“Now what do I say?”

The last two weeks we’ve talked about what to DO at church.  This week we’ll talk about what to SAY.” Hopefully all these ideas will help your little people tolerate enjoy church more.

If your child chooses to be taken out of a church meeting, make good use of that time.  LDS church buildings have lots of beautiful artwork hanging in the foyer and halls. If you have taken your child out of a meeting and are walking through the halls point out the pictures to them. Stop and talk to them about the content and details of each picture. Below are some ideas of words you can use as you verbally pick apart a painting and ask questions.

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Ask, “Who is this?” “What is Jesus doing?”  “Jesus is blessing the children, would you like to be blessed by Jesus?” “Jesus can bless and heal people because he holds the Priesthood”.  Or simply tell them things that are happening in the picture, tell the story of what is happening, such as, “Look at the boy with the hurt leg, Jesus can heal him and make him feel better and walk again”. Use a second sense by touching your child while you’re explaining. Put your hand on their head, or touch their eyes or whatever part of the body is being recognized in the painting. You might say,  “This is Jesus cleansing the temple. That means he’s cleaning up” “Does Jesus look happy in this picture?”  “He is sad because those people are not being reverent in the temple”. There was a beautiful painting that hung outside the Relief Society room in the building where we attended church while I was raising my children. It was a slightly impressionistic painting set centuries earlier in a small, poor kitchen. A mother sat in a tall back rocking chair, sitting next to her was her young daughter who sat in a tiny chair, eating from a small plate. In the corner of the room there was a baby, asleep in a cradle. I spent collective hours in front of that painting asking my toddlers about what the mother was saying and what we thought the daughter was eating and if it was morning and they were having breakfast, or if it was evening and they were going to eat then go to sleep. We would even use our fingers to reach up and pretend we were taking food from the tiny plate and would pretend we were putting it in our mouth while making yummy sounds.

 I think there is an art to learning how to speak to a child in a way that they will listen and learn. Or maybe it’s more of just getting in the habit of thinking about it and doing it. But don’t be hesitant to talk and explain to them because you think they are too young to understand or they don’t know the meaning of a certain word. Educationally speaking, the types of conversations that happen in the chapel foyer, during the sacrament, in the car as you’re driving by a construction site or some other interesting place, and at the grocery store are incredibly beneficial! They help a child learn new things, increase their vocabulary and attention span, and help them learn sentence continuity. Because of that, we are excited to make a “What do I say now” series a frequent occurrence on our blog.  Are there any situations you’ve wondered about after you had a conversation? Have you wondered what the better response could have been?  We’d love to hear about it and discuss it!

Bag of Tricks

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Last week we said we’d post some ideas of things to take to church to keep a toddler busy and happy. I’m sure the possibilities are almost endless but I’ve listed a few of my favorites for you and would love to hear what you take.

I must admit that I have included item unrelated to Sunday such as a mini flashlights and Scotch tape (no, the tape does not go on the mouth!) in my bag. It’s fun to just give a child a piece of tape and watch him figure out that he can’t drop it, at least not until it gets dusty. They can figure out that it only sticks on one side, that it can hold things together like two pieces of paper or your fingers, etc. When I was young there was only one type of transparent tape – it was shiny and it could not be written on. Now there is Scotch Magic Tape and unless you’re older like me, you have probably not even noticed there is a difference. But at some places (like the dollar store) you can buy the old style, cheap, shiny type, which cannot be written on with a pencil (or colored pencil). After your child gets tired of sticking things together, putting several pieces of the shiny tape (placed in such a way that it forms a word or picture) can be put on a blank piece of paper and the child can scribble on the paper to find the hidden word or shape.

Mini flashlights that turn on by being squeezed, or a push button can be fun without being too distracting to those around you. Before the child figures out how to turn the light on, the mystery of why and when the light comes on can hold a child’s attention week after week. You can pretend that it only comes on when they kiss the hand that’s holding it, or when they touch their nose, or what ever you make up. When they finally figure out how it works and have a strong enough finger to turn it on, it can be used to shine through paper, fingers, or at the words of the songs in the Hymn book (this makes it church related).

Another item that a young child really likes is a small tape measure that retracts when a button is pushed (they can be found in fabric stores, or on line). Kids love to pull it out and see it go quickly back in, over and over and over. If they are older, they can measure how long everything is. Just make sure the tape measure is not the kind that clicks loudly as it’s pulled out (I learned that the hard way when I replaced my broken, quiet one). And make sure it’s plastic, not metal because the metal ones can hurt tiny fingers as it whips back in.

Perhaps a whole chapter could be written about Cheerios. They can be used as a snack for small stomachs at the same time as entertaining them. When a Cheerio is moistened, it can stick to the tip of a nose or to a forehead. Watching them try to find and grab it off their own forehead, before they’ve perfected their hand arm coordination is probably too amusing to adults and to the children sitting on the row behind you. I once found a small wooden building block that had a hole drilled through the middle. We discovered it was just the right size for a Cheerio to fit into loosely. When the cereal was in the hole, an older person could quickly push from the bottom with a closed pen, or other blunt object and the piece of cereal would pop out of the hole and cause the child to grin with delight. This simple trick supplied hours of reverent entertainment!

Another cereal activity idea is to have the child find where the cereal it. If Mom or Dad shows a hungry, or antsy child a piece of cereal in their hand, then closes the hand into a closed fist, the child can figure out how to get the food that he can no longer see. This isn’t meant to be torture, help them discover how to retrieve it. At first you use your other hand to open the closed hand to show them how to get to the cereal. Having them pull up one finger at a time is the next step, then having each finger that they pull up close if not held open makes them use their other hand to hold each finger after it’s opened. This might all seem overly detailed, but it’s a good way to make a little cereal last a long time all the while teaching as well.

It might go without saying, but I’ve seen it happen so I feel like it needs to be said anyway; beware of keys on the metal chairs or in the overflow where there’s a wooden floor. Once you give your child your keys, it’s hard to get them back with out a fuss.

If the child reaches the point that they can’t be happy, even with things you’ve brought THEN it’s time to take them out of the chapel as to not disturb others. Whew, who’s more tired, them or you?

Have fun creating your bag of tricks and let us know what works for you.

Don’t Let Their Feet Touch the Ground

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Have you ever sat in a meeting where there was a crawling child, or new toddler who repeatedly worked their way up to the front of the room to pull on the corner of the tablecloth? Each time the mom would stand up, walk up and get the child and then go back to her seat. But every time the child got to the edge of the table cloth you’d wonder, “Are they going to pull hard enough to make everything come crashing down from the table?” So you’d watch every time it happened until you realized that you (and lots of other people in the room) were not paying any attention to the teacher, but were engrossed in what was going to happen to the table decorations.  It’s so distracting! The child is certainly upstaging the teacher.

 On Facebook last week my teenage daughter posted this quote: “There are two kinds of parents: the ones that let their kids climb the stairs to the stand in church and the ones that don’t”. When I read it I asked her where she had heard that and she said, “No one told me, I just noticed because it happens all the time in church”. I was actually quite surprised she had noticed since she is in her pre-parenting stage of life (I guess she’s been caught up in the table cloth/toddlers phenomena too). Since it’s something I’ve spent lots of time thinking about and working on over the years I thought it was the perfect idea for this weeks post.

Before I had children, someone told me what I considered an absurd child rearing method. They called it the “don’t let their feet touch the floor method”. Basically it was to not let your child down from your arms, lap, or their chair to run around, or wander during any of the Sunday meetings. Ironically, what at first seemed like a strange idea to me became a method I adopted, used and learned to really appreciate. I sometimes felt like a magician with a big bag of tricks when I left for church, however if I didn’t let my child run around I had to furnish something for them to do. I realized that it is unrealistic to expect a toddler to sit still and pay attention for a long period of time; it’s just not developmentally possible.  So I felt that if I wanted them to sit still, I needed to have a plan and furnish things to capture their attention (Tune in another week to learn what to put in your bag of tricks).

When I was a young mom, a seasoned mother told me that her method of handling her young children in church was to make sure they had their own chair or space on the bench and that they stayed in it.  They could lay on it, sit backwards or forward on it, stand on their head on it but they needed to stay in their chair. Having their own chair, or bench spot can offer them some space of their own and be a privilege (of course at young ages there has to be an adult’s hand holding gently on to the back of their shirt or inches away, ready to catch them if they fall). If they can’t stay on the chair, then they go back to mom or dad’s lap. But the idea is to “not let their feet touch the ground” until the “amen” of the closing prayer is said.

Does this sound like a good idea in theory but not so feasible in reality?  Another method we implemented was to make being in church more fun than being out in the foyer or in the halls.

When a child decides that he is determined to get down and run around, or starts screaming or quarreling with the sibling next to him or something else that is disruptive, it’s time for them to be taken out of the meeting. (Remember noisy children, like good intentions, should always be carried out). Now what you do with them once they’re outside is very important. If a child gets to go out of the chapel and run around while Mom or Dad chat with the other adults in the foyer, it will not take very long for them to figure out that it’s a lot more fun in the foyer than in the meeting. Then they will give you every test they can devise to get out there. Also, although the kids don’t know the word consistency, they know the process. If you take them out once and let them play and run around, next time they’ll holler longer until they’re taken out. Each time you give up, they’ll fuss longer and longer because they know eventually, you’re going to give up and they’ll get what they want. So when they start to act up ask them if they want to go out and remind them how much better it is to stay in the chapel. If they choose to stay, then remind them of how they need to act if they are going to be in church.

If a child is very young, under 2 or so, a walk down the hall and back with a pause to point at pictures hanging on the wall is sometimes enough of a change of scenery that they will be ready to go back and join the family in the chapel. I’m grateful that the foyers of LDS churches have beautiful pictures of the Savoir, scenes from the scriptures, Church leaders, etc. Stopping at each picture and asking questions can not only distract the child and give them the needed break, but can be a learning moment. Things as simple as door knobs that require keys, hinges, lighted Exit signs, speakers mounted in the ceiling, numbers on doors or closets, etc. can be pointed out and explained while walking though the halls.

If an older child, say 3-5 years old chooses to have a trip out of the meeting, take them out of the chapel to empty classroom, or an isolated area and sit in a chair with them on your lap. Don’t give them anything to play with. Tell them that it’s more fun to be in church with the family where they have their own chair, books to read, and music to listen to, than it is to sit in that quiet room on your lap. Sometimes they want to wiggle and fight to get out of your arms, but they need to realize that in the chapel they have their own space, or chair, but if they have to be taken out, they have to sit still with you, alone, on your lap in a quiet (boring) room. When they choose to go back into the chapel, they can walk with their arms folded back to their seat.

Another idea to consider is the use of time between classes.  I know that 10 minutes is not very long, but when used wisely it can make a difference. I made sure my kids walked around between the meetings or I’d take them outside to run around for a minute, before they needed to sit for another stretch of time. When a meeting was over they would know because I’d say, “Amen” to them, set them down on the floor and tell them it was over and it was time to walk around again.

Remember that teaching children to sit reverent is a process. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t figure it out after 2 weeks. Just try to be consistent and they’ll get there.

“I don’t want to go to church, it’s boring!”

Last week, after a mom read our post on making Sunday a Fun Day, she had another question, “How do you get your kids to want to go to church?” Has YOUR child ever said, “I don’t want to go to church, it’s boring?”

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Guess what, your child is probably right; church can be boring for them. Think about it. They are sitting on a bench that is so tall their feet can’t touch the ground. The pew in front of them is so high they can’t see out of their row, all they can hear is talking, talking, talking, most of which they don’t understand. Sound fun? Not to me.

A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints asked this question. We are members of this church so the answers we write are geared toward our religion. But we suspect this issue is not specific to any one denomination. With that said, we know that many of these thoughts and ideas could be tailored to fit anyone’s needs

Becky Bailey author of Easy to Love Hard to Discipline writes that parents should stop trying to control their children’s feelings.  Children have the right to all their feelings. I agree with this idea but sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when our children express feelings we don’t like, or don’t understand. So if your child says they feel like church is boring, what should you say?

You might be tempted to say something like, “church is not boring” or, “Too bad, you’re going anyway”.  Instead try to understand why they feel the way they do and ask something like, “What part of church feels boring to you?” or “What could we do to help church not feel so boring to you?” Or, “I know it’s not as fun as other things, but it’s important for us to go because it helps us learn more about Jesus and show Him that we love Him.

So, what’s to be done? Here are a few ideas that might help your child enjoy church more:

Cookie Sunday- Our family did this when our children were young. During   Sacrament meeting kids had a pad of paper and they wrote a few key words (or drew a picture depending on their age) to help them remember stories or ideas they hear from the speakers. For every idea they wrote, they got a cookie when they got home (these ideas need to be about something the speaker said, not like my kids would sometimes try to get away with like, “he had on a red tie”)

Make a Sunday Book – Our Sunday book was a 3-ring notebook containing pictures of Jesus through out his life (I used pictures from the New Testament section of the Gospel Art Kit). I slid them into plastic pocket protector sheets.  You can also add blank paper for drawing and a pencil bag with a few colored pencils. Also, scripture based quiet books are a great idea, homemade or purchased, or non-sewn types.

Friend magazine– If you never seem to get around to using it at home, take it to      sacrament meeting.  Let your kids look through it and do the activities on the Funstuff page or other activities that look interesting (I did draw the line at using scissors at church, we took Scotch tape to church but not scissors). They can dog ear the corner of the pages of things that can’t be done during Sacrament meeting that they want to do when they get home, or stories they want read to them later.

Lead the music – Tell your children to watch the music director as she leads the     songs (also page 384 of the LSD hymnbook shows how to lead music).   Show them     how to draw shapes in the air: square (for 4/4 time), triangle (for ¾ time), and a smile shape (for 2/4 or 6/8 time).  Show them where the time signature is on the music and when each hymn is sung have them watch the music leader or the hymnbook and follow them with small hand movements that can only be seen by those sitting on your row.

Narrate the sacrament (or communion)- If your child is a toddler or young pre-  schooler, when the sacrament starts stand them stand up on the bench close to you (this shows them there is a lot going on outside your pew). Whisper quietly to them what is happening during the sacrament. Explain every step, in detail. It’s okay to use some words you know your child does not know yet. Your comments should include gospel teachings, not just who is walking where.

Example:“It’s time for the sacrament, watch, the Priests are going to take the white cloth off the sacrament table and we’ll be able to see the trays of bread and the cups of water. See them?”

 

“Now it’s time for the blessing on the bread, one boy who holds the priesthood is going to pray and bless the bread, let’s close our eyes and bow are heads and listen”

“Now the deacons are going to stand up all at the same time and go get trays of bread, watch. Now they are going to take the bread to the bishop, the deacons give the bread to the bishop first, see, bishop is taking a piece of bread. The deacons can pass the sacrament because they hold the Aaronic Priesthood”

 

“Look, now they are coming to bring the bread to us. When they get here, we’ll take the tray and take just one piece of bread. The bread reminds us that Jesus body hung on the cross and died for us. He was resurrected and we can be resurrected too.”

You get the idea? There is a certain age where this is really affective and they will listen as long as you talk and point things out.

As with many things, this can seem a little overwhelming, but remember that even one or two small changes can make a big difference. Good luck!

What do you do that works well?  Do you have any successes to share?