Keeping your young child with you in worship can be challenging. Do you go to a small church without a nursery? Does your church encourage children to be in worship? Or, perhaps you are traveling and feel more comfortable keeping your child with you in church. Maybe, your family has decided that even though your church offers alternatives, you prefer your child to be with you in worship service. Here are practical tips to help your child sit still in church.
Sit Still in Church Tip #1: Potty before service
Little bladders have a harder time waiting, especially if they are bored. Going to the bathroom before the service helps to train the child to stay in the service. A trip to the bathroom is an opportunity to walk around and do something different.
Parents need to discern if the child really needs to go to the bathroom or is simply looking for a change in scenery. Going to the bathroom before service is a good habit and it eliminates the “need” to go during the service.
Sit Still in Church Tip #2: Eat before worship
How many times when we are bored, do we go the kitchen to see if there is something to eat? Eating out of boredom or to fill an emotional need is a big problem in modern life. Children do not need to snack all the time. A filling breakfast or tasty snack before worship will give your child the energy that they need to focus. For younger children, consider a backup snack that is quiet and not sticky.
Sit Still in Church Tip#3: Choose your seat wisely
There are two schools of thought on where to sit. You need to think about which path fits best for your family in this season or for the Sunday. Some will argue that you ought to sit up front, close to the action. Upfront is where my family sits. My children have a good view of all of the moving parts of the service. Things are more interesting when you can really see them up close.
The downside of sitting up front is that everyone can see you. Some families prefer to sit in the back. They feel less conspicuous and that the movements and sounds that their children make are less obvious to others. This might make it easier to discipline a child or to remove them temporarily from the service if needed. Be careful though that your child doesn’t take advantage of the proximity to the back to make it easier to leave the service frequently.
If you are going to sit in the back, choose to sit in an aisle seat. This choice can allow you the comfort of being in the back, but still, have access to the action for your child to see what is going on. Our children live in a visually stimulating culture, they are used to watching things. Get down to their level and see for yourself what you can see from their vantage point.
Can you see over those adult heads in front of you? Can you clearly make out what the pastor is doing down there in front? Are there other children close by whose behavior is distracting? In the end, chose the best spot for your children to focus.
Sit Still in Church Tip #4: Use your bulletin
I have one child who makes a big checkmark in the bulletin with each part of the service that is completed. At least she is paying attention to where we are in the service! Seriously, it can be very helpful to focus if you know what is going on next and how many more things are going to be covered. If you know that after communion we are going to get to stand up and sing a song, it makes it easier to sit still for a little while longer.
Use the bulletin too as an outline of the service. If you get to worship early, look it over and talk about the service with your child. What is the sermon title? What are the songs? Do they relate to the message of the sermon? Your child can use the bulletin to write down thoughts from the service.
Was there a line from one of the songs that resonated with them? Or, a phrase that they didn’t understand? Write these down in the bulletin to talk about later. For more tips on equipping your child during the sermon time, check out my article on Teaching Your Child to Listen to the Sermon.
Sit Still in Church Tip #5: Keep hands busy
Some children need to be in motion in order to listen. Having something to do with their hands can make it easier for them to focus. Parents need to choose activities carefully to help them focus.
Don’t pick a noisy toy. This should seem obvious but many times we don’t think about how loud a toy can be until we are in sitting in a pew listening to a sermon. ( Or, worse, a quiet, solemn moment during communion!) We keep a busy bag in the car to grab when there is going to be a time when our youngest has to sit quietly for a meeting/service/doctor appointment.
Our go-to items are coloring books, colors, board books, and a few cars. I also love a small lego and … Create your own busy bag or two. There are lots of fabulous ideas on the internet. My two favorite are found at avirtuouswoman.org and ponderingsfrommyheart.com. Check them out for some great ideas!
Christian coloring sheets are a great idea for older children. Ask your pastor ahead of time for the scripture of theme for the service and do an internet search for a coloring sheet that echoes those ideas. I have an older elementary student that can sit still, but a coloring sheet helps to keep her body active so that her mind can stay attentive to the service.
How do you know if your child is paying attention? Sometime you can’t tell by observing them, but you can tell by asking them engaging questions after the service. Eventually, you will want to consider transitioning your child to taking notes about the service and the sermon.
The bridge between a coloring sheet and note-taking could begin with a blank piece of paper. Have your child write down words that stand out to them in the service. To that, they can draw images from the service or draw out the ideas that are lifted up in service.
Sit Still in Church Tip #6: Let them read
Reading is a great way to sit still during the service. The key is to limit their reading choices to the Bible. Don’t let them read other books during the worship service. Remember the point is to teach them to stay engaged and learn to worship.
Sometimes, the sermon is actually boring. The book of Esther or Ruth are just about the right length for a sermon that is just not engaging to little ears. (I had them almost memorized as a kid. Ahem.) If God is not able to teach them through the spoken word, they can soak up the word as the read it.
Goal: Learn to Worship
It can be hard to keep your child still in church, but it is so valuable to have them in worship with you. The worship service is our opportunity to gather with other Christians and to give God praise. It isn’t all about us and our wants and needs. We need to train our children when they are young to have the proper understanding of worship. Starting young helps us to train their hearts to focus on God in worship, rather than assuming that they need to be entertained in worship.
Jesus told his disciples to let the little children come to Him and not to hinder them. We are called as parents to bring our children to Christ as well. Equip your children to sit still and to focus on the worship service. Gather a busy bag and get started on the training, for you and them.