Thursday, January 12, 2012

Toddler Training Series: Training Toddlers to Sit Still in Church

We have seven children. Currently, their ages are: 14, 9, 7, 5, 2, 2, and -- you guessed it!-- 2.
Here they are, in birth order---even though their heights don't show it!

All seven of our children sit with us during Sunday worship services. We have on occasion used a nursery and I currently serve in the nursery twice a month, so obviously we are not opposed to church nurseries. :) It is just our preference to worship the Lord together, as a family.

It can be quite a challenge to keep one baby quiet for any significant amount of time ---multiple children can make it overwhelming. Over the years (with various babies and ages of toddlers) we've found several things that help with keeping our littlest ones still and quiet during the services.

1) Teach OBEDIENCE first.

Now, I am not talking about teeny-tiny little babies. This series is geared toward toddlers, so I'm talking about the 12 months and up stage.

But, if you have not taught your little one to obey you in simple little commands.....sitting still and quiet during church might be near impossible. :) As they learn that they must listen and obey, however, you will find they will sit quietly longer and longer.

2) Have REALISTIC expectations.

I have been in a couple of churches where a whole row of little ones sat perfectly still with their hands folded during the entire service. I have also overheard the amount of spankings the parents had to administer in order to gain such behaviour. :(  This is not what I am advocating.

Little ones are just that: little ones. They have not yet "put away childish things" and we are foolish to expect them to act like adults.

Our little ones (the youngest four) are not perfectly still or quiet, nor do they fold their hands and look straight ahead for over an hour. (Let's be honest, folks----that would be a difficult accomplishment for many grown adults! :))

We expect that they will wiggle a bit or occasionally make a little noise. It does not anger us if they need to be taken out of the service, because they are little and our ultimate goal is to enjoy church as a family, not have a row of robotic children.

That being said, I have also seen toddlers that acted completely wild during a service---talking, crying, getting up and down, throwing things, etc.

 It is realistic to teach your little one not to do such things during church.

3) Teach your toddler to Sit on your Lap.

It's oh-so-simple, I know, but truly one of the things that will really help during a long time of sitting.

To accomplish this, I start when our babies are around a year old. I will put them on my lap and say "Time to sit with Mommy!" I don't mind if they wiggle or play with a small toy, but I don't allow them to get down until I am ready for them to do so. At first, I only expect a short amount of time. I wait until they're past the "I want to get down NOW!" arching of the back and then expect them to sit a little while longer. As soon as they do so, I praise them, make a big deal of obeying Mommy, and promptly put them down. Once the baby has the concept ---they must stay until Mommy wants them to get down---I can sit through meals and church and such with them on my lap.

This isn't a discipline issue, just a positive training one. Mommy wants you to sit for a little while, without fussing to get down. If you fuss, you don't get down. Simple as that. :)

Babies and Toddlers are bright, and they catch on quickly to this. I certainly don't mind non-verbal communication (ie, reaching for the floor or squirming to get down) but when Mommy says NO, it always means NO. :)

4) Bring along a Quiet Bag.

I must admit, I had very, very strict expectations with my first two children. I was determined that they would sit quietly without any distractions and such......I regret my unrealistic expectations.

I started the Quiet Bag when our third child, Noah, came along. We've used it ever since and it has worked wonders for our little ones.

The Quiet Bag is a special bag that remains in the van, to be used only when we are in church or another quiet setting (doctor's appointments, etc). There are colorful toddler-safe Bible story books and some picture books as well. I keep gum or mints in the bottom of the bag to pass out to quiet children. :) I sometimes also put little bags of crackers in the bag (for the 2 year olds only).

Often I will sit a toddler on my lap, hold a book open, and slowly turn the pages for them to view. I point to interesting things on the page or hold their finger and help them point. I'm able to look straight ahead and focus on the sermon while the child is sitting quietly with something to look at.

 5) Take a noisy or defiant child out of the service.

Out of respect for our Pastor and other members in the church, we don't allow our little ones to make alot of noise. We remove them if our efforts to keep them quiet aren't working.

However, it is not effective to take a young child out of a church service for misbehaving and put them in the nursery---where they can play instead of sit! :)

If we have to take one of our children out of the service, we either give them a very firm rebuke ("We must sit quietly in church! Shhh! No fussing!" and try again, or we take them to another (boring) room and have them sit quietly there. (For a young child--under 2---we would hold them on our laps. Our over 2's sit on a chair alone.)

They quickly learn that there is no quiet bag or treats if they have to leave the service. :)

It is helpful to sit near an exit door in case you need to slip out.

6) Praise good behavior.

We make a big deal of our littles sitting quietly through church. During the service, we will smile at them, pat their heads, or snuggle for a minute. I will whisper "You are doing a great job!" 

After church, we verbally praise the ones who sat still and, especially with our toddlers, we get all excited and clap our hands. They learn that it is a good thing and that Daddy and Mommy are proud of them. Usually, we reward them with a little outside playtime before we head for home.

** I do realize that this post may not be relevant to some. Perhaps you are not a church member, or you prefer to put your children in the church nursery instead of keeping them with you. For the sake of those who do desire integrated family worship, I wanted to include this post in the Toddler Training Series.

** BTDT Mommys: I would love for you to add your thoughts to the comment section. Let us know what works for you! :)


  1. I think you are right when you said that when you praise children for doing things right in Church. It encourages them to do it again! I am so glad this works!

  2. Love this post! We did the quiet bag as the boys were growing up. They learned to sit quietly early on. I never thought about not sending them to nursery after making a fuss...we never had to deal with that, but it totally makes sense. No reward for misbehavior!

  3. We always visited the potty before Church getting up and down to go to the bathroom. I always told my children that if you could sit through a movie with popcorn and a coke and never leave you can sit through church as you are not eating or drinking anything!

  4. As a childcare provider, I can quickly spot the difference in children who attend church and sit through services vs. those who do not. The church kids have longer attention spans, pay more attention to what I say, follow the rules better and have more patience.

  5. LOVE this post! I love positive expectations and praise for doing the right thing - and correcting them immediately and in a quiet voice. I keep a 'quiet bag' in the car for such times - I too believe they're children and need to learn. I think about how I want them to parent their children when they're older....

  6. I have 10 kids and I always say I wouldn't have them if they were driving me nuts. One of mine has ADHD. Now he is 25 y.o. When he was in Kindergarten we were in church. Later I became friends with one of the teachers. She said she saw him sitting perfectly still in church with me the entire service. She said she was thinking "That is the same kid terrorizing the entire K-center?" So I could make him mind, but the teachers couldn't. ADHD is a different game though! I'm praising God I only had one with it.

  7. Thank you for this! I often feel alone in our pursuit to sit as a family in church. We are going to try the things you mentioned. Thanks so much!

  8. Thank you! We rarely go to church now and used to go EVERY Sunday. I feel bad and I go by myself sometimes but I want us to go as a family. We will try these tips. My son is one that will not sit still at all unless he's eating. He can't eat the entire service so he's usually outside with my husband half way through. He's 1.5 but still non-verbal so it's still kind of hard to communicate but I know he understands me, he just can't communicate back.

  9. This is phenomenal! I love how simple it is. Now I just have to be patient and try my very best. Pray for me! :)
    -New mommy of 1 toddler

  10. I thank you so much for telling your story... now I know I am on the right track with my 15 mo old. I have always believed that children should learn to sit and behave with the parents during church. This was how I and my siblings were brought up. But now, baby day--care at church is so pushed on us, I have been regretfully taking him down to the day care during the sermon and fighting with the staff to stay with him ( we are against leaving our little ones with anyone other than family until they can talk). I have actually stopped going the past couple of Sundays because of the stress. Every time I am in church all of the ushers, one by one, pressure me to take him down to day care. I believe I will now do as my heart has been leading me and began teaching him again. Thank you so much.

  11. I have a 3,2 and 1 year old. Thank you for your insight. Church has been a struggle and your post gives some great ideas!


I welcome any and all comments as long as they are Christ-honoring. Please let me know what you think!