You might be feeling like I do right now…that it feels like a dream when you actually get to sit in a church service and participate. I’m on my sixth toddler, without huge breaks in-between each toddler. There is hope though…I’m going to share with you 5 ways to help your child sit still in church and hopefully in time you can get back in that church service!
There are so many different opinions out there on teaching a young child to sit still. Some expect a child to sit still in church by the age of 1. Others think it’s amazing if a 5 year old can sit still.
I’m here to tell you there is no one-age-fits-all standard.
Children have such different personalities that it’s really not fair to expect every child to be ready to sit still for 1-2 hours in church by the same age. I’ll tell you what’s normal for our family, and you might be horrified that we wait so late, or you might think we are crazy for trying so young.
It’s really subjective to what your own standard is, but my goal is not to be the model poster family for getting our children to sit still in church.
Years ago we used to be super firm about getting our children to sit still at a young age. We would take them out and spank them, make them sit still on our lap in another room; they would cry and cry….and make our Sunday morning pretty miserable.
Guess what? They all pretty much started sitting still around the same time whether we took them out and corrected them or not. For our family that is around 3 years old.
Here are 5 tips and tricks for teaching children to sit still.
Have sit time at home.
You want a moment of honesty? This is incredibly hard for us to do in our season of life. When we only had 1 or 2 children this was a huge priority. Now that we have six children it’s not on my daily to do list. I’m trying to get all the homeschooling in each day, and I just don’t have 30 minutes for daily sit time practice.
Other excellent times are family devotions, however our youngest has screamed (very loudly) during those times. Her personality is intense, so those times have not worked.
If you don’t have a toddler with an intense personality (some might call it strong willed), then family devotions or when you sit down to read a book to your older children is an excellent time to grab that child and let them practice sitting on your lap. You know your child so only you can determine if it’s a good time.
When my oldest three children were younger I had a wooden bench that I bring into the living room and have them sit there while I read to them. They knew it was a learning time to practice sitting for church, but they also were able to listen to mama read to them.
Set Realistic Goals
Some people might think I’m stepping on some toes here, but I’d like to beg of you not to take your 12 month old out of church multiple times to spank them. I’d venture to guess that if you just give that baby some more time they will learn to sit. I speak from experience here as a mother who has tried to follow all the parenting books that give the perfect way to teach a baby to sit still. It doesn’t always work like the books say.
Parenting requires a lot of patience. I’ve definitely had my patience tested with our current 2 year old, and all my friends heard about it when she finally sat in a church service. I was so excited that I had to share!
Your goals can be more optimistic for your toddler who is a very calm, peaceful baby. They need to be adjusted for the super active toddler who might take a little bit more time.
Go Sit Somewhere Else
Can you sit in the balcony at church? Is there a room where you can still see the service but not be in the sanctuary? Can you walk the child around but still hear the message?
At some point you have to feed yourself spiritually as a mother. If it means you are walking the child around to keep him/her happy so you can hear the sermon, that’s what has to happen. I’ve had some Sundays where my main goal was to focus on training my child. Other Sundays I desperately needed the encouragement of listening to a sermon, so I knew I would be walking the child around so I could hear.
I’ve even brought my Tula carrier to church and carried our youngest in that, just to give my arms a break.
Whatever you do, try to avoid the nursery full of toys if you are in the middle of teaching them to sit still. Right now I’m trying hard not to bring Sophia in the nursery, but instead take her to an overflow room that has a tv to watch the service so she is still learning we have to sit. When you take them to the nursery any sort of training for the day is gone when they see the toys. 🙂 If it’s a younger child and your goal is not for them to sit still yet, by all means use the nursery if need be.
Bring a Church bag
I have a special bag that I’m using just for Sophia right now. It’s full of quiet activities that keep her busy in church. I will say you really have to know the personality of your child when you decide on bringing a busy bag along. For some of my children it just made it worse. They became so distracted with everything that they never sat still and it was easier to just train them to sit on my lap.
Sophia is so incredibly busy that this slows her down, and we managed to make it through a Sunday morning and Sunday evening service in church recently! I was thrilled. 🙂
I found a steal of a deal on this Matilda Jane Messenger bag this year! Normally a $75 bag, I got it brand new for $15! This is our church bag, and I love carrying it because it’s so pretty!
Here are things I put in a church bag:
Coloring books – I’ve found that the smaller the coloring book, the easier it is for a toddler to quietly use it in church. Here is a cute coloring book that is a smaller size for a toddler.
Melissa and Doug Water Wow Books – These are the best ever! Just make sure the little water pen is full and this will keep your child busy! Sophia loves the one she has and I’m getting her more for Christmas.
Sticker Books – This keeps Sophia busy for quite awhile! She loves putting stickers on her hands and arms, and on paper. Then she peels them off and puts them back on her hands. Anything to keep her busy and quiet! You could look at the dollar store to stock up on inexpensive stickers.
Board Books – Sophia absolutely loves the Fisher-Price Little People books. I’ve tried different books and these by far keep her quiet and busy the longest. She loves all the flaps to lift up and every page has so many different pictures for her to look at. I definitely recommend these books for church! You can see the whole list of the Little People books here.
Magnetic Dolls – Don’t bring the whole set along as that could get overwhelming. I have picked out one magnetic doll and a handful of clothes to bring along, just enough to keep her busy without dropping tons of pieces and sorting through a whole box of clothes.
Notepad and crayons – Sometimes they just want to doodle on plain white paper! Don’t forget to throw in a simple notepad in the bag.
The important thing is to not let your toddler be in control of the bag, and only get one thing out at a time! If the toddler has the bag they are easily distracted and they start pulling out all the toys at once.
We don’t do snacks in church when they are toddlers, it’s just what our family has decided on.
Teach them to sit still on your lap and on the pew.
I’m finding that my five year old is struggling to sit still in church right now. We recently started attending a new church and we don’t have our extended family there. She used to sit on her Aunt or Nana’s lap almost every service, and now that she doesn’t have that it’s a struggle for her.
Make sure that as they get older they can quietly sit next to you, as well as on your lap. Snuggles are lovely, but if you are having more babies you really need that older one to sit still in a pew.
Encourage the Positive Behavior
If you are teaching an older child to sit still make sure you encourage the positive behavior instead of just threatening what their punishment will be if they don’t sit still. Using the Little Character Badges chart for children ages 3-5 is an excellent way to do this! Use the empty line on the chart to write the goal for the child, and encourage them through daily sit time at home.
I hope this gives you some ideas! Teaching children to sit still doesn’t happen overnight – it takes a lot of hard work but the end result is worth it!
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