And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. II Chronicles 20:13
Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Psalm 34:11. Respect for God’s house does not just happen. You and I, as parents, have the responsibility to make sure that it happens by your conscious and active training.
Most behaviors are learned between the ages of sixteen months to seven years. Children learn by sending signals to their environment and receiving signals back. Children learn by acting and then watching the reaction of the significant people in their lives.
If they perceive the feedback to be positive and bringing benefits they will continue that behavior. If, on the other hand, they perceive their environment to disapprove and if they do not receive any benefits they will usually stop that behavior.
Remove the benefits from a behavior and you will stop that behavior -unless there is a physical or deep emotional problem feeding it. Show favor and approval when your child behaves and worships in the House of God.
It is because of these facts that we must make it more comfortable for our children in the sanctuary than in the vestibule.
If you have to take a small child out of church to go to the bathroom make it short and do not allow them to play or talk out there. If you allow it to be fun outside of the sanctuary you only prolong the battle, for they will naturally want to go out. If you give them more attention—negative or positive, outside than inside -they will want to go out.
I, personally, spanked in the bathroom for naughty behavior in the church – but I made sure I also gave a lot of “skin treatment” in the sanctuary. What is“skin treatment?” When your small child becomes restless, try keeping your eyes and mind on the preacher but cuddle the child, lightly stroking their arm or lower leg. They love this attention and it does not disturb the service or take your mind from the message. They usually will become perfectly quiet for short periods of time.
My advice, after working with children for fifty years:
- Always sit together as a family in church.
- Expect your child to stand when the congregation stands and sing when the saints sing.
- When you go to the altar –take your children with you, layng your hands on them as you pray blessing on them.
- Give you child the tithe envelope and let him/her put it in the offering plate.
- Every time the offering plate is passed give your child at least a dollar to put into the offering plate.
- Never allow your child to play with cell phones or iPads – set the example yourself.
Let’s now look at the issue of bringing toys for toddlers to church.
Before you do bring a toy, be certain to check with your Pastor as to his feelings and beliefs. Personally, I do not like the idea of toys in church but I recognize due to a very short attention span, a single soft toy might be appropriate for a two or three year old.
If your Pastor approves, you might use the following as guidelines:
- Church is a place of worship (Exodus 40:34). Do not bring toys for children over four years of age. Separate children if possible. Do not allow them to play with a toy together.
- All items connected with worship are sacred. Do not allow a child to play with, or to write on a Bible, songbooks or tithe envelopes. (Exodus 40:9)
- ‘Two and three year olds’ – I have seen cloth books with buttons, zippers and all kinds of fasteners etc. If you cannot find one – then bring only one soft toy. Make it a special toy—a toy that he/she cannot play with at home. Change it often.
- ‘Four and five year olds’ you might buy them a special Bible coloring book kept just for church. They do not need more than two or three crayons. It is also time to limit the snacks.
- ‘Five and six year olds’ could graduate to a special Bible picture book that they can use only during church.
- ‘Seven and eight year olds’ should be expected to begin to listen and to take an active part in worship.
Not only do we want our children to behave in church, we want them to value church and to begin to worship in church for themselves.
Values are learned, primarily, from ages seven through fifteen as they observe and copy the values of those who are important in their lives. [Pastors: Include the children and teens in your sermon and in the service.]
Respect for the house of God is a value. That is why it is so important, we, as parents and saints, model respect in front our young people. Talking and loud laughter in the sanctuary sends a strong message to our children that this is appropriate behavior in church.
If we want our children to worship, they should see us worship. If we want them at the altar they should see us at the altar. If we want them to give they should see us give.