Ah, church, the place where one is supposed to be reverent and listen quietly to the speakers or teachers. For little ones it can be particularly hard, especially if church is comprised of long meetings like our typical Mormon church services are. How do you teach children to sit reverently at church? Shannon, who blogs at Bedtime Scoops, is sharing her tips on how she has successfully taught her seven children to be reverent. To start with you can read her back story on what she and her husband were doing and how they realized it wasn’t working over on her blog. Then come back here to read her tips!
I truly believe that kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. In addition, I believe that much of the time, they will live up–or sadly, down– to our expectations. If we expect our kids to be reverent participants during church, they will! It won’t happen overnight, but with training, they can and will live up to your expectations. If, on the other hand, they are taught that the only way to get through church is by being entertained, chances are that is a habit that will stick with them even when they are old enough to actively and reverently listen. One look around at the distractions (read:smart phones) that many teenagers–and even some adults–use regularly during church meetings will show that one does not automatically turn into a reverent participant simply by growing older. (I know, I know, smart phones can be great tools, even at church, with access to scriptures, lesson manuals and more. But let’s face it, one click is all it takes to be distracted by Facebook, texting, web browsing, you name it.) I think we can–and should–expect more from our kids, and help them develop a skill that will be a blessing to them throughout their lives.
Since we have stopped bringing activity bags and snacks for our children, I have learned that less really is best when it comes to helping our kids be reverent. (This has been proven when we’ve ended up sitting by families who “share” their activities with us, and we see how quickly we disintegrate into disruptive behavior.) Even pen and paper ends up being more distracting than we’d like, so now we literally bring nothing to church with us besides scriptures, and those go under the bench during the meeting. The fabulous thing is that this really puts the focus on the content of the meeting, and even our younger kids are now able to notice and join in when we sing a hymn we’ve been practicing at home, or talk about things they heard and learned when we get home. In short, bringing less stuff has drastically helped us to focus more on the real reasons why we attend church.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Like any skill, reverence is a skill that must be learned and practiced in order to be developed fully. While regular attendance at church meetings provides ample time to review what you’ve learned, it is not often the ideal setting for teaching what is expected. Aside from whatever information you can impart in hushed whispers, not a lot of instruction can be communicated to your child during the middle of the meeting. That’s why we found the best place to teach our children what reverent behavior looks like is in our home. We accomplished this in various ways: direct instruction was given during a family night lesson, the instruction was reinforced during daily family scripture study, then it was put into real-life practice at church on Sundays. When our kids had a particular challenge being reverent in any of these settings, we actually held what we called “Reverence Practice.” We would set the timer for a very short time–maybe only 2-3 minutes–and every member of the family would be required to model reverent behavior until the timer beeped. If anyone got off their seat, talked, or fidgeted excessively, we started the timer over and began again. Once we had reviewed reverent behavior with our practice session, we’d begin our lesson or scripture study again, and the kids were generally much better at reverently participating.
When teaching children a new skill, it is often helpful to motivate them with an external reward that recognizes their efforts and progress. If a reward is effective, it will reinforce the skill being taught when the child is in the beginning stages of learning, then once they have mastered it they will be able to perform the desired behavior without the need for constant reinforcement. (Think potty training, for instance. Once a child is fully potty-trained, they no longer need a sticker on a chart every time they use the bathroom!) There are lots of great ideas for rewards that can be used for positive reinforcement, and since you know your children best, you can choose the one that you feel is the best fit.
The system we used has some pros and cons. One major con is that it used food as a reward. I have serious reservations about doing that, but alas, I’ve done it many times as a parent. (Perhaps you’ll be more creative than me at finding a non-food reward.) We called it “Sunday Scoops,” and it worked like this. We told our kids that they each had three scoops of ice cream waiting for them after church was over, and that in order to get that ice cream, all they had to do was listen reverently at church. If they “forgot” to be reverent, we would hold up three fingers to remind them of their three scoops of ice cream. Those three fingers would serve as a warning to them, but they could still choose to be reverent and enjoy the full reward. If they continued to be disruptive, however, we would hold up two fingers, indicating that they had lost one scoop of ice cream, and they had better start being reverent again so as not to lose any more. Once in a great while, one of our kiddos would have a rough time being reverent at church and they would get all the way down to zero scoops, but that was pretty rare. (We do love ice cream at our house, so it was a powerful motivator!) One of the pros of this system is that it can be carried out without a single word being spoken at church. Brilliant! This has been especially valuable as my family has grown, and I often have kids clear down the bench from me who still need an occasional reminder. All I have to do is flash my fingers! (Incidentally, our children have largely mastered reverent behavior at church, so we no longer use Sunday Scoops as a reward for reverence, but we do sometimes have Sunday Scoops just for fun once in a while.)
If you are right in the middle of the phase when going to church with your kids seems more like a wrestling match than a spiritual experience, don’t dismay. It is a season, and it, too, shall pass! Like most aspects of parenting, reverence training is a very fluid thing. Some days will be particularly trying, and might even leave you wondering if it’s really worth it. (It is. Trust me on this one!) Other days, you’ll be amazed at the insightful comment made at the dinner table by your five year old about a story he heard during the church meeting earlier that day. Notice that I mentioned previously that our children have largely mastered reverent behavior, but we still have our rough days, too. (If you had been sitting behind us last Sunday, you would have seen that our two year old is still practicing her reverence skills.) But I can see how far we’ve come, and a little bit of patience and perspective helps me see that there is hope for even a large, crazy family like ours.
Hugs and scoops,
Bio: C.C. has backpacked through Europe, worked at a startup company in the Silicon valley, and survived the trenches as a high school English teacher, but her greatest adventure yet is homeschooling her seven children, ages 12 to 2. She’s had several unexpected twists in her life, including infertility, adoption, and parenting two children on the autism spectrum. Along the way, she has gained a uniquely positive perspective, and she loves encouraging others to find joy and peace even in the midst of life’s unexpected difficulties. C.C. enjoys reading, playing games, enjoying the outdoors, organizing her small house, and eating ice cream. She blogs about large family life at www.bedtimescoops.com.
Thanks so much to Shannon for her excellent ideas! I’ve done most of these things with my kids but man, oh, man these last two boys are giving me a run for my money. I think we need to start practicing more at home.
This post is part of the Establish a House series that runs every Wednesday.