Twilight and Children in Church sure bring ’em in!

Wow!  Apparently nothing brings ’em in quite like Twilight and talking about children in church!  This blog had a record day Friday and a record Sabbath yesterday.

I won’t say much more on Twilight.  Many of you wrote in very kind things (both here and on Facebook) and I appreciate your encouragement.  No one wrote in to disagree, yet I figure surely someone does — for those who do disagree but who did not “flame” me, my thanks for your restraint!  Judging from what I’ve seen on TV, et al. those who love the stories seem to really love them, so I’m sure that criticism isn’t easy to hear.  I know that if someone had attacked Calculus, Newton, and Leibniz with the same intensity, I’d probably have to bite my tongue (yet, I do hope I would still listen, just in case I really did need to learn).  Actually, a special thanks goes out to the woman who wrote me privately to say that she was enthralled with both the whole series of books and now the movies until looking at it more deeply and then repenting of those choices: you spoke honestly about these things out of a personal, intimate experience in a way that I could only approximate in my own comments.  I appreciate your sharing that.

However, I will say more about the “children in church” topic.  I wasn’t so surprised by the page views on the Twilight post, given that it is the current rage du jour.  But the page views on the “children in church” topic was incredibly high, as well!  Maybe the WSJ author was right and there really is a burning question out there on the topic.

Even more of you commented to me on the “children in church” topic than on the Twilight one — some here on the blog, but by far more on Facebook and in e-mails.  Most of you related your own experiences, but some of you wanted more details about what my wife and I did when the kids were small.  I elaborated a bit in the comments on that post, but let me add more details here.

My wife and I knew that if we and our children were going to enjoy more stress-free years ahead in church services we needed to train them early.  And we had learned from the example of others, enhanced by the fruit of our own mistakes, that teaching a child to consider a blanket to his space to play quietly for a time was the way to go.

(Before I proceed, let me recognize that children differ from child to child and that I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.  These things worked for us, and while the principles are hopefully sound, the application might differ (even greatly) from child to child.)

Here are the key points we incorporated.

  • Practice during the week.  Around midday while I was off in Actuary Land, my wife would practice quiet time with the little ones.  Not always the same length of time as services and not always playing a sermon tape during that time, but doing something to establish a pattern so that when the Sabbath rolled around the children weren’t expected to behave dramatically differently than they do all week long.  This seemed important, and ignoring it would have felt like setting them up for failure — expecting them to “perform” without “practice.”(A side note:  The idea of quiet time — even when naps were outgrown — remained beneficial.  Even now at 12, 10, 8, and 6 years of age, there are those times during the day when the young XY-chromosome-produced cacophony makes you say, “Enough!!! Find something quiet to do!!!”)
  • When a child would persistently make a noise during that time, we would move to our first stage of intervention: place our finger on their lips and quietly say “shhhh.”  I’m sure you know the universally recognized “shhhh” gesture, with a finger held to your lips.  Well, that is what we would do with them, except with our finger.  I felt that — especially given their very young age — the tactile sensation on their lips and the sense of request that they must have picked up from our face and tone would help to connect the two things.This alone often made a big difference, and though it usually needed doing a few times each service, it usually was enough to do the trick and did so in a manner that kept baby happy, Mom and Dad happy, and those around us without distraction.  (Or minimally distracted, I hope!  Dallas folks, feel free to write in and let me know if we failed and don’t know it!  I can take it!)
  • When those were not sufficient to keep the child quiet or when he seemed determined to crawl off of the blanket no matter how many times we scooped him up and redeposited him back onto it, one of us would move our things to the hall to camp out.  At the time, Dallas did not have anything to serve like a Parent’s Room, so the hall had to do!  Almost right across from the water fountain actually.  (Ahhh, good times…)Our concern was that if we stayed in the main hall, the constant picking up of the kiddo and putting him back onto the blanket would eventually become too distracting, so moving things out into the hall solved that.  It gave us the freedom to keep picking him up and putting him back on the blanket — oh, I don’t know — 800 to 900 times in a row without distracting the people around us.  Thankfully, none of my kids ever seemed to think it was a game, which would have made it worse.  I imagine they would just begin crawling off and then find themselves back in the middle of their blanket wondering, “How did I get back here?”  (Aggies — like their dad!)It also gave us the freedom (and room!) to sit on the floor right next to him and pat his back or make his toys more interesting to them.  We didn’t want being in the hall to be unpleasant, necessarily, but at the same time we didn’t want going out to the hall to be a reward either.  Whether we struck the right balance, I don’t know, but the results were great and have continue to be so.

So, a lot of Sabbaths were spent almost entirely sitting in the hallway in Dallas next to the water fountain, repeatedly picking up kiddos and putting them back onto the blanket, or patting backs until our arms felt as though they were going to give out.  We certainly weren’t perfect, but at least we had a plan.  And, little Aggies or not, they did get it after a while, whether because of us or in spite of us!

My many thanks to those of you in Dallas during those years who did not laugh at us when you came out to visit the restrooms or the water fountains.  (Well, at least not pointing and laughing, anyway!)

Again, with your own kiddos you may need to do something totally different.  You know them better than anybody.  However there are two things I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone…  (1) Be patient and recognize that you’re going to miss a good number of Sabbath services.  It really is just one chapter in your life, and the time that you spend out in the hall or in the parents room or wherever you spend it lovingly and patiently bringing that little kiddo of yours back to his blanket and patting or rubbing his back until he finally goes to sleep will be well worth it in the years ahead.  And (2) making sure that whatever behavior you expect during services (playing quietly, staying on a blanket or in a chair, juggling chainsaws, etc.) is being amply practiced at home for equivalent periods during the week.  Expecting such behavior only on the Sabbath with six days of “do whatever you want” between Sabbaths is a recipe for failure and for frustrating your little kiddo (not to mention you!)

I hope this helps!  Maybe those of you with a different approach can offer something in the comments (or, what will be more likely, in the thread where this may appear in Facebook).  The more examples young families have to draw on and learn from, the more success they’ll see!  🙂

Finally, someone asked me what happened the day I had to pause in my sermon to address a situation while my wife was outside the room.  Actually, some of you in Columbia may remember this better than I do, but from my recollection the youngest boy — among other in-seat contortions he was working on — had actually turned around in his chair so that his back and head were on the seat and his feet where on his brother’s head and neck, trying to “playfully” provoke him.  (How my kids could turn a single seat into a jungle gym, I have no idea.  Their bones at that age must have been made of linguine.)  Apparently, his “gumption meter” was pegged that day!

I didn’t have to do much — I simply moved my head off to the side a bit from the microphone, called him by name, and told him to stop.  When he heard me and saw me looking at him, he sat up, and that was the end of that.  Still, even though I got back the sermon in short order I will readily admit that my mind wasn’t into it for the first few moments (sorry, Columbia!).  Inside I was terrified that I might have embarrassed him by calling out his name in front of everyone like that.  I was easily embarrassed as a kid, and I tend to project that concern onto my own kiddos pretty readily.

But I needn’t have worried — he weathered it just fine (little stinker), and when Mom got back she didn’t even know anything had happened until I told her after church.  I’m just glad that he didn’t a taste for fame and notoriety out of it! 🙂

Our kids have been such a gift.  From Boy #1’s faithful diligence, to Boy #2’s probing questions, to Boy #3’s endless testosterone, and to Boy #4’s potential for surprise hugs and kisses, I will say that I am delighted God saw fit to grant them to an unworthy soul like mine.  And having them in church with us every Sabbath instead of off doing something else really is a wonderful blessing.

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One thought on “Twilight and Children in Church sure bring ’em in!

  1. I remember reading a child development book how toddlers only have a short term memory. Parents constantly have to remind them, because their little brains aren’t fully devloped. Constant reinforcement helps their little neurons to make connections.

    That help me a lot when dealing with my little nephews. We love repitition!

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