I learned something worshiping with my daughter in the front row of my parents’ church yesterday.
In worship is not the time to test out whether your 18-month-old will respond to your whispered “come here” instruction or giving “the LOOK”. Because it might work once, but it probably won’t work when she wants to go visit Grandpa while he delivers the sermon. She made it halfway to the Communion rail before I could get up out of my seat and chase her down and get her back in the pew.
She was also so tired from not sleeping well Saturday night (where have we heard this before?) that she decided the tile was an ideal place to lay flat on the floor. At least she was still in our row. She also tasted a crayon, gave a solid attempt at climbing the hymnal rack on the pew, shared a sticker with the sweet pre-teen sitting behind us, and made a good effort at escaping the pew via crawling underneath it. After worship I thanked the older couple sitting directly behind me for being patient with us. They smiled and she told me she remembered those days with her kids long ago.
Hey. I’m encouraging you to worship with your littles. I never said it was easy.
So if during worship isn’t always the best time to introduce skills like listening and the proper response to the LOOK, when is? At home!
Home is the perfect place to practice some basic concepts that will come in handy at church. Home is a comfortable place. It’s much lower-pressure than in church, which means you as the parent will be less stressed, and you don’t have all those eyes on you like you might at church.
So what can we work on at home to make worship easier? Things like whispering, sitting calmly, playing quietly, folding hands, following directions. It sounds like a lot, but really you have opportunities every day to incorporate these concepts. You just have to take advantage to them!
Maybe you call whispering your “church voice”. Play a little game where you see how long everyone can use their “church voice”. Talk about times when we use our “church voice”, normal voice and loud voice.
Get your kids in the habit of folding hands for prayer. That’s definitely not the only way to pray, but sometimes for kids it’s a good way to help them focus on that time and keep their hands to themselves. I’ve instructed kids like this, “Let’s fold our hands, bow our heads and close our eyes so no one disturbs us while we’re talking to God.” Most of the time that seemed to help them focus. Have your kids fold their hands when you pray at home (yes, this means you’ll have to pray at home).
Sitting calmly and playing quietly can be super challenging for toddlers and littles who have that innate desire and need to move and wiggle. But we can help them learn to sit calmly and play in small increments of time. In my opinion, teaching this skill without using technology is important. I try really hard not to entertain my daughter with my phone while we’re out. We take small books, crayons and little toys everywhere. In a restaurant, we color. In the car, she looks at books or plays with little toys. In the waiting room, she looks at the magazines or plays with the toys in the room. I admit, I’m one that likes the background noise of the TV at home, so I have to take some my own advice here a bit. But maybe you set aside some quiet time at home where you play quiet music and encourage kids to read or color or do another activity where they need to be quiet until a timer goes off.
In this context, I see following directions as a bit on the kids, and mostly on us parents. When our kids are little and learning we need to teach them that we parents will be consistent and mean what we say. If, at home, I tell my daughter to pick up the cup she threw on the floor, but then wind up picking it up myself when she refuses for 30 seconds, I’m really only teaching her that I’ll give up and that what mommy and daddy say ultimately doesn’t matter too much. In church, this could translate to her not listening to commands to stay in the pew, don’t throw things, etc, because we’re not serious with her any other time, so why would it be different now? Maybe this sounds extreme. But consistency in parenting is so important! Our kids need to know that we mean what we say and we will follow through.
Yes, some of this involves discipline, and that’s never really fun for anyone. Thankfully, God gets this part of parenting better than anyone! He’s had to discipline us since Adam and Eve. See the word “disciple” in the word “discipline”? Discipline is parents teaching and training their kids, following through with making our kids followers of us (and, of course, Jesus), even when it isn’t fun for them or us. I don’t think God enjoys the rough parts of discipline either, but He knows it’s necessary and a part of who He is as a just and holy God. But there is hope when we stay constant! Hebrews 12:11 reminds us, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Discipline results in peaceful fruit of righteousness! With God, there is love, grace and forgiveness in each and every experience – for our unruly littles and their inconsistent parents – and a Spirit working in us to try again. Practice makes… well, maybe not perfect, but, better!
Few things we do in life improve without practice. Sometimes we call it training. Sometimes we call it discipline. Whatever we call it, it takes work. It takes patience. It takes persistence. But it’s all a great work of love for your kids. You’re training up little disciples and you will see the fruit of your labor in time! Keep at it and get some quiet time in today!