Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Surviving Church with Young Children

For some mothers (see me raising my hand?), Sunday is the day that makes us realize how badly we need a Savior.  Getting out of the door on time + nicely dressed is a miracle in itself, but for some of us that's just the start of the battle.

The rest of the battle is surviving worship.  

I realize that in this day and age many churches offer childcare facilities, which can be a huge boon.  Our church does not, and probably never will--and I'm happy about that!.  First of all, we're a tiny church.  Second of all, we see benefits in keeping children with parents during worship. The benefit, to my mind, is two-fold: 1) a child who has to sit through a service learns to sit through a service (the practical benefit)* and 2) the cohesiveness of family worship (the spiritual benefit). 

I am on the Other Side of this battle now.  My children are 8 and 5, so church is easy.  If we have additional children, I'll enter into the battle {clarification: the battle with my desire for perfectly-behaved children, NOT the battle with the children I do have!} wisely, knowing that ultimately it's worthwhile.  For me, church is hardest during the toddler years (1ish-3ish).  (Actually, for me, everything is hardest during the toddler years. I'm a baby person and a big kid person, but toddlers....let's just say it's a good thing they are so, so cute.) Now Finn spends the church service drawing and listening, reading prayers, and singing hymns--just like the rest of us!  Annie spends the service listening, drawing, playing, and snacking--our church hands out a small activity bag with a snack about 1/4 of the way through worship--and Annie devours those animal crackers with gusto. 

Here are the things that have helped me:
  • Divide and conquer.  You can do this with 2-3 children; after that you have to get creative, although at that point you'll have enough older children so that they can set a decent example for the crazy toddlers.  For ages my husband and I sat with the children between us.  WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!  It wasn't until our Mennonite neighbors came to worship with us one Sunday, and sat with one child on either side of them, that it dawned on me: separating the children is smart!  Not only can my husband and I sit together, which is nice, but we can keep immature humans apart--immature humans who might fight over crayons, kick each other, steal toys, etc.  {Why is it that children who generally play so nicely together turn into stark raving lunatics during church?!} Things improved a lot once I separated our children.  Denying access to bickering goes a long way.
  • Incentives.  You can call them bribes, but I am calling them incentives.  My husband's health insurance company offers an incentive for healthy behavior every year. Not a bribe.  Right?! Call them what you will, they work.  My favorite bribe incentive is to dangle the promise of a rare, alluring dessert over the child's head: the Reese's cup.  If I don't have to discipline you during the service, you get a Reese's cup on the way home. If I do, forget about it.  (This obviously only works for a child over the age of about 2.5ish. But it WORKS!)
  • For toddlers: snacks on the spot, water, crayons, and quiet toys.  A pad of paper for scribbles, a few tiny soft toys, a board book or three.  I don't expect my child to sit at attention through the entire service, but I do expect that we'll get to the point of sitting quietly through by the age of 3-ish (depending on his/her maturity level).  Our church's habit of letting each child choose a "goody bag" after the children's sermon is so helpful--the children come back to the pew with a bulletin, crayons, a snack and a few quiet toys.  This is nice for people like me who tend to forget to bring all the Necessary Gear sometimes.
  • Babies are the wild card here.  I had to take Finn out every Sunday as a baby because he has an auditory processing issue (we didn't know it at the time--but it was obvious that he was in pain when there was sudden laughter or a loud noise, and I wasn't keeping an unhappy baby in church!).  Annie was a content, easy baby; I often took her to the narthex and let her play at my feet while I listened to the sermon.  I never nursed my children in church, but others have and no one blinked an eye.  Cheerios were helpful for the older babies.  Just remember: it's only a year!
  • A little fussing or brief correction is fine, but if someone starts to lose it, I take the child out of the service so that we don't disrupt others around us. I do not punish a child when we go out--we just go get a breather, a change of scenery, etc. In fact, I probably do this too liberally because I have had countless people tell me "you didn't have to take her out! she wasn't bothering anyone!" Our church is very child-friendly and they understand that the noises of children are part of our worship service.  (In fact, we are interviewing pastoral candidates right now, and as we listen to sermons we like hearing sounds of children....because we decided that any candidate we hire must be okay with children in the service.)  On those days when I have to take a child out--and it hasn't happened in a long time for me--I try to remember that this too shall pass.  And it does.  All too quickly, in retrospect.
*NOTE: Additional benefits to this are the fact that once a child can make it through church reliably, he or she can make it through any other service.  I have taken toddlers to funerals and weddings, and it's fine!  They are quiet and they understand that this time is not interminable, that snacks are plentiful, and that they can, in fact, be quiet.  This is golden!

1 comment:

  1. This is just what I needed! With this baby, we decided to wait until he's 6 months old to return to church. We did have him baptized at 2 weeks old, though. I just didn't want to be around crowds of people during cold and flu season with him until he was older due to an immune suppressing medication I was on during pregnancy and which he received in utero.

    Anyway, this post is so timely! March 13th is our return date, and it has been years since I've been to church with a baby in tow. I loved your tips!!