay attention to the service, and were old enough to do so, so “misbehaving” could mean bothering a sibling, drawing pictures that had nothing to do with church, whining…

  32. Can you give some suggestions for starting a daily family bible time? We have two four-year-olds and a 12-month-old.

  33. Our church provides nursey care during the entire Sunday morning service from birth to age 2. After they turn two, they stay with their parents during worship, announcements, missionary reports, etc., and then have the option of going to Children’s Church during the sermon. It usually means the kids spend about 45 sitting still with us, and 45 minutes in Children’s Church. The kids can continue to go to Children’s Church until they finish 4th grade. We love that they get to practice sitting still in church and also have time to wiggle and sing and hear age-appropiate stories. We have three boys, ages 4, 7, & 8. Our 8-year-old chooses to stay and listen the the sermon about half the time now. It works great for our family.

  34. I just have to say thank-you for posting this. I have an almost 2 year old daughter. Our church has no nursery as other than my daughter there is only one other kid younger than me at 24; the majority of the church is over 50 and there are only 20 of us on a good week. SO I choose to keep my daughter in church, if she gets really fussy than we take her out but mostly raise her in the service. I just appreciate the encouragement that I’m not the only ‘loon’ doing this. So many think I’m strange for not wanting to have a nursery service for her.

  35. I just wanted to say thank you for posting this! I know it was a long time ago but I found it helpful. Besides infants, our children are the only ones who regularly attend our worship service. We really want them in service for many of the same reasons you posted in a different post about the topic. My 1st will be 3 next month and my 2nd is 16 months. I am due in May with our 3rd. They are for sure wiggly and at times get a little rowdy but overall I feel like they have done well. I am going to try the Bible and one toy suggestion though. We have been taking too many things to entertain them! Again, thanks for posting! I have been looking for months for anything about this topic.

Leave a Comment

*