When our oldest child was just over two years old, we decided to try to keep him in the church service, rather than sending him to the nursery. At first, two seems like a pretty young age to get a child to sit still for forty-five minutes at a time, but we had seen other children who were younger than him do it, so we decided, “Why not give it a try?” To some, it may sound cruel that we would make our budding toddler sit through a service, but we felt that it was an excellent time to teach him not only how we worship God, but also that he will be expected to sit still many times in life, not just in church. We laid some ground work, went through some trial and error, and within about six weeks we had it down to an art form. Here are some ideas we used that might help you:
1. Be in church. I know, it sounds simple, but many people who become frustrated by the fact that their children won’t be quiet in church don’t attend church faithfully. In my opinion, it is ineffective to attend church once per month and expect your child to sit still the whole time. Children need consistent training. Some who stay home from church because they are embarrassed by the noise their children make are unwittingly perpetuating a cycle that will not be broken until they “bite the bullet” and go to church faithfully.
2. Get prepared. Pack a special bag for church. We used a diaper bag and in it we put several toys that our son could only have at church. If you can, purchase a few things that are brand-new that will keep your child’s interest. Do not let your child play with these things at home, keep them special. Some toys that worked for us: Magnetic books (they are quiet and time-consuming to play with), board books (the pages don’t rustle), and a small Magna Doodle. We have had these items in our diaper bag for months and they have not lost their charm yet. Some items that are off limits: cars (you don’t want to see them rolling under the pew in front of you!) action figures (this involves your child’s arms bouncing up and down in the air when he’s playing with them), and any toys that light up or make sounds. Also, don’t give your child your cell phone, no matter how tempting it is. Inevitably he will turn it on or take it off of the silence mode, car keys are also a bad choice.
3. Be positive. Our son didn’t magically make it through church the first time we tried. It was a process. At first we would make it about five or ten minutes into the service. We sat in the back, so if he got loud we would take him to the nursery. The key is to be consistent and to progressively keep him in church for longer periods of time. Give him quiet praise and many smiles during church, make him feel special for sitting in church with you.
Transitioning your child from the nursery to church can be a stressful experience. Who wants dirty looks from the people sitting across the aisle? However, with the right tools and motivation you can transition your child from the nursery to church relatively painlessly.