Let’s assume duct tape is out of the question, illegal, or just not within arm’s reach at the moment. Here are some suggestions other parents have used to successfully keep their little ones reverent in church and alive for future meetings.
1) Teach them to use a “whisper voice.”
Parents and teachers are fond of teaching about the “inside voice” and children quickly pick up on the differences between that and “outside voice.” The inside of a church requires a third voice that is even quieter than the first one. This may only manage to soften or temper the behavior, but sometimes you have to take things one step at a time.
2) Pack and bring a “Sunday only” activity bag
Allow children to use the quiet contents in the bag only after an agreed upon time. Children will gradually be able to hold still and be quiet for longer periods of time as they grow older. Such items in the bag could be a drawing tablet with appropriate drawing materials, scripture stickers, a set of scripture stories, etc. Keep the contents simple, minimal, and use only on Sunday.
3) Have realistic expectations while maintaining respect for the worship time of other congregational members.
A child, depending on the age, will get wiggly. A toddler is learning and growing at a fast pace. He or she will naturally get excited about things — new or old. If the child is disruptive he or she should be taken out into the hall. Learning to be reverent during the worship service takes place not only inthe church, but also at home and in the hall. Which leads us to number four:
4) Practice an hour at home during the week
Depending on the age of your child an hour may seem too long. Start practicing with a lower number and gradually build up the time each week. Whatever time allotment you choose keep this up each and every week. A weekly family night is a great time to practice this principle (and where some brightly colored duct tape is within reach!)
5) When the child is taken out to the hall, require that he or she sit with his or her arms folded.
Running around and/or playing are not acceptable, even with a toddler. When returning to the worship service the child is then permitted to engage in the quiet activities provided in the Sunday bag.
6) Be consistent and persistent
Training takes time. A toddler often has difficulty dealing with change. Keep routines simple and consistent. Remember to set and maintain consequences. If you keep working at it, one day it will finally sink in.
7) What about food?
This can be a controversial topic with two very divergent camps. If food is used, choose things that won’t get ground into the carpet like crackers or even Cheerios. Some buildings have a policy of no food in the building except in the kitchen or gym. No matter what is brought—paper, books, food—teach children respect for the Lord’s house by cleaning up immediately after the meeting.
8) Use if/then statements and follow through
The Lord uses this method constantly throughout the scriptures. It really comes down to consequences and the parent’s capacity to follow through on them. “If you are noisy then you will have to sit in the hall with your arms folded.” “If you can sit reverently until after the sacrament is handed out then you can choose one sticker from the book.”
9) Don’t sweat the small stuff
Reverence is not mandated or predicated upon matching outfits, perfectly styled hair, or even matching shoes. My son was a very activelittle boy. One Sunday when he was around four years old he strode into church with his white shirt, polished shoes, crisp tie and a pair of clean swimming goggles perched on top of his head. As a mother who knew her son and that this was not going to be a weekly occurrence, I allowed it — much to the horror of his older sisters. He was happy and quiet (and fortunately never asked to wear them again).
10) Remind before, during, and after the meeting about its purpose and the expectations you as a parent have for the child.
This could take place in the car, at home, or in the hall right before and after church. Even as adults we have to be constantly reminded about things God wants us to do or not to do … over and over and over again. Why would it be any different for children?
Don’t get discouraged. Reverence takes many, many weeks (and years) of training. Ultimately the child does want to please his or her parents. Lack of reverence in church does not translate into a lack of respect for the parent, the other congregation members or even God. It just means they are children (not small adults!) who are still learning, growing, and adapting. Keep showing them respect, patience, love and consistency and one day it will all click.
But keep the duct tape handy just in case …