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How to Keep Your Children Quiet in Church

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We’ve walked through the gamut of opinions and convictions on whether or not our children will stay in the church service with us or go to their own individual classes.

We didn’t set out thinking that we would train our children to stay in service with us, but in the end that’s what we’ve settled on. In the end, that’s just what works for our family. It’s the answer we’re most comfortable with and the answer that brings us much peace.

I was raised in a church where everyone stayed together for the majority of the service. There was a short class for the children during the main service on Sunday morning, but Sunday evening and Wednesday night prayer meetings (which lasted MUCH longer than Sunday morning services, mind you), the children were expected to sit in the service with everyone else. They were also expected to do so quietly and with respect, listening to the preacher and only occasionally receiving a peppermint for distraction.

My husband on the other hand was raised in youth groups and children’s ministry, and he came to our marriage without any thought as to whether or not we would continue down this same path. It’s what he did, so that’s what we’d do.

He also had similar ideas about children, but has since changed his tune (so have I!). Thank you, Jesus for bringing unity on children.

And church.

And life.

And oh we’re still divided about whether or not the underwear should drape over the side of the laundry basket or not, but anyway, I digress.

My husband and I have been divided on whether our children will stay in service with us or not since our oldest little boy was born. Until now that is. We’re united now, but it took time. It took prayer. It took trial and error. It took patience and grace on both of our parts to finally come to a solution that works best for both of us.

We’ve talked with countless families who land on both sides of the coin, endured our fair share of criticism on whatever decision we landed on at the time, and have ebbed and flowed with the seasons of our children as we figure out this thing called parenting for the glory of God.

Because we’re often the ones with the children in the service while others put their children downstairs (or wherever children’s ministry is located), it’s as though the very presence of our children invokes a reasoning and justification from other parents who choose differently. They tell us how they could never be like us. They tell us their children would never, ever, never, ever sit still like our children. And they give us kudos and props and only Jesus knows what else as we smile and nod politely.

Then they ask us, “How do you do it? How do you get them to sit still like that? And quiet?”

So this post isn’t a which is right and which is wrong approach. Clearly we’ve been about as fluid as waves crashing on the sand about whether or not we’ll keep our children in or out, upstairs or downstairs, in the pew or in the nursery.

This isn’t a post that says we believe children should always be in the service with you and it’s just sinful to place them down in the children’s church because you believe that’s what is right for your family. I see both sides of the argument for an against, and quite frankly, I think it comes down to your own convictions after you’ve searched scripture and prayed to the One who directs all your steps. I hope He directs your steps at least.

This is a post for those who want to keep their children in the service with them and just need some tips or suggestions for making it a little easier (or rather at least doable!). Because let’s be honest. It’s not easy to keep your children in service with you!

And I don’t care what Susie blogger next door says, my children didn’t come out of the box quiet and gentle and ready to sit in the service quietly because I brought a fancy quiet book with me. No siree, Bob.

My littlest one definitely didn’t get the memo that quiet in church is a good thing. Sometimes I think parents forget how much training goes into getting their children to sit still. At least with the first child. The subsequent children do come by quiet a little easier because they will imitate their older sibling. But what about the oldest? What about the first one who is the only kid in the service? What about how to train THAT one?

Okay, this is the post for THAT Mom and Dad with THAT kid and no one else to ask. I’m the best you’ve got, for which I’m sorry, but at least I can relate, right? Here’s our tips for keeping your children quiet at church that have helped us.

how to keep your children quiet in church

Family Devotions at Home

Implementing family devotions at home has been the single most effective thing at training our children for church service. We do family devotions at the breakfast table and family prayers in the evening before bed.

Both of our children are expected to sit with us during this time. My oldest has to sit and participate the entire time (all of five to ten minutes) and our littlest one (17 months) is being trained to sit and isn’t fully there yet, so there is a lot of grace!

Nevertheless, training our children at home to listen to God’s Word read, sing worship songs together, and praying together has really made a huge difference in our time at church.

Skip Childcare Early

It’s easy to think that you can train your child for church when he’s old enough to sit still. But when is that? When are they old enough to sit still?

However, if your goal is to keep your children in service with you, skip the childcare altogether and start training now.

Yes, you will likely end up in the nursery rocking a crying baby more often than not at the start, but it will get better. You will likely endure a lot of well-meaning people telling you to “just give yourself a break.” But trust me, this break is short lived, which leads me to my next suggestion.

Commit for the Long Haul

Keep a long term perspective about you while you train your children in the early years. “Getting a break now” means you’ll have to invest the time later.

Also don’t give up after the first couple of Sundays. If you’re just getting started, those first few months are incredibly frustrating.

You’re going to walk through a lot of emotions, including “I deserve to listen to the sermon” and “I need a break” and fill in the blank with your own desire. There will be tears from everyone, at least there was for us. BUT I can promise you that it is worth it.

I’m on the other side with one child who rarely interrupts the service for any reason and one that we’re still in the trenches with. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. So hang in there!

Believe Your Children Can Do It

I think the biggest way I discourage my kids is by my lack of belief in their ability. They will rise to the occasion.

You set the bar, and set it so that it’s challenging enough but not outside of their development. You know your child.  You know what will challenge them and what will frustrate them. I can assure you that your children can sit through the service, but they won’t do it right off the bat. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones. I’m not.

Our babies are far more capable of doing hard things than we give them credit for.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to keeping your children occupied, it’s tempting to bring the entire kit and kaboodle with you. But don’t.

I like to keep it simple. If my child knows there’s MORE in the Mary Poppins bag, then he will inevitably want to go through each item I hand him as quickly as he possibly can.

For me, I bring one snack for each child, a book for each child, a coloring book with 8 crayons for my oldest, and a toy for my youngest. They also each have their own sippy cup. The end.

When the snacks are gone, they are gone. When the well runs dry, it’s dry. When the coloring is no fun, so sorry. It’s okay for children to be bored every now and then. I promise. Don’t be afraid of them running out of things to do.

Pray

Finally, pray for your children. Pray aloud with them as you drive to church. Ask God (or lead them in doing this for themselves if they are old enough to talk) to help your children have self control. Ask Him to help everyone to listen quietly to the pastor and pray for God to open everyone’s eyes to His truth.

Because the truth is that you all need Jesus. Jesus is the only one who will change your children’s hearts to ones of submission. Jesus is the only one who can help us produce self control and patience for these are fruits of the Spirit in us. It’s all of grace.

So remember as you train your children to be quiet in church, be patient and gentle in your approach. Expect them to do hard things, but also be patient as they grow in their attention and desire to listen to God’s Word being taught. Don’t set out expecting them to sit through the entire service, but when they make it 5, 10, 15 minutes praise them!

Each week, your children will grow in their understanding of your expectations. Then, when they start snickering when the preacher says a funny word or you hear them replaying much of the sermon during afternoon play time, you’ll be freshly reminded of why you set out to do this in the first place. You are after their hearts. You are seeking to disciple your children for the glory of God. You are worshiping together as a family and growing in grace together.

What about you? What tips do you have for keeping your children quiet in church?

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16 Comments

  1. Leigh Ann, I really appreciate this post. And the fact that you acknowledge that children don’t come out with the innate ability to sit quietly in church. It does take work, but I agree, it can be done.

    We don’t actually have the option for childcare (we haven’t since my oldest was about 10 months old). So now we have a 4.5yo, 3yo, and 1 yo in church with us for the entire time. It’s all they’ve known. My two oldest each have a bag of books and a notebook with a pen (they prefer it to a coloring book). My toddler has a small bag with a few toys. We also bring a snack for each child to eat after the break time (church is two hours long with a ten minute break in the middle). Once each child is old enough to sit comfortably in a chair without fear of them falling out during the service, the expectation is that they stay seated (not crawling on the floor or stretching across the chairs).

    We sit with my husband’s parents, too, and so we have had to have talks with them just to be clear about our expectations for our kids during church. One thing we have tried to express to our children is that one of the most important reasons we attend church on Sunday morning is to hear the sermon on God’s word. Because of this, we have an expectation that they will not sit in anyone’s lap (unless there’s a compelling reason) and will not try to carry on conversations with us during church.

    I think your tips are spot on. One thing that I will add is just that there will be times when you feel like giving up or that it’s just not worth it. It can be really discouraging to feel like all you did during church was to wrangle children. But after the effort of training our kids comes the reward of all being together and participating in worship as a family. Some stages (ages) are harder than others. My youngest is 13 months and is in a difficult season when it comes to being in church. She is transitioning out of her morning nap and is just starting to be able to walk everywhere. Being still and quiet is not easy. But I’ve already gone through this twice before I can rest in the fact that I am certain it will get easier.

  2. I really loved this. You’ve give me such a different perspective on the decision to send children elsewhere during service. For us, it seems each child is different so we are trying to keep from forming a blanket rule for each of them. I love the tips and I’m bookmarking this for my husband to read. Thank you Leigh Ann!

  3. I am much past this issue (my youngest of 10 children will be 12 in May) and just want to encourage you that this is excellent counsel. We did whatever program our church offered for the oldest and gradually — over the years — kept children with us more and more until the last several were with us pretty much full-time.

    One idea I adapted after reading Edith Schaeffer’s book (Hidden Art of Homemaking) was to teach them to “take notes” by drawing pictures. They would listen to the sermon until they heard something they could draw about and then they could draw. When they were finished, they were to listen again until they had something else to draw about. We used simple composition or spiral notebooks and just a few crayons or coloring pencils, nothing fancy. Then as they got older they could write a few words or their name or whatever; it was just a way to add things on little by little.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. Like one of the other commenters, we also don’t have an option for childcare. Our service does have a small children’s worship in the middle of the service that they go to and then are back with us the entire time. Our service lasts about 1 1/2hr.

    We have been struggling with our youngest (4yrs old) as she has a great big case of the wiggles and so we are continuing to train her. I like your ideas of training at home and will be adopting this immediately.

    Question though, I would like to know what you do during the transition. In other words, when you are training at home, and then go to church and they “act up” talking to loud, lying in pews, interrupting etc. What immediate action to you take. Currently, I take the child out and talk to them but it seems I am getting no where. Again, I haven’t been doing the practice at home, so I will be……but in the mean time…….?

    1. I am hoping to start this transition- we have been keeping my children in the service as well. I take my 9 month old to the nursery if she needs an emergency diaper change but that is about it- I even nurse her (discreetly) in service. We were trying to send my 3 year old to the children’s class actually but he refuses to go, partly because he wanted to stay in the nursery and play. That is why we don’t even take the baby in there- I don’t see any need to start that again. But, he is terribly behaved these last few weeks so I am glad to have some encouragement that I can teach him to sit. I think we will start doing the home devotions as well and use that as training and continue to work to be consistent with the 3 year old. He spent a fair amount of the last two services screaming in the hallway, and we have a small church so I am sure it was disruptive to everyone. But I also have this question- while transitioning, how do you handle that behavior? I am thinking of using his Toddler Tula carrier for a little while- to teach him to be still and quiet, and then to transition him to sitting. Because he is calm and happy when I am wearing him.

      Thanks so much for this site, Leigh Ann! I find it to be very inspiring!

      1. I think your idea sounds like a great one! To wear him while he transitions. I don’t have any secrets to share on how to make it work because the only secret I have is grace upon grace upon grace as we train our children. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of correcting or training our children to not interrupt the service so no one ELSE is bothered by my children when really … well, I’ll be blunt, really our congregations need to learn a good dose of grace. Where has the grace gone? That’s my question. Anyway, I’m rambling a bit in response, but I think the answer is grace for your boy as he learns. He’s three and even though we know he’s capable, he’s still a little boy who only sees what he wants and reasoning isn’t there yet. But know that it is coming, Mama! The reasoning skills are growing! For us our boy turning four made things soooooo much easier. He still has to be taken out for a talking to on occasion, but it’s definitely the exception to the rule. He’s learning day by day what’s expected of him. Hang in there! It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job!

  5. Thanks for the tips. I’m still on the fence about whether to bring my child to our service with me. My husband sings in our choir so I often sit by myself adding to the challenge that when she sees her daddy that is who she wants! I also have a new baby coming so not sure I can handle a baby and my spirited toddler by myself! I will have to add those to my prayer lists!

    1. Oh my! I can totally understand those hesitations. Doing it alone (even though you’re not “really” alone) would be hard. Perhaps she can just join the choir. 😉 hehe!

  6. I like your suggestion to show confidence in our children to encourage them to rise to the occasion. I want to find a baptist church for my family to start going to because we could all benefit from more guidance and a sense of community in these difficult times. Thanks for teaching me how to encourage my children to have good behavior during the church services!