I have always struggled back and forth with deciding what was best for kids. Nursery? Children’s church? Or the Pews with the adult service?
On the one hand, by sitting in the pews, they learn to sit and sing with family and grow up learning the real version of the Bible and not simply a watered-down kid version.
On the other hand, maybe they’re really just learning how to sit still and tune out the pastor. Sitting still is a good manner to learn, but we really want our kids to learn His Word.
Like I said, I see the value in both.
But this year, the struggle was taken away from me…
My husband and I moved to a small town, to a small church, with no nursery and only pews. Not much of a struggle there. Only one option. They have to sit in the pews.
So, being a Mom – endeavoring to be a good mom – and pastors wife…(did I forget to mention that?) I REALLY didn’t have a choice.
After two Sundays, I went home in tears. My two beautiful children – who I love and am so proud of – were terrible. They were loud, jumping on the pews, trying to run on the stage and crying when the snacks ran out.
But I can tell you today that my children can sit through a whole service now after only 4 services… and I actually got to hear my husband preach for the first time this past Sunday!
How did I help my kids sit in church?
I’m still learning, but here are some things that have helped my children adapt to pew-sitting.
All good things come from God – so that stands to reason that this has to be a God-given blessing to make this 2 and 4-year-old sit still long enough for me to glean some knowledge.
So, I prayed. And I had other people pray. And I am STILL praying.
REMINDER: Pray for the right reasons. (James 4:3)
Pray for the children to learn patience and self-control. Pray for them to hear what the preacher is saying. Pray for their salvation, that their Spirit may pick up on this. Pray that you may be a good example for them. The Bible says that Scripture should be a daily part of our lives and not just on Sunday, so this is NOT their one day to hear Scripture – so the pressure is off. It’s not do-or-die. For them or us. So, take a deep breath.
I know every blog probably says this, but it has been helpful for us, and fun!
Greeting: We walk around the house practicing greeting people in funny accents. We stick our hands out and shake each other’s hands and say, “Good morning”, and “How are you today?”
Whispering: This is key – kids need to learn what whispering is so they don’t lean over to you in the middle of service and “shout” at you, “Mom, I HAVE TO GO POTTY!”
Spend some time every day whispering to each other. Table time is good for this.
Learning to Sit Still: If your time at the table has been lacking in the discipline of sitting down the whole time (which mine was) it’s time to firm that up a bit. Sitting down for meals is a sure way to practice this and help your kids learn how to sit in church.
3. Snacks: An obvious one, but there are some keys here.
Strategic handouts: I bring 2 snacks, gummies, and pretzels. Craisins would be another good option! They are exciting and not messy. Don’t make the mistake I did and give them the snacks before the preaching starts. Give the gummies first – or they will beg for them the whole service (mistake #1).
Bring SMALL bags of snacks and not the whole bag so they are not constantly going for more and then throwing fits when you tell them they’ve had enough (mistake #2).
4. Bring an activity:
One toy for each hand: Let them bring 2 of their own toys that are not too big and not loud. My daughter usually brings a stuffed animal and a blanket for it, and my son usually brings a hot wheel and a toy airplane.
Coloring pages: Some churches offer this, but if they don’t, bring a clipboard, and a box of crayons with at least 2 coloring/activity pages. I have found that 2 lasts them through 30-45 minutes, which gets them through the bulk of a service, if not the whole thing.
(also, if your church doesn’t do this, and you think children would benefit, maybe you could volunteer to do this for your church! Churches need a LOT of helpers!)
If your children speed through it: start to color with them. I have found that their minds have picked up on what I have done and then continued where I picked up. Challenge them to use more than one color for the page and be more detailed with their drawing. Then maybe challenge them to write their name on it.
Find out what the pastor is preaching on and you can coordinate the activities to go along with what they are learning.
I also will hold my children’s hands during songs, and I will use their hands to beat out the notes on their legs – they will usually join in, and this helps them to add something to the music time, and they learn how to drum to the beat!
With my 2-year-old, there have been many timeouts. I didn’t want to punish her and make her hate church. Especially if it’s just stemming from boredom (not rebellious behavior). Here are some things I tell her during timeouts.
- Others can’t hear about God when you scream and whine and complain
- I pray with her
- I encouraged her to be brave
- I tell her I loved her
- I took her outside – stepping outside awakens the nerves and brain and completely switches gears for them. Tell them to take a deep breath, and that God can help you have self-control and that you can go back inside when you are calm. Telling her that God can and will help her do this.
When you take a timeout with them, it can be very frustrating, I try and take this time to pray myself, read a little, or just hold them. Even if they kick and scream, they need to know that you love them no matter what, and they need that hug as much as you do.
Sing a little song with them! “Jesus loves me.”
Bring their activities downstairs or to another room and have a mini church session with them! (this wont be forever mama. This repetition WILL PAY OFF – don’t give up!)
Children need to know boundaries, rules, and what is expected of them. If it is not consistent, it is harder for them! Repeat rules and what is expected of them before the service, pray with them beforehand.
Draw out an outline or use your bulletin to show them what the order of events looks like. Circle every time one event is completed – music time is over, now its prayer time, prayer time is over, next is when you get your snack. Snack is over, next is coloring time, etc.
7. Take note of progress!!!!!!
It is hard to see progress, but if you take notes, you will see and be encouraged, and you can encourage them as well.
“You made it through 15 minutes today! Did God help you? Excellent? Let’s pray that He will help you do even better next time!”
“Look! You made it through 20 minutes this time! God answered our prayers! He is so good. Let’s thank Him and ask Him to help you have even more patience and self-control!”
Things to Remember:
- I want to note here that your kids can do nothing good without God.
I may be providing a helpful note here and there to help you adapt and manage, but without Him, it doesn’t matter. And every child is different. God has created your child to be unique to his purposes – pray and ask for His unique help for your child. There may be something that connects them to God even more than these tips. I would LOVE to hear what you have done that has worked for your child.
- I also want to make sure that you know that I am not pushing pew-sitting.
- There is no “How to make your child believe in God” manual. That is up to God. Model what you can. Teach where you can. Love where you can. And then REPEAT.
- You are not just parenting outward behavior, but what is reflected on the inside!!! Look to their hearts – why are they behaving this way? And then start from there!
We have simply adapted to what we have and paid attention to the convictions that God has put in both my husband’s heart and mine. God knows what will lead our child to Him. Pay attention and seek His will, He will lead you, if you seek for the right reasons.
I hope this will help and has encouraged you. My children will never be perfect, and I am sure after writing this article that they will have a hard Sunday service this week, but God is good all the time, and He is sanctifying us as parents, as well as our children.
Sing with me now! (maybe sing this while they’re in timeout or kicking and screaming)
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!
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