By Lydia Teh
The other day I attended a worship service at another congregation. A young family in attendance had two children, a toddler and a baby. While the mother took care of the baby, the poor harried father had to run after the toddler who wouldn’t sit still during service. She was constantly up and about.
It can be challenging to keep toddlers quiet for a mere ten minutes, let alone an entire hour or more during worship service. But this is not mission impossible. It can be done as has been proven by many parents through the ages.
First, set your expectations with the children. Let them know what they are expected to do and the consequences if they don’t obey. Remind them frequently during the week. You might even want to have practise sessions at home.
Prepare a bag which contains toys and activities they don’t get to play with at home. Have a variety of items such as books, jigsaw puzzles, stickers, colour pencils, and quiet toys.
Bring some drinks and snacks such as cereals, pre-cut fruits or biscuits. You might want to keep breakfast light so that they are in the mood for some munchies during service. This will occupy them for a few minutes at least.
Sit somewhere near the exit so that you can bring the kids out with minimal distraction. Whether it’s for toilet breaks or a spot of disciplining, making a quick, discreet exit so as not to disrupt services is a considerate thing to do.
Being prepared stands you in good stead but sometimes the most well-laid plans can turn awry. You are dealing with tiny people with short attention span. Tots are smart. They know that if they kick up a fuss and scream or cry, they will be taken out. Ah, freedom! They get to look at the birds, cars, or whatever catches their fancy. But if they are not rewarded with that freedom, and instead they get an alternative which is worse than sitting quietly inside, they will think twice before acting up. For instance, they could be taken to a corner of the pantry or even the toilet for a talking-to and there they would remain until they agree to behave themselves.
Persistence and consistency are key ingredients to ensuring that children are trained to sit quietly during service. It’s no good if you are firm one Sunday and the next, you give in to them and let them run riot. Then they know they can get away with disruptive behaviour and will continue to test you.
Be patient and keep your firm stance. Practice makes perfect. By training your children to sit quietly during service, you are creating a suitable environment for yourself and other members to worship in a proper frame of mind which is pleasing to God (John 4:24).