Helping children in church… some ideas.. based on experience with 4 year old twin girls, who today managed to sit still today for over 1 hour, pray, and enjoy some music. I wonder what the next stage holds for us? Everyone is different. I hope these ideas help.
Period One: infant in arms.
(a) Holdl them as much as possible. Whisper to them. feed them.
(b) Try and instill a sense of sacred through touch and whispered prayers. (c) Standup and rock them, move about.
(d) Try not to go out unless you really have to.
(e) White blankets to shut everything out when it becomes too much for dad.
Period Two: infant rolling and exploring.
(a) They can have soft toys. Especially ones connected with the theme (eg love hearts and crosses).
(b) Make sure people don’t step on a child on the groun.
(c) Tell the child what is happening even if they don’t understand and try not to give them a toy and forget about them.
(d) Pick them up so they can see things, and still hold them when they are compliant.
(e) Encourage sitting on laps in preparation for the next stage.
(f) parent rooms are just a reward for bad behaviour; and a total distraction that hinders later stages. They remember where the tyoys are many years later!
Period Three: toddler starting to explore.
(a) snacks to keep them entertained and near you and address real hunger issues; also water bottles to suck;
(b) encourage sitting on your lap – back rubs and massage can be a good thing to start. With promise that this is something special for doing at church;
(c) books – especially ones with holy pictures where you can whisper things about God and show them things happening in the mass.
(d) We also ended up visiting a different church (even Protestant and Lutheran), different service every week so as not to be a burden to the same people every week. I think variety helped the children cope, because it wasn’t always the same; and it took them a whileto work up the courage to move about.
(e) The odd stranger guiding them back in our direction was so appreciated. And sometimes (those one or two people we “knew”) were allowed to hold them – totally in our sight – for variety. Perhaps asking those around to help bring them back would help?
Outside church time we made sure they thought about Jesus and Holy SPirit everyday. They knew God was important. We read them Bible stories at home, and even worked on colouring and themes for the week. We prayed and lit candles as a special time. And sang lots of songs at home in “home church”… they eventually started playing church and lined up the teddy bears… they had pretend microphones and made us realise what church had become…
Occassionally if there was really bad behaviour after church we withheld a treat they would have normally held. While when they were very good, we also gave a treat after church and told them it was because they were good. But cautious that they don’t just learn “good behaviour in church” and not really a love for God.
Period Four: toddler becoming vocal
(a) keep up the interaction – initiating it, pointing out things, whipsering things and initiating the “disturbance” The child doesn’t feel abandoned and seems to have less need to speak loudly as much whenyou are talking to them, and starting the whispered talk.
(b) Ask lots of questions that make them wonder – even if they aren’t vocal they start thinking – what is happening? Why? Who is Jesus? Does Jesus love us?
(c) start the potted summaries of the sermon and point their attention to what is going on. POint out words and phrases said from the front.
(d) point out the word Jesus. Emphasise “Amen” and words they can join in with.
(e) keep up the back rubs.
(f) occassional pens and paper (in fact 1 pen and 1 piece of paper) to silently draw CHristian symbols, or alphabet. But try to avoid the distraction of hundreds of pens and books
(g) during this period adult churches help where they see people sitting still. Other children can turn them into a mess.
We also explained that church was a special time to love God with other people We told them that other people needed it to be quiet. They were listening to stories and praying. Jesus wanted them to be quiet
Just lots of love at home and making sure discipline at home was fair and firm and consistent; that they knoew mum and dad wanted the best for them and were in control to make that best outcome happen
Avoiding childcare where bad behaviour is learnt from childrne who are essentialy “unsupervised” because they are not in a one-on-one or one-ontwo/three/four situation.
Helping the child know that they are special and Jesus loves them in a special way. Jesus in every meal and every night prayer.
More Visits to restaurants and other adult places, explaining that good behaviour means we can do more things.
Period Five: pre-schooler who is hungry to know
(a) I believe that the ceremonial aspects of church can be utilised. Drawing the childrens attention to things that are happening, people moving about, readers coming and going, chalices being held high. Sitting or moving so they can see does help;
(b) Back rubs and occassional treats like chocolat, or a doodling page (with religious theme).
(c) Make the most of ANY music. Move hold them, rock and sway. I’d love to bring in scarfs to wave, but haven’t had the courage yet in case they become obkjects of misbehaviour.
(d) whispering “JEsus”, “What do you think Holy Spirit is doing” and making potted summaries of the sermon….
(e) continued ‘teaching at home’ so churhc is just about being together, praying to God and showing Jesus we love Himin this way.
Continued reflection on what is working and what is not for our particular children; searchingn the web for answers.
Prayer, and trusting Jesus, writing
Period Five: school aged 5 year old..
Eagerly awaiting to see the outcomes…. hope we don’t put them off church forever..
Keeping in perspective that God wants children in His church; that in many places the church really shouldn’t be like this – but it is; that God will see us through this all; and praying that the church will be made more liek a “familyl” with a few people around a table where children are the reason we are there, not the “disturbance” we wish wasn’t.