Getting your toddler to sit still or be quiet during a church service is no small feat. Here are some tips that may help you in your quest to turn your big squirmer into . . . well, a little squirmer.
Tip #1: Practice whispering at home
This is a skill you can teach as soon as your child is talking. Make a game of talking loudly and then using a hand signal (finger to lips) to see how fast the other person can change to a whisper. Encourage them by saying, “Good whispering! That is how we talk in church!”
Tip #2: Do some prep work
On the way to church, review the order of the service and what your expectations are for their behavior. Make a list of keywords (such as sit, calm, and quiet) and use them as lyrics to the tune of a popular nursery rhyme (for example: “When we are in church, When we are in church, We sit and play in a quiet way, When we are in church” sung to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”). Sing it weekly as you travel in the car.
Tip #3: Sit in the back
You will be able to make a quick getaway if needed and won’t disrupt people behind you.
Tip #4: Bring healthy snacks
If your church allows it, bring small, mess free snacks such as dry cereal, pieces of pancake (without syrup of course!), or bite size crackers. Reserve these snacks for the silent portions of the service such as the pastoral prayer and the sermon.
Tip #5: Take the right toys
If your place of worship has an uncarpeted floor, plan your toys accordingly. Low tech ideas include: books (like Richard Scary or I-Spy which are rich with details), coloring books and crayons, dolls with clothes, action figures (limit the quantity). Print out mazes or connect the dot activities using on-line game makers before church. Attach a pencil with a string to a clipboard for an impromptu “office.” Have a special church bag filled with these items that is designated for use only on Sundays.
Tip #6: Model silence
Quietly interact with your child during appropriate times such as music and announcements. But do not verbally interact with them during the sermon or prayer. When the sermon begins, whisper to them that the “no talking” part of the service has begun. You can hold them on your lap and flip pages of a book for them, retrieve dropped crayons and the like, but model silence by not speaking. If your child needs a reminder, pick them up, take them out and review the list the things they can do right instead of talking.
Tip #7: Have realistic expectations
Your child may simply be unable to work within these parameters. That is okay. Instead of trying to force your child into a mold that doesn’t fit, make adjustments to make the most of Sunday morning. If your church doesn’t offer it, consider leading a toddler Sunday school time during the sermon portion of the service. Ministry to Children has a wealth of resources for these sorts of classes. Or take your toddler to an empty room and conduct your own mini-lesson with games and activities. If you have a partner, take turns so that one of you doesn’t have to miss the sermon every week.
It may seem that all of this may not be “worth it.” Yes, it would be easier to stay at home. But instead of seeing it as a hassle, think of it as creating spiritual rhythms and routines in your family. And remember, that creating disciples doesn’t happen only on Sundays. As Christian parents, disciple-making is part of the day to day. For more tips, check out these articles.