Our littlest church-go-er.
I have received more than one question about toddlers and church. First, let me make it clear that everyone has different expectations of their children in church. I expect my children to sit in church, quietly. I don't plan on spending 3 hours chasing them in halls, or around classrooms. That is just me.
It is hard, I know. I have had plenty of Sunday's when I get home and wonder why I even bothered to shower or do my hair for the occasion. I am sweaty, tired, and can't remember what the lessons were about.
There are things we can do to make our Sunday's less stressful.
1. If you want your child to sit through meetings with you, there is one BIG thing to understand. If your child misbehaviors and you take them out. And they get to run up and down the hall and play etc. They have just been taught that it is a lot more fun in the hall than in the meeting. As a result, they will act up just to get out to the hall.
I would do the same. Why would I want to sit and be quiet when I could go out and run around. Children have to understand that if they are taken out it is not going to be peaches and cream.
Take them into an empty room, sit them on your lap, and explain that is where they will stay. No exceptions. Once or twice and they will want back into that meeting. I can't emphasize how important this is for changing behavior. No child is going to sit quietly when they know that with a little noise they can be running and playing in the halls. It has to be better in the meeting than in the halls or they will always act up to get out.
2. You will have to put in effort to get your toddlers to sit quiet for that length of time. Take a good mix of distractions and realize that YOU will have to put in effort, a lot of it, to get through the 3 hours. Or even to just get through Sacrament Meeting. Pop up books, coloring pages, picture books, and things with different textures work really well.
Today was a pretty good day in church WHEW! Minus a few little yells. With our 2 year old, we colored in a coloring book, and went through a number of other books. Probably 4 others. We looked for familiar items, we traced shapes with our fingers, we looked for Noah's animals in a pop up book. In between we lead the music like the conductor and searched the congregation for all the kids in our daughter's nursery class. We practiced folding our arms when prayers were said, and at one point, I had her put her hand out flat and I traced around it with my fingers. Then we followed the stitching on her shoes with our fingers. We also have a little pouch that zips open and closed. Today we took the little pouch and put a toy in it. Then we practiced zipping and unzipping. Makes me tired just thinking about it all.
With 15 minutes left, and ideas waining, we took an old tootsie roll wrapper and quietly tucked it in the pages of the hymn book and then practiced "carefully" turning pages to find the treasure.
The point. I don't have the liberty of sitting back and expecting her to entertain herself. Eventually yes, but right now I have to put in effort if I want her to sit quiet with me in the meetings.
3. Don't let them down. If you want your toddler to sit on the bench or on your lap, don't let them get down on the floor. Don't make it an option. You are just setting yourself up for trouble. That is when they wander, want out, want to climb under the seats, want to use their legs to escape, you know the routine.
4. Practice, practice, practice. Everyday. Kids have to be taught to sit still. Take a few minutes each day and start teaching them to sit still. Start with 5 minutes. Put them on your lap and teach them to use a quiet voice and look through books, or color. Quietly point out things in the room. After a few days of 5 minutes, increase to 10, then increase your 10 minutes to 15 etc... Not only will your children learn to sit quiet, but you will come to really enjoy the time with them. We have to help them develop their attention span. This also applies to whispering. We practice using our quiet voice, or whispering all the time. That way when I reminder our little one at church to use a quiet voice she knows what I mean.
5. Keep your church books and toys separate. Pack up a church bag with special and appropriate books and activities. Don't let these be a part of your kids everyday toys. That way when you pull them out at church they will be new and exciting.
6. Careful with food and candy. Be mindful that always bribing with food can set you up for trouble as your kids get older.
7. Don't rush out the door. Don't be too quick to rush your kids to the hall if they make a noise. People understand. If they don't, it's not your fault. You know when things are out of control, but try to work through the situation before you just give up. Sometimes all it takes is just a few seconds and you can create a distraction that quiets things down.
After all is said and done... Remember...
Three hours of church is three hours of church. There is no way around it. It is too much for me sometimes too. Imagine being 15 months old, not understanding what is being said, and having to sit in one place for that long? When we think of the experience from our children's point of view, it helps us be a little more long suffering and compassionate.
We signed up for this. Church should still be a great experience for us, even with little ones. Still, we need to realize that when we decided to have children, we decided to sacrifice for them. That means sacrifice a church lesson too. We can't expect to sit in church and listen to what is going on like we did when we were single, or newly married. We need to have reasonable expectations.
Our little ones CAN sit on our laps during meetings. They have the ability. You don't have to spend every Sunday in the halls. We can teach our children to sit on our laps and talk with soft voices.
This too shall pass. Our kids will grow up. They will be old enough for nursery, they will sit still all on their own without having to be entertained. Then, we will miss their little hands, we will miss the sweaty Sunday's, and we will wish we would have enjoyed that time more. Really we will.
Laughter is good medicine. One the days when frustration has set in and we feel like we are a side show, laugh. Don't mind the people around you, or the funny looks that sometimes come from the older ladies in relief society. They might have forgotten, but they were once in our place. Trying to do their best. Just chuckle and do your best.
We have our days, kids have their days too. Just like us, kids have tired days, hungry days, off days. It's okay. Cut them a break. Give yourself a break too.
All of the work might not seem like it is worth it. The truth is, putting in the effort will actually start to make our lives easier. We will have confidence that we can take our children out in public, that they can sit on our laps and be quiet when we need them to be. It will give us a lot more freedom and less stress.
Church is hard. But, there are preparations we can make at home to ease some of the pain and make it a better experience for our whole family. And, the energy and effort we put into it when our children are young will not only help them as they grow older, but will help them in school and all the other activities they participate in. It will allow us to take our children to other places with confidence.
There will be good days and bad days. We can't quit. Our effort is making a difference. Over time we will see changes and the good days will start to out weight the bad.
WHAT ARE YOUR TRICKS FOR GETTING THROUGH CHURCH?
DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH A WAR WHEN CHURCH IS OVER?