Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting Kids Through Service

By popular demand, a post on how we get our kids to sit through service.
But first some reflections: we came from a "denomination" where only the nursery age kids would go to class during the sermon, so not having them with us for any of the service smote our conscious as a terrible idea, and as a result we decided to keep them with us the whole time, even through the sermon. Needless to say this seems like a crazy idea to most of our peers, because our current church is much more of a commuter church, but from the comments of the older people, this trend away from family together the whole time is a recent innovation. Which is another reason I am suspicious of it. My gut tells me that unless my kids see us there, worshiping, honoring God together, unless they sit through those sermons, they are going to be bereft of a solid foundation. After all, why should they want to attend church later if they don't attend church now?
So that's why we do it, partly because we were raised that way, and partly because it seems like a sacrifice we need to make on their behalf. Now for how we do it.

First and Foremost: Commit
If you decide to keep your kids with you in service, do it with courage, dedication, and zeal. Commit to it as if their very soul depends on it. Go into it knowing you are breaking the mold, that you're swimming against the culture, that the kids are going to be difficult, that it's just going to be hard.
I'll speak for myself here - in a challenge my competitive nature comes out to meet the occasion, and if you want to get your kids to sit through service, you are going to need that killer instinct too. Because let's face it, you may have to pick them up and take them out to spank them, or to sit them on time out, you may have to stand in the back and muzzle them for a little bit. But if you commit and really go for it, they will not be able to withstand your might for very long. If you make it clear that failure will not be tolerated and success will be rewarded, they will fall into line soon enough.

Secondly: Plan Ahead
If you know your kids even moderately well you will be able to put together some toys, games, and snacks that will enjoy and will keep them busy the entire time. For our kids the book Goodnight Baby could keep Kaylie busy the whole sermon by itself. Coloring books buy us ten to fifteen minutes, the Disney figurines another thirty, and the kid games like 'draw' and 'memory match' or 'fruit ninja' on the Kindle tablet get us the rest of the way there. Planning ahead a little can go a long way to having a problem free service.

Thirdly: Set Practical Rules and Schedules
While it may sound impressive for our kids to survive a whole service, in reality we only have to survive the length of the announcements and sermon because we make our kids stand and sing with us, and bow their heads and pray with us. We are also aided by some rules:
We begin the first (ten to fifteen) minutes of sitting still time with a snack. With their bellies full it also helps them to sit quietly and be more patient while doing other things.
After the snacks comes games, but these come with rules
  • No getting down, or only getting down to pick up an accidentally dropped crayon or toy is permitted. By keeping them in their seats on their bottoms we can keep the wiggles at bay. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you give them an inch, they are going to take a mile.
  • No making noises. We shush them for talking too loudly, crashing things together, etc.
  • Nothing that keep them from hearing the sermon is permitted.
  • No facing backwards.
  • No sitting outside our reach.
  • Good behavior is rewarded with freedom to run around immediately after service and bad behavior is punished with having to stay in the seat until we leave the church building. If they have demonstrated discipline and ability to obey the rules they get to be set free to do run around and have fun. If not, they do not get that reward. We also compliment them throughout the rest of the day if they have done well.

Lastly: Expect Success
Every week is different from the last, some are better than others, but in general we do have great success getting our 9 month olds to sit still, face forward, and be quiet because frankly, we expect them to. Kids, like all humans, will rise of sink to the level of expectation you set for them. That's why we won't use the Message Bible, or Contemporary English Bible, or the Living Bible, because we want to come up to the Scriptures, not get lazy and sink down to them. But it's something anyone can do, it just takes work. When our friends express astonishment at us and our success and tell us that we have superhuman kids my wife and I shrug and laugh, because although it looks impressive, it's really only a combination of small things. They have been trained over the course of time to respond properly, not that they were born patient.
So in all things look to the horizon for long term success, be prepared for the occasional failure (more at first, less as you go), and you will shape them into little angels who can make it through even a long sermon with no problem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions! Thanks so much for posting. Mike and I are continually impressed with your kiddo's behavior during service and it's nice to hear what you do. - Camille