Sunday, November 6, 2011

Teaching Children To Be Reverent In Church

Today was stake conference (a semi-annual event where several congregations in a specific area meet together).  It was two hours with really no break.  Our kids (who are 5, 3 and 1, and VERY energetic), sat through it with only one bathroom break and minimal whining.  No, we did not drug them.  I was proud of them for doing so well, and I got to thinking about how every week they do very well in sacrament meeting (main church meeting), which is 1 hour and 10 minutes.  So I pondered the things we've implemented and thought I'd share a few of my tips for helping small kids be reverent in church.

1. Feed them healthy food, but not DURING church.  This may seem strange, but it's been proven that over processed foods can lead to hyperactivity and short attention spans.  We feed them whole grains as part of almost every meal (no one's perfect) and we're sure they have a healthy, filling breakfast before we go to church, usually something like frosted mini wheat imitations, or toast on 100% whole wheat bread, or oatmeal, something filling and healthy.  And we don't allow any snacks during church.  We might allow the baby to have cheerios during Sunday school, and of course there are snacks in nursery during sunday school and priesthood/relief society meetings (when the men and women separate and have their own lessons).  But mom and dad are not walking snack bars.

2. Teach them ahead of time.  We have family home evening (weekly family night with a church lesson and treat) lessons every few months about being reverent and how and why we are reverent.

3. Be consistent.  This one is so important, even if you're teaching them to be reverent, you can't be flaky!  If the rules change, the kids act up.  And even when we're late and spend part of sacrament meeting in the foyer, they still have to sit and be reverent as if we were in the chapel.

4.  Practice.  When our kids do act up, either my husband or I takes the acting up child out into the hall and practices being reverent.  This means they sit  in a hard chair and fold their arms and don't get much attention until the parent decides they are sufficiently calm (usually only 3 to 5 minutes).  We also do things like teach them to use quiet voices in the library so they get the idea that some places are quieter than others.

5. We don't entertain them.  I'm not saying that anyone who lets their kids color is bad in any way, but we personally do not let our kids color during church.  They have to sit and be quiet, but our three year old thinks the world in his canvas (literally) so you can imagine how that would be a recipe for disaster and all the hymn books and church pews would be coated in crayon.  They can look through a hymn book, scriptures, or church pictures, but they seem to lose interest in those fairly quickly.

6. Hold them.  We don't let out kids lie down on the benches (unless they're babies) but we do hold them on our laps and they can lie their heads on our shoulders if they're tired.  I've found that if they can't play or eat, and they're being held, they often get tired, but rarely fall asleep, instead they will just kind of relax in our arms.

7. Gently remind them.  Little kids have short attention spans so we often will whisper to them that they need to sit on their bottoms, face forward, whisper,whatever the case may be, so it doesn't feel as much like corporal punishment, but they also start paying a little more attention.

8.  Only one potty break during sacrament meeting.  We all go before we leave for church, but little bladders require more frequent visits.  Obviously we make an exception in the early stages of potty training, but even then we are sure that they go try to go potty and come right back to the chapel, and if they go once and then say they have to go again as soon as we get back, and then don't do anything, then say they have to go as soon as we get back, we usually tell them that we have to wait a few minutes and nicely remind then to not go potty in their underwear.  This has not lead to any accident with the two we've potty trained so far.  I guess you kind of get the feeling when your kids are trying to get out of something.

9.  Thank them for their reverence.  Every week after they've done at least a reasonably reverent (you can't expect perfection, but they do very well) as soon as the closing prayer is over and people start shuffling out, I look my kids in the eye and thank them for their reverence, and sometimes 'll give them a hug, but often they don't want to hug, they want to go to their class, so I go with it.  If I forget to say something right then I will tell them I appreciate them on the way home from church.  It's amazing how a little praise goes so far with little kids.

10. Start young.  As I've mentioned before, we're more lenient with babies, we try to be realistic with our expectations, but we also implement things when they're very small.  Our one year old doesn't get to run around and play, or eat (when he was nursing this was of course a different story).  We do let him lay on my husbands lap if he's tired (if the baby's tired, not my husband) because he won't fall asleep in my lap, and one of us will generally hold and slightly sway with him, which often works to calm him down. 

11. Be an example.  This may seem obvious, but if we're getting up during church, or talking, or playing with our phones or other electronics, kids pick up very quickly that their attention doesn't have to be on the speaker.

I've noticed that as we've been consistent with reverence, it has gotten easier, and the kids are asking us about the things the speakers say.  Quick cute story: today in church my three year old was on my lap and the speak used the phrase "endowed with power."  My three year whispered "Mom, what's that?"  I hadn't realized he was listening so I asked "What's what bud?" He replied "Engowed with powder, what's that?"  I had to stifle a laugh and I explained quietly what it meant.  He's so cute.

Those are just a few ideas of things that have worked for us, basically we try to teach them that we need to sit quietly and think about Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father during church, and we need to listen and not play.  Hopefully, these tips will help some of you!

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