Today is Sunday, so we did what we always do on Sundays- go to church. And then everyone comes home and eats and takes at least two hour naps because church is just that much work!
My husband and I have discussed this many times- we want our children to grow up going to church, we want them to hear the Word of God. Buuuuuttttt, that means a whole heck of a lot of work! So much work that at least once every Sunday morning I ask my husband “Do we have to?!”.
Look, I’m not saying I thought it would be easy to sit through a church service with two active little boys, but what I am saying is I think it would be easier if I greased up a tiny piglet and tried to hold him and keep him quiet through 90 minutes of hymns, prayers, up and downs, and communion.
Bubbaloo has never been a “sit and listen” kind of kid, and Nugget is moving like crazy! He used to just sit on my lap but now he’ll arch his back and scream until I put him on the floor to play. Yay. There’s nothing like singing about God’s grace while your 10-month-old screams for freedom and your 4-year-old loudly announce he doesn’t like any of the crayons you brought.
But we go. Every. Single. Week. We go. And we wrestle. Every. Single. Week.
I can’t remember the last time I heard the sermon or sang along to an entire hymn, but we go to church anyway.
And you know what? After all these years of wrestling our way through services our 4-year-old is starting to catch on. Sometimes he says “Amen” at the end of the prayer, and today he recited the entire Lord’s Prayer along with the congregation. He’s getting it! All of our hard work, all of our pleading for silence and begging him to sit still is working. He’s getting it, he’s hearing the Word. And that’s why we do it.
Now that we are seeing the fruits of our labor I thought I might share some tips. Now, take note that the title of this article is to “keep your kids happy” in church, not quiet or still. Those things are almost impossible. It would literally take an act of Christ Himself for that to happen. But happy kids are usually quiet and sometimes still-ish. So we’re going for happy kids.
1. Get there on time.
Ok, ok, ok, don’t give up on me yet. I know what you’re thinking”HA! yeah right!” And I get it. Getting out the door on time with kids would basically signal that hell has frozen over. I can’t ever leave the house on time. Ever. And when we finally do leave the house I’m always sweating. Why am I sweating, you ask? Because I have sprinted back into the house at least 47 times looking for miscellaneous items which include but are not limited to: shoes, socks, coats, blankets, keys, sunglasses, my sanity, coffee, snacks, the other shoe that I thought was already in the car but was not, diapers, the diaper bag, more coffee, my patience, and of course: the children.
But I digress. Getting to church on time was a total game changer for us. We were calm, cool, and collected. Nobody was sweating (or swearing for that matter).
Being able to start the church service calmly and on the same page turned our church behavior around! I’m not saying it’s been perfect but my husband and I are much less stressed and that changes our approach to the kids.
So do whatever you need to do to get there on time. Pack the diaper bag the night before, go to a later service (this was the main reason we were able to start arriving on time-thank God for late service!!) get up 10 minutes earlier, pack snacks and lay out clothes the night before–anything it takes! I’m telling you, arriving to church on time will change your life. You will also get to see what happens in those first 15 minutes, which until we started getting there on time I had no clue what they did. Seriously, God Himself could have descended form Heaven, sang a song, and handed out $100 bills and we would have been none the wiser.
2. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks
This one is kind of a “Duh!!” moment because if you’ve been a parent longer than a millisecond you know you don’t leave the house without diapers, extra clothes, and food! But just in case, bring snacks to church! Because fed kids are happy kids, and also usually quiet.
I keep a variety of snacks in the diaper bag that both kids like, I also bring water for my older son and a bottle for the baby. And if you’re really, really good you can time out snacks so that the snack keeps them busy during long periods of sitting.
3. Get them involved.
This one is a little more difficult depending on the age of the child, but the goal is to involved your child as much as possible. Because, hello, one day they won’t be so little and it would be great if they went to church and participated without being bribed with snacks and after-church donuts.
We get Bubbaloo (our oldest) involved as much as we can. He picks our seats, he sits on the aisle so he can see, he helps me find the hymns in the hymnal, he puts the offering in the plate, he even writes his own name in the attendance book! Anything we can do to make him feel like he’s participating instead of being held prisoner is great. Now he participates on his own (where he can), he asks to hold his own hymnal, and he asks questions!! Getting him involved (when age appropriate) has helped tremendously.
4. Consider Toys
Ok this last one my husband and I differ on. I am all about the toys in church, him not so much. He thinks even the quiet ones are too loud and that the kids should learn church is a time to listen and learn from an early age. I think anything that will help keep my sanity is worth trying.
So we kind of compromise, I bring quiet toys for Nugget and Bubbaloo gets crayons and paper. I hate to admit it, but my husband is right, when we stopped letting Bubbaloo bring toys he started getting more interested in service. But we also had to work much harder at keeping him happy through service. It was a trade off but well worth it. And the coloring books help on days when service is a little longer or he’s extra squirrelly.
5. Go to church consistently
I should have put this as my number one tip, because it really has been the biggest benefit in helping the kids sit through church. We developed a Sunday routine and we stick to it. We do not waiver, no matter how much I don’t feel like wrangling the kids through church or how tired the boys might be, we stick to the routine. And we’re always glad we did.
Church (for most people) is only once a week so that makes it much harder to develop expectations and routines. But we have made an extra big effort this year to be in church every Sunday. As we approach the end of the year I see a complete difference in how our oldest son behaves at church.
Sure, he’s aged a whole year, which admittedly has helped. But he’s also adopted the Sunday routine as his own and he loves it. He knows he gets oatmeal for breakfast (because it’s fast and helps us be on time, see tip #1); he has friends that he’s excited to see every week, and he’s familiar with the people and the building. We’re not dragging him along to church every week, he’s bursting through the doors with a smile on his face ready to enjoy a donut and a Sunday school lesson.
We don’t have to coax him through service as much anymore, instead he asks questions and follows along. He even helps with his little brother. And everyone knows us, they all know who my kids are and the help us out. Other moms will hold the baby so I can go to the bathroom, or they’ll sneak Bubbaloo a second cookie when he really wants it. We’ve developed a community that welcomes us with open arms and loves on our kids, and believe me, that makes a HUGE difference!
I used to dread church every week because I knew how hard it was to keep my son quiet and happy. And even though it’s still not my favorite (two kids in church is hard!) I don’t dread it! I know it can be manageable and some weeks I even hear bits of the sermon!
5 simple tips that you can start right away. And do it! If regular church attendance is important to your family, working through the hards parts is very much worth it!!