Whether your children usually go to children’s church or they usually sit in the service with you, there is bound to be a time when you will need them to know how to behave in church.
It could be when you are traveling, when you visit a relative’s church, or when you take them to a wedding or baptism. No matter when or how often they have to use the skill, however, knowing how to behave in church is one skill that all kids should have.
Now, my kids have their good moments and bad moments–just like any other kids–but there are a few things that I’ve found that make a remarkable difference in their ability to sit still.
I find that when I do all seven of these things, their behavior improves, and when I don’t… well… let’s just say that the final prayer just can’t come fast enough!
Knowing to behave in church isn’t a skills that just magically happens. It’s a skill that has to be taught. Here are seven ways to help your little ones behave in church.
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p.s. Do you sometimes struggle to get your children to behave?
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1. Set Clear Expectations
I think one of the main reasons why kids misbehave in church–and a lot of other places too–is because they don’t know how they are supposed to act or what you expect of them. Before you head to church, take a few minutes to clearly spell out your expectations. I like to do this while we are driving.
For example, you could say “I expect you to stay in your seat, keep your hands to yourself, and be quiet so other people can hear.” I like to ask questions (“Do you run around? Do you talk? Do you crawl on the floor?”) and have my kids repeat the rules back to me as well. Just to make sure they were listening.
2. Follow through on Consequences
In addition to setting the expectations, be sure to also set the consequences ahead of time–and follow through! Then, if your children misbehave, you aren’t “punishing them.” Instead, you have given them the CHOICE to behave or to have consequences.
When your child misbehaves, he is CHOOSING the consequence.
If you constantly threaten your child, but then don’t take action, your child will call your bluff. Instead, set firm boundaries and show them that you are serious. Your children will learn quickly that it’s best to just listen.
3. Explain What’s Going on in Terms They Can Understand
Another huge hurdle to your child’s behavior is the fact that small children generally have very little idea what is going on during church. Even if they had the attention span to listen to an hour long service (which they don’t), they almost always wouldn’t know what the pastor or priest was talking about anyways.
Help your child by explaining what is going on in terms that they can actually understand.
You can do this either before church or during church if you can be quiet enough. This will make the service much more interesting for your child.
If your family attends Catholic mass, “The Mass Book for Children” is a great way to explain church in a way that your little ones will understand!
4. Help Them to Participate
When children have nothing to do, they find things to do, which usually involves acting up. Help your child to participate instead. Teach your child the songs and prayers so he can sing and pray with you. Dance with your child if the music is upbeat. Teach your child how to fold his hands to pray. Ask your child questions that require him to watch and listen for an answer.
5. Bring Alternative Sources of Entertainment
Alternately, if your children are still very young, you will need alternate sources of entertainment. Popular options include books, coloring books, quiet toys, stickers, snacks and your phone. Sure, these solutions aren’t ideal, but for the littlest ones, distracting them is often the only way to keep them from distracting everyone else.
Do your have young toddlers that have a difficult sitting still? This 8-page activity book will keep them quietly entertained until they are old enough to learn to sit still on their own.
Alternately, if your child is 4 to 8, this big book of Sacrament-Time Activities will help keep them quiet while still helping them learn about the Gospel.
6. Set a Positive Example
This tip should be so obvious, and yet, I think it’s one that many parents forget. If you want your kids to behave in church, you have to lead by example. This means not talking yourself, not playing on your phone, not falling asleep, not doodling and making to-do lists on your bulletin, and not fidgeting with everything in your pockets.
After all, if you can’t sit still and pay attention, how can you expect your children to? Get excited about church and your children will too.
7. Lower Your Expectations
I am all about setting high expectations for your children, but there ultimately comes a point when you have to realize that they are just kids, and they aren’t going to sit silent as statues for an hour every week. They just aren’t. Follow the above six steps to the best of your ability and try to keep your children as quiet as you can. But then cut yourself some slack. The other parents aren’t judging you (and if they are, that’s their problem, not yours).
Don’t ever feel like you aren’t welcome or that it would be easier to just stay at home. Church is incredibly important, and every time you bring your children, you are teaching them valuable lessons that hopefully will stay with them for life.
Do your kids attend the church service with you? What tips do you have for helping them to behave in church?