Although child-rearing practices vary greatly, almost everyone wants kids in church to not run around and to sit with some measure of quietness. Their parents and others who love them want them to get something out of their time in the service while also feeling cherished by the congregation as a whole.
Our beloved children’s family and friends hold fond hopes for them to experience a) the rhythm and lyrics of music and the joy of happy songs, b) moments of valuing and caring for others, and c) the comfort of quieting their bodies for reflection and thought.
Addressing the Vital Need for Bonding
One of the greatest risks of growing up in this modern culture is a sense of disconnection. When bonding does not occur, our youth gravitate toward wherever they can feel included, regardless of the consequences.
Bonding is helped along when an adult dependably shows love and inclusion with affection, modeling, and outright teaching to weave the patterns of behavior needed to achieve close relationships. When a child bonds with their arena of associations, there is far less chance of problems later on in life. What a fine idea to strive for!
Taking Turns with Active and Inactive Times
This shared congregational time can speak to the adults as well as to the children present. It is not a case of either/or! Many of the most valued premises of our faith apply equally to all ages, and it is fine to share intergenerational experiences.
However, rotating between active and inactive moments helps the attention of both the children and adults. Children who have the fine opportunity of learning to transition between active and less active events have been offered a gift which lasts a lifetime.
Finding Solutions as Church Leaders
A worship service presents the challenge of providing a balance between the needs of a wide variety of adults and the children of the congregation. It can be frustrating for adults–particularly visitors–who came to find a quietness and sense of community, but are unable to hear the minister or other speakers without undue distractions.
Even though everyone involved has good intentions, a child who shows no restraint may hint at a lack of respect for the church, the minister, and other individuals present. Parents often feel criticized, or even excluded, when their children are a bit on the active side. Be sure to deal with them a way that shows you cherish both the parent and the child. Parents need love, and sometimes ideas and encouragement, too:-)
It is worth encouraging adult interactions and encouraging parents to be sure some adult is nearby to model and encourage their child in the church service. This does not have to involve criticism. Recognize that children differ in their attention skills, and go from there. The goal is not to make them alike, just to aim toward learning consideration of others while having a good experience in church.
Church leaders from the Religious Education Department or elsewhere might choose to:
* Do role-playing to give the children perspective on what others are seeing.
* Make gentle adult supervision part of your regular volunteer schedule.
* Make a deck of cards, possibly connected to aid in picking up after church: They could include
<Sit (Hold so still you can feel your breath. Try to slow them down. Think of something you are grateful for.
<See (spot something in front of you and remember it.)
<Sing (Sing with energy, hearing or reading the words.)
<Glue (Play like your set is glue and you can’t move too much, but the glue is comfortable.)
<Concentrate (Quietly count on your fingers how many people you know — without turning around to look.)
<Care (The whole congregation is a community which cares for one another. Think of when a kindness felt good to you. Plan a way to be kind to someone this week.)
Any of the above can also be used in pre-teaching (e.g. in the car) or post-teaching (e.g. the first couple of moments in the Religious Education classroom)
Setting an Example as Caring Adults
The congregational leaders can’t do it all. Church members can step up to the plate by making sure they are not looking through the kiddoes. Eye contact, smiles, even saying “Good Morning” tells the child that they matter in the eyes of the congregation.
A child who knows you and feels accepted by you will respond far better to any instructional or corrective feedback you have to present. So, see and relate to the children!
Modeling Lessons of Love in Church
This does NOT mean children should not be welcome in the service. Many churches and fellowships have children for the first few minutes so they have some exposure to the religious experience of their parents.
There are so many lessons of love and life to be found in a few minutes of sitting in church:
*Discovering there is, as in Ecclesiastes, a time for everything under the sun.
* Experiencing the value of quiet reflection to one’s body and soul.
* Appreciating the shared needs of a community to develop empathy of how others may be distracted if I run around, be noisy, or throw things.
* Skills of putting off a reward (like hugs or noisy fun) for a few moments of being cherished while looking for something to cherish in the service.
Hugging Responsibly While Modeling Skills of Attention
Adults in the church contribute in a very special way to a child’s church experience. They envelop the child with their love and attention. Yet those same kind adults may accidentally sabatoge the process.
For example, if a child is sitting in church, then jumps up to go get a hug from a caring adult they know, that adult faces some decisions:
1) Giving the hug but also encouraging the child to stay seated with them. A mantra might be, “Hug and stay.”
2) Making arrangements to give hugs before or after the service, providing leadership for the child to stay seated while knowing there is a hug available. A pinky promise can reinforce this, so when the child looks in that adult’s direction, the adult can show a pinky to remind the child of the love and the promise.
Neither of these in no way cheapens the value of the hug–it simply makes the participating adult part of “the village” which helps point the beloved child toward the realization that he or she is part of a caring congregation.
We as adults want to show friendship to the children we know, so we may hold back on what we think of as corrective feedback. However, it would be worth considering that the need is not to correct. It is to direct. It can be done with loving kindness, and children will respect that.
An example of a good hug gone bad is when a well-meaning adult hugs a child who jumped up out of the seat and runs across the sanctuary to get that hug. Repeating this can work to the detriment of a worship experience of both the child and may keep others from hearing the service. It also causes a visual distraction which robs a portion of the congregation of peaceful moments. This confusion can make visitors wonder why they came.
Saying No While Saying Yes
When an adult makes a responsible yet frightening choice to not reinforce children popping up and down it need not be so painful. They can make a bargain with the child to see them before or after the service. This is indeed more trouble than a quick hug, but is rather a mature loving show of leadership for children who would welcome being shown how to gear down for a few moments each week.
Both medical and educational professionals are concerned with children who cannot quiet their bodies and minds. A faith community can make a contribution in this area by finding ways to gently say no while saying yes to the future of both the child and the congregation.
Taking the time to talk and plan these issues out can build a foundation for our children’s future as one of the challenges for youth and adults alike is learning how to make quiet moments for reflection or even meditation. Being shown ways to gear down for a few moments each week benefit the children we love tremendously.
One of the most vital purposes of a faith community is to cherish, comfort, and at times even corral, its youth. Taking on this task makes the congregation real so children can be uplifted by a sense of community. It is worth church leaders putting in the effort to find ways to include and encourage both the children and their parents at the same time as meeting the needs for a calm worship atmosphere for the congregation at large.
Copyright 2014 by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use on line or in print.