Welcome to Educated, Common Sense Parenting! This is my parenting education/commentary blog. Start here and read About This Blog.

I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Church Behavior

Our family has been going to church religiously (tee, hee!) since January of this year. I look back at the timing of our decision--4 year old and a 10 month old in tow--I wonder why we choose THAT particular time. Who knows, maybe it was some sort of "calling" but I couldn't be happier with our decision.

For me, it doesn't really really matter what age your child(ren) are. No time to go to church with kids is ideal, especially when your church doesn't have a nursery--ours doesn't. It's always going to take some work, effort and planning. So if you decide to make church a part of your life, just go for it! Don't keep waiting thinking things will get easier. I look around our church and see people with their 3, 4, 5, 6 kids all lined up in the pew, I see many couples with newborns + toddlers in tow....for crying out loud, I see 95 year olds that look like they're living their last day on earth! Surely, I can manage with two semi-well behaved rascals....right?

The first day we decided to attend church, we spent the whole service (our old church's service was over 2 hours long) wrestling a 20lb wailing little beast. Walking inside, outside, anywhere to keep him away from pretty much everyone in the entire congregation so they wouldn't be annoyed with his antics. I was sweating after the last "amen." And please don't ask me what the pastor preached about. I was just saying prayers that he'd hurry and wrap it up!

Fast-forward to this week. I still have a beast, although he's about 8 lbs heavier now! But now he's able to sit for the entire first half of the Mass--about 30 minutes--without any squirming, wailing or other annoying antics that would lend us evil-eye looks from the parishioners. His age certainly isn't making it any easier--with each passing day, he's becoming more physical and active. So why is he "easier" to handle now than 9 months ago when he wasn't even walking?! The answer? Routine. He's used to it. He knows the drill and he's learned to sit--thank you Blanket Time!

Now the next 30 minutes of church is a different story. That's his breaking point. I believe that at 18 months, 30-40 minutes is about all you can expect your child to sit still without getting restless. I am completely happy with 30 minutes. At about age 3, that time will increase and an hour can be expected. If it seems overwhelming to have a 3 year old sit in one place for an entire hour with no true entertainment except for maybe a semi-decent church choir, I can tell you it is most likely possible--if you want to it be.

I will never forget how completely FLOORED I was when I went to Mass with Brooke's preschool class (3 and 4 year olds) and they were all lined up in the pew, quiet as mice for the entire hour. Did they fidget a little? Yes. Did they look around like they were bored out of their minds? Yes. Did a lot of them have to get up and go potty? Yes. But there was no screaming, no tantrums, no talking...and no one fell asleep! I was in awe of those 38 preschoolers! I was even more in awe of the teachers. How DO they get them to do that??! So don't think it's impossible.

Now you might ask why must your child endure an hour (or less, depending on the age) of sitting around "listening" to something they are not developmentally ready to understand? I will write a whole other blog someday about helping little ones get something beneficial out of church messages, but if nothing else, church teaches them one thing plain and simple: obedience. Much like blanket time. Church is just another setting they get used to staying where they are told. I know this sounds pretty harsh and aren't they supposed to ENJOY church and get something out of it? YES! That's definitely possible when they are about 3. Before that, it's pure and simple obedience. That's what they are getting out of it.

The importance for a child to be able to sit in one place for a long period of time has never been so apparent to me than over the past month as Brooke started Kindergarten. I don't know how much we all remember about Kindergarten back in our day, but I remember nap time, snacks and lots of playing outside with tricycles. A lot has changed. Kids are being asked to sit for long periods of time, even in Kindergarten, writing, listening and participating. After all, they need to be reading at the end of Kindergarten now! Even if kids have had the preschool experience, Kindergarten is a whole different ball game.

As they progress through the grades, the sitting and listening part gets even longer, with college being the pinnacle. Think about how many lecture halls you've endured...just sitting....and listening. No, it's not always fun. It's a skill. It's a skill that can be developed from a very young age. Going to church and blanket time are great ways to start developing this skill. Is it easy? Nope! I won't lie. But how many times have I said, who told you parenting was easy???

I have some tips of taking toddlers to church below. With kids 3 and up my expectations are much higher as they are now emotionally and developmentally ready to get something out of church. It's still about obedience, but at age 3+ church needs to become more about the "why" we go to church, too. More on that later.

Here are some tips. Good luck! I'll be saying prayers for you :)

Church Tips of Toddlers (6 months to 3 years)

1. Food/Snacks. Hands down, the biggest savior (no pun intended). Our church has a no eating policy that I choose to disregard because at this age, it's all about distraction. :) And common sense here, please! We were at church the other day and some lady had brought two bags of potato chips for her kids to eat....is there anything louder than a rustling potato chip bag?! Not to mention greasy. I know we all love a greasy hymnal! Really, people!

2. Sit close to the back, for an easy exit. And definitely sit on the aisle!

3. Be consistent. If you just go at Christmas and Easter, don't expect your child to behave. They need routine to get used to things by going each week.

4. Have a church-only bag of 2-3 toys or books. I'm not big on bringing the whole toy box to church. It can be loud, distracting and messy. Just pick a couple of things you know your child will enjoy and pack them into a bag or purse. Let them only play with these things during church or rotate the toys each week so the novelty doesn't wear off.

5. Make the most of the music! Most kids love music. Sing, dance and sway with them during songs.

6. Start with low expectations and work your way up. Just like with blanket time, start with getting your child to sit for 5 minutes. When he's done that, expect 10 minutes, and so on.

7. Try to pick a service that isn't during nap time. This can be hard especially with small churches with only one service, but it always works better when your child is well-rested.

8. Don't get discouraged! It's just like with sleep training--it won't get easier unless you stick with it!!

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