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.
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.