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    Training Children to Sit in Church: A Retrospective

    December 7, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    Did you notice I said retrospective? That is significant, because it’s past tense…and I cannot believe it. It almost feels accidental, like when some babies have their last nursing session, but Mommy doesn’t realize it until it is time for the next nursing and Baby refuses. One Sunday, I was wrestling in the Cry Room with an unruly little boy, and the next he was sitting on my lap with only the occasional squirm.

    And I have to admit I’m sort of sad.

    Of course, part of that has to do with the fact that we cannot have more children, to which I am still trying to reconcile myself. But part of it is just that this is another page turning in our lives, fairly insignificant in the scheme of Important Events, and yet monumental in its own way. We’re heading to a different part of the journey, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself without a babe in arms.


    As I was saying, our last baby, O.-Age-Two, is now trained to sit in church with the rest of the family. It’s not that we don’t have to remind him of his duty, but he is not so incorrigible that I have to take him out like I used to. It all started five weeks ago. He just sat there, and I didn’t realize he was going to make it through until we reached the closing prayer and we were still in our places. He made it two weeks in a row, but on the third week, he tried to wrestle like he used to. I found myself heading to the Cry Room door, and then it dawned on me: we can’t go back. It would be regression to do so, and even though I sometimes miss sitting in a peaceful rocking chair during the service, surrounded by other mommies, it wouldn’t be doing this admittedly big boy any favors.

    He had proven he could do it, so he was going to have to do it.

    A few years ago, I wrote a post called Training in Churchgoing. In it I delineated three battles that children have to fight in this training process:

    1. Sitting Still and Staying in My Seat. I originally said that these children can be identified by their drawing materials, because they often doodle during the sermon. This is true, but experience has taught me that a child that is beginning the transition from the Cry Room (or having to be taken out of the sanctuary, if no Cry Room is available) needs to have no options available, other than sucking their thumb if they like. Every single one of our children has gone through a time where they needed to have to just sit, and if they thought they had options of some kind, they caused some sort of disturbance.
    2. Listening. Siah has the children narrate a part of the sermon on the way home. I was thinking last night that both of my girls are ready for the Sermon Tally Sheet. I’m going to suggest to my husband that we at least start A. at this task on Sunday. This is where we train the children to listen in church by giving them a list of words and teaching them to put a tally mark by the words each time they hear them. Q.-Age-Three can read the word God for instance, and A.-Age-Five is ready for a few harder words, like Lord or Jesus. As they improve in their reading, the variety of words will be greatly expanded. I read somewhere once that a family had their children draw the church service, but our children all struggle with drawing in the younger years and I think that would be extremely frustrating for them, so we’ll stick to tally sheets.
    3. Understanding and Assimilation into the Soul. This begins to happen at the listening stage, no doubt, but what I mean here is that eventually it isn’t all parent-led. Our oldest child is making this transition, and he will remember the teaching on Sunday, bring it up, and talk about how he is applying what he learned.

    Little O. will be in Stage 1 for quite some time. So far, he seems more like A., who began reading much later than E. and Q. There might easily be another three years before we begin to conquer the listening battle. Of course, maybe he will surprise me and excel at drawing, offering us another venue for training in listening.

    One Last Thought
    I want to write this one out before I forget it. I have a very vivid memory of my most frustrating day in church ever. I was pregnant with Son O. and I was very, very nauseous (something that lasted through all the duration of all of my pregnancies). I was rocking Daughter Q., who was around 15 months at the time. Si was having so much trouble with A., who was about 2-and-a-half, that he sent her into the Cry Room, too. Where were my parents that day? They must have been out of town; I don’t remember. What I do remember is rocking both girls and trying not to vomit, all the while questioning the sanity of this children-in-church idea.

    Fast forward to when O. was a newborn, and I had a similar day. He was just tiny, and I was struggling to get him to nurse. Q. wasn’t trained to sit in church yet, either, because she was only 19-months when O. was born. I was regularly bringing both of them into the Cry Room, usually alternating between who sat in the infant carrier and who I held, depending on need and circumstance. On the hardest of those days, I wondered why we were doing all of this.

    But last week was just grand. O. even tried to sing some of the songs during worship. And each time we prayed, he put his tiny hand in mine.

    All of a sudden, it hit me: this is why we did it.

    In the end, our family gets to worship together in church.

    And it is good.

    It is just as I hoped it would be.

    I know that there will be more battles. Our children are still young, and there will still be bad days. But for the most part, I am so very glad we persevered because the fruit from that tree tastes good and is sweet to my soul.

    More importantly, it is sweet to their souls. This is something that communicates to them that no matter how little they are, they are welcome at God’s table, that we want them there, that they are loved and a part of God’s people.

    When I was in the midst of the struggles, an older mother encouraged me. She said that having trained children is worth it, and that it is sweet to sit together in church in peace, and that the ability to sit still pays dividends elsewhere.

    Everything she told me is true.

    So if you are struggling through your Sundays, please know that all the hard work is worth it. It is sweet to sit together in church in peace, and the ability pays dividends elsewhere.

    It’s true.

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  • Reply Jen Y December 10, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Aw. Thanks, Brandy. I really enjoyed chatting with you after church last Sunday and it is sad for me to know that you won’t be joining us in the Cry Room anymore. Lord willing, I’ve got many more years in there. *sigh* Congrats to you though on reaching this milestone!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 9, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Jen, YOU were another reason why I was sad. 🙂 I thought, “I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye!” I am going to miss all the mommy moments in the Cry Room together with you and the others, even though it is a joy to sit together as a family…

  • Reply Jen Y December 8, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Thanks, Brandy, for the encouragement! It sure is helpful to see those on the other side of this battle & know that our hard work really will pay off. Someday I WILL get to sit next to my husband in church–with our kids!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 8, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Sara, That is too funny!

    My three-year-old screamed at me during E.’s choir concert on Sunday night. I was trying to help her off with her coat, and apparently had hold of her shirt, too. I wasn’t paying attention, and evidently she thought I was going to undress her in public! This was her subtle way of letting me know. 🙂

    By the way, can I just say that I admire your courage? I remember one time on Amy’s Humble Musings that she said that she wasn’t sure who invented the family integrated church, but she was postive it wasn’t a single parent. That is SO true. I have trained our children, yes, but it was hard and I had my husband right there in the pew with me. You are a brave woman!

  • Reply sara December 8, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Last Sunday my three kids and I (my husband is not a Christian and also works on Sundays) visited a new church. They were fidgety and squirmy and up and down in the pew and then, right in the middle of the sermon, the five-year-old yelled, “Harry bit me!” We left shortly after that. Too bad too, because what I could hear of the sermon was pretty good. Maybe we’ll try again next week.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 7, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Good idea, Amy!

    I told my husband about this discussion, and he thought that, for our five-year-old daydreamer, the tally sheet will also help build her attention habits more than the narration does. This is probably because for “narration” we only say to the little girls “tell us one thing you remember from the sermon.” It is our oldest who actually narrates anything of magnitude.

    Can I tell you what a comfort it is to hear that your daughter doesn’t like to draw? I must be surrounded by natural art talent, and I sometimes feel like there is something wrong that, so far at least, we are late bloomers in this area.

  • Reply Amy December 7, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    I think it would be an interesting experiment to ask for a narration on weeks they do the tally sheet and the weeks they don’t to compare if it them focus and remember.
    When my children were 2 & 3 and now with our youngest, when we read long passages of Scripture together, we give them words to listen for (very similar to your Tally Sheet idea). We’d have them raise their hands when they heard the words (this wouldn’t work at church obviously!), but I felt it was a helpful practice in training them to sit still and be quiet when listening to God’s Word. They’ve graduated to being able to narrate the Scripture passage, but not sermons yet.
    My five year old sits with us during the service but she doesn’t like to draw either! She does write the words she hears and also writes things like “I love God, I love mommy” and does her own bit of copywork from one of our prayers or the Bible, all on her own-doing. If she were doing this still when she was 15 I’d be concerned but now, I like that she is connecting in someway with the passage.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 7, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Amy–You’re right! I hadn’t really thought about that! Thank you for pointing that out. See, we haven’t actually started that with our girls. Son E. started reading really young, so we did that before I really knew what narration was. I am thinking we might alternate weeks–have some weeks with narration and some with tally sheets. One of the side benefits of using tally sheets was that once my son was old enough to write, he immediately began using the sermon outline (most of the pastors at our church use a fill-in-the-blank type outline with room for other notes). I think that the tally sheet aided in his taking “notes” so young. But you are totally right–just listening for words might prevent hearing context, so we should probably alternate.

    I actually think that children who aren’t frustrated by drawing like mine would do better with just drawing the sermon, because when little kids draw, they are trying to capture action and therefore context. They will draw something and when they tell you what it is, they tell you a whole story. I would think that’d transfer to the sermon; at least they might draw a whole sermon illustration or Bible story or something like that. I wish my children naturally liked to draw, but this seems to be a genetic weakness as so far they all have this problem…

  • Reply Amy December 7, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks for the ideas. How wonderful to all be able to worship together. I was just wondering about the Tally Sheet…doesn’t it get them just to listen for words and not the main idea or truth that they hear? Can they still narrate what they heard?

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