Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Having babies and toddlers in the church service

Today, I wanted to share some advice and realistic expectations regarding having kids in the church service, based on my experience of 21 years as a mother to 12 kids, and 17 years as the pastor's wife at our family-integrated church. 

Once babies outgrow sleeping through the service, and become more active and vocal, it is not realistic to expect them to sit through a church service. Unless they are the rare exception, or have developmental delays, kids that age are hard-wired to explore, move their large muscles, and never sit still. This is perfectly normal, and should not be "disciplined" out of them. Wanting to run and throw things when a toddler has been told to sit still is no more disobedience, than if they were told to not breathe and yet continued to do so. This is even more true for little boys.

Instead, at our family-integrated church, we encourage parents with kids ages 1-3 years to expect to watch/listen to the sermons from the mother-baby rooms (we have two for babies, two for toddlers), or the open areas at the back of the auditorium. It is neither reasonable nor advisable to expect little kids to sit in the service like tin soldiers for 75+ minutes, three times a week. Once they have left the service, they should probably stay out, to reduce the constant and distracting in-and-out traffic during the service. (This does not apply to bathroom/diaper breaks, but rather parents who take their toddler in and out a dozen or more times every service.) If they are screaming their lungs out in the mother-baby rooms, they should be taken all the way outside the immediate vicinity of the auditorium until they settle down. I have had to finish a few sermons listening on my phone in the van while the toddler used the seats as a jungle gym. It's okay!

And yes, while it is possible to train a human child to do just about anything by punishing them if they don't meet our expectations, there is a cost to this, and I for one do not think it is worth punishing a toddler to sit through a service against their natural, healthy bent. One family I knew prided themselves on their kids never leaving the service, and true, their babies sat for every service without moving a muscle. However, these same kids showed majorly troubled social and emotional development. They sat still because it was a survival and coping mechanism. Since it took such great effort for them to exhibit non-age appropriate behavior, every other area had to suffer, much to their detriment.

Every child is different. It is not wise to look at another child, and base your expectations of your child on what some other child is able to do. Discipline is best applied consistently at home, and should be the exception while in public, when parents are likely to be stressed and frazzled.

In my personal experience, we have only had one of our twelve kids happily (and of their own volition) sit through every service, without ever needing a mother-baby room. Every other child has spent the some or most of the service outside the main auditorium from approx. age 8 to 36 months. Basically, we all start out in the main service. The little people usually do well through the singing and announcements, and are ready to go play by the time the sermon starts. But that's ok.

Kids should not be made to dread church, and associate their earliest memories of church with punishment and misery. They can still hear the sermon from the mother baby rooms, and there is plenty of science to support that young kids absorb information best while being allowed to move and wiggle anyway. The goal is for them to grow up and continue in church as adults, for a lifetime. Plenty of good Christians didn't even start going to church until they were adults, and yet, they are able to sit through a service. All is not lost if a 2-year old would rather play than sit through a service. As kids age, they can be expected to do more, but no toddler should be expected to sit through every service, every time.

Hopefully, with everyone's consideration, family-integrated churches can maintain a pleasant atmosphere for all, from the toddlers who need to move, to the parents who can relax, to those with no (or grown) kids who won't be annoyed by the constant commotion.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written article. Blessings to you this new year, d


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