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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Children in Church, part 2

I shared some of my ideas and experience last week, and then I thought what would really be helpful would be lots of answers from lots of other mothers, mothers who have done this successfully. I polled some of my friends who fit this category, and below are some of their answers. 

Now, I need to begin with the caveats, because we parents can take parenting advice, no matter how generally give, pretty personally and take umbrage a little too quickly. Of course not everything will work for every parent who reads this. I wouldn't or could not have done every single thing that every single one of my friends did. They probably would not do every single thing that I did, either. I am passing on what worked for me, they share what worked for them, nobody is giving a guaranteed prescription that if you do everything here you will have perfect success, and if you don't you are a failure. These are just some ideas for those who want to consider them.

There are going to be exceptions and various reasons why some of us have more challenges than others, and none of us can address every single exception. And you know what? For some us, there isn't ever going to be a fix for our particular situation. Take us. Out to lunch, preferably. I like Chinese.

Okay, seriously, using our family as an example, although we were able to stop our child with disabilities from pinching her sisters hard enough to draw blood while sitting quietly and angelically in church, to all appearances but her victims, behaving herself like a little lady, she now will reach out to slap one of her nieces or nephews for no discernible reason.  She's 31.  I don't foresee a time ever when she stops loudly blurting out some babbling demand for me to go get her a drink during the quietest part of the church service. I do not see a time when she will not ever again suddenly stand up in the middle of church as though signaling the congregation that she's done and it's time for all of us to go. That's just the way it is. The best 'fix' for this is how I and others perceive it and accept it.  She is is unlikely to change in these things.

If your child is really fractious, crabby, and uncooperative you may have all kinds of problems that all the good advice in the world can't help until other issues are taken care of. Your child may have undetected allergies- and what if the little mite is allergic to or highly sensitive to scents, and you're sitting next to the elderly lady who has lost her olfactory nerves and so now uses perfume as part of a daily baptismal ritual (and she believes in baptism by immersion), or you go to a church with lots of incense and candles- your baby will be more fussy and uncooperative in church and you won't know why,perhaps for years. Or it could be food allergies, or autism, or some other issue going on that makes it harder for your children to behave. Or, you know, maybe your parenting really is lacking and you are not communicating your standards and expectations clearly and firmly, but are sending weak and ineffectual mixed signals- I do not know. I can never, ever know because we do not know each other personally. People who see you face to face may not be able to tell you what the problem is, so I certainly won't.

These are, again, things that other parents did that worked for them. Use them, carefully, thoughtfully, prayfully, or not. Adapt them. Bounce off of them. Ignore them. They are not the ten commandments. They are not attacks on your parenting.

 I would also suggest that before you make any major change to the philosophy of how you parent you talk to real people you know in person, people you like, admire, and trust, people you personally can observe (and who see you and know you as well) about those major issues, so you can be sure you define your terms the same way.

To you, a spank may convey a hard whack with a baseball bat, and to somebody else it may convey a barehanded motion no brisker or firmer than the one used before church to brush the dirt off the back of a toddler's britches.

So please, none of this is meant as specific, pointed advice to *you* personally, whomever you are. If it does not fit your parenting style, philosophy, or situation, if you think it's outrageous, just ignore it or consider whether or not there is a way to adapt it, and then move on. These women don't blog here and they can't defend themselves or explain themselves further (and their children are all beyond this stage already, anyway, I only asked experienced mothers with older, or grown, children).

I played quiet games with my babies in church- I would hold them in my lap and roll their hands (like when you sing roll the gospel chariot), twiddle their thumbs, wiggle their fingers and toes- to distract them from fussing or making loud noises.

We also practiced 'church' time at home- Maybe for fifteen minutes at a time with really little ones. We sat in chairs lined up and sang a couple of songs, prayed, and then listened to a short tape of a bible lesson or reading. Here I could be more clear in our expectations, speaking at normal voice, instead of whispering, for instance.

Which brings us to some of the notes from my friends, the first one of which is really unique:

My friend K is married to a preacher, and she says she and her children spent time at the building when there were not services. They sat in the pew with the bible story books that their family allowed. This way, she says, she was "able to set up a training time to teach them to be quiet (since she could verbally remind them and also to spank them when they were disobedient without disrupting other worshipers). She says, " We also had a quiet time each day at home when I had my bible out and they had the same books. One of the books they had was a "bible song book". They looked at this during the singing and then looked at bible story books during the sermon. (We did not allow food, candy or secular type books so that they were able to understand that this is a special time). As they got older, we allowed them to write but only during the sermon and we called it "taking notes". This naturally translated to their attempting to copy words from the powerpoint. I would put my hand over her mouth to remind her that it was time to be quiet. One thing I did not do was discourage her from "singing" at the appropriate times."

Having special toys or books that only are used for church is also something we tried- if you have an extra diaper bag, this can be the church diaper bag so that your once a week toys don't get mixed in with the general population.

Another friend with six children stresses that this teaching has to begin at home, and suggests you practice, sitting with them, talking softly, telling them "shhh, it's quite time," and keep practicing, talking about being quiet in chuch. She also takes quiet little toys, books, and a quiet snack (like cheerios). She also says to keep in mind that Babies and toddlers do not possess the ability to whisper, so do not expect behavior from an 8 month old that she would be expected to develop until around 16mo-2 yrs old. She says "You can't expect complete silence. Just work on no yelling, or making loud noises, while they are babies. If they are crying, take them out until they settle down." She also says "DO NOT take them to a nursery or room to play. That teaches them that if they get loud or cry they get to go play." She stresses that no stronger discipline be used until you are sure they totally understand what it means to be quiet and are clearly being defiant.   Like me, she says she breastfed all her babies, 'even IN church.' =)

Another woman offers these "Three key suggestions:
If you don't spend time training your child at home (to sit quietly, at your request), then you will have more of a struggle at the assemblies. Have your child sit quietly next to you as you visit with someone, or do something else. The goal is to practice sitting quietly, only speaking when necessary, speaking in whispers, and watching and waiting for the okay to "resume normal speech and activity". Start with short time amounts, and increase as things get better.
Do not take a huge bag of activities. Identify a few quiet things (books are better than toys), and stick to that. Allow the child to look at the book during the lesson (prayer time is prayer time; they can be taught to follow along during singing). If they finish the book (or become bored with the book), you can offer another, or two, but then that is it. A well-trained child can sit for the remaining bit of time without looking at a book if he has already looked at three.
Keep these items JUST for assemblies; they should be "set apart" and not used the rest of the week. You will probably want to switch these things out from time to time, especially if the child IS behaving and IS looking at the books. You want to reward good behavior by having books that capture the child's interest.
Finally: Only take the child out to discipline the child. Never allow the child to think that if he misbehaves in assembly (or any quiet area), that he will be removed and allowed more freedom. His best restraint is knowing to have self-control in the assembly because the alternative is worse!"

I would add that 'discipline' here is not just physical discipline or even always physical. It can be quiet time. The point is, if you want your child to learn to behave in church, don't take the child out to play when he's not behaving.

Another friend says:
the first place to start is prayer. I think most mommies hold their little ones on their laps through church services and that makes a quick correction easy to begin with. If young families make an effort during home family devotion time to "pretend" they are at church and make the baby sit in her lap during that time and not play on the floor it will start the habit. I always shooshed my babies quietly as a loud shoosh can be more distracting at church than happy baby babble. With the shoosh came a firm hand on the mouth. This can also be practiced during the times at home. If the baby doesn't like it and wants to fight mommy then the time will come in the eventual battle when Baby needs to be taken out. With mine, we went into the foyer. There is a nursery with toys at church but I didn't take my baby in to play now as that would be letting him win. We sat in one of the pews in the foyer and kept on shooshing where we could get loud without being a distraction.

For an older child, I would recommend practicing at home. Emulate the "church setting" and practice using our "whisper voice". This is something we employed OFTEN (library, church, doctor's office, etc.) For an 8-month-old, I just put my finger over their mouth and sometimes even tapped it gently to bring attention to the fact that this is the issue (so that they can "make the connection")... Other than that, I have no great wisdom for a child that young...

She does say that there is a difference between what you do when teaching, discipling, and training for learning proper behavior and what you do when a child is obviously crossing the line from being childish to being defiant, and that line is different for each child.

I would also add my advice that you not underestimate your children. I did this with my first when I let her whine for months (she was 2), thinking she did not understand me when I said not to whine. I would whine "This is a whiny voice, and it isn't nice," and then I would say in a nice voice, "This is a nice voice, and this is how you should talk."
And then one day she smirked at me, repeated it word for word, only reversed it, and told me the whiny voice was nice.

And then I did it again (lots of times, but this is the example I am using) with our sixth child, when I insisted to a friend that my child wasn't defiant, she just did not really understand what it meant when I said, "No," or "stop that." My friend, who had known me a long, long time, pointed out dryly, "IF she does not understand what you mean, why does she glare at you and scream in rage every time you tell her 'no,' before you even move?"

One more bit of advice- do your best, but do not stress. You may not be bothering other people as much as you think, or perhaps they are unreasonable. I can't tell from here. I can tell you that one day they will be grown and it won't matter how quiet and still they were in church. It will matter that they know you loved them and did you best however weak it was, and that God loves them more.

And my last bit of advice is... give it time. The first is probably the hardest. But the time will pass, and one day you will not remember that it seemed like such a long time, and when you have other children, the well behaved older siblings will model behavior the younger ones emulate.

Most of the time.=)

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