I was sitting in church with my barely 2 year old and 9 month old sons, trying to keep them quiet, as I could see the annoyed looks from the older women around us. I thought, “Why are we even here!? It would be better and easier for everyone if we just stayed home.” Immediately in my head popped the words, “Don’t keep them from Me. They will always be welcome here, just please don’t keep them from Me.” And from that moment on we haven’t missed a Sunday unless we were all too sick to come. Because I knew in my heart that my children needed the chance to get to know Jesus Christ and feel His Spirit as much as they can.
So how in the world can we keep 10 children quiet and still for one hour!? Well we’ve gone through quite a few strategies and here’s my advice. Take it or leave it, take some of it and leave the others, but I will say sometimes you have to try a lot of things that fail to find the few things that work for your family.
I believe the first place to start is to be consistent. The more you go and the more you talk about what’s expected the better they will be. They might test their limits at first, but if you follow through, they will learn and eventually understand what is expected of them. It’s also important to remember that they are still kids and won’t be perfect all the time. Remember to be patient with them and yourself as you work on being consistent.
Second be prepared. We’ve had lessons beforehand during the week about why we go to church and how we talk and how we sit and what we can and cannot do at church. We role played and discussed and then role played some more. Again we go to church every week so it gives them a lot of time to practice what we’ve talked about at home. Did it always work? No, but hopefully it helped the older ones more and the younger usually follow the older siblings’ example. Usually.
Another way to prepare beforehand is to have a bag with a few things to keep them quiet and busy. Now what’s in that bag has changed a lot over the years for us. I’ll tell you what’s working right now and then make a list of things that have worked in the past. Right now we only bring books, I Spy books and books about the scriptures. I have a bin full of these books that I found at thrift stores and I rotate them each week, bringing 9 or 10 so everyone can have one. These books are not looked at during the week so they are new and exciting for the kids. Occasionally I’ll bring wooden lacing cards or index cards (they’re cheap) and pencils to shake things up, but 90% of the time it’s books. (We also have diapers and wipes for our little ones and binkies or bottles, whatever the baby at the time needs.)
Throughout the years we’ve tried many ways to help our children be reverent during church. Here are a few, along with why they did or did not work for us:
- Snacks. Pro: it keeps them busy for a while. Con: it makes messes and really it’s not necessary. We feed them something right before and after church, so they’re just fine.
- Mints. Pro: keeps them quiet and entertained whole sucking on it. Con: they either chomped it and asked for another one or spent the entire meeting pulling it out of the mouth and getting everything sticky.
- Extra Wipes. Pro: cheap entertainment for them to wipe everything. Con: I got nothing, I still do this sometimes with my younger kids.
- Coloring Books and Crayons. Pro: works well for some kids and keeps them entertained for long periods of time. Con: our little ones would color on hymn books, themselves, or spill the crayons making a mess.
- Quiet folders. Pro: They don’t take up a lot of room and can keep a child quiet for an extended period of time. Con: our children wanted to tell their brother about what they just did and they were noiser because of them. They also mixed up the pieces often.
- Doodle pads. Pro: great to keep a child quiet and entertained. Con: we have too many children so even if we have 5 they are fighting over them and defeating the purpose we brought them for.
- Magnets. Pro: we often sit on medal chairs and there are plenty of ways to play with them, keeping them entertained. Con: it encouraged our kids on cooperative play, which normally is great, but not when you want them to be quiet.
- Mini Snake Puzzle Toys. Pro: small, relatively cheap, and can entertain a long time because you can change them. In fact I should get some more of these for the rotation, our old ones all broke and I just never replaced them. Con: our smaller kids constantly come to us to make a certain shape often and they can break over time.
- Cars. Pro: Can keep a child entertained quietly for a period of time. Con: unless you’re our children then you make car noises loudly and throw the cars everywhere.
- Notebooks and Pens. Pro: a cheap way to keep them quietly entertaining themselves, that can be reused many weeks in a row. Con: the younger children just go throw and scribble over all the pages then start writing on themselves, their brother, and anyone else or thing they can find.
- Word Search Puzzles. Pro: Cheap when you buy a book from the dollar store and then rip out some pages to bring. Keeps kids entertained for multiple ages; the older kids can use it correctly and the younger can circle all the letters they know or the same letters on a row. Con: I got nothing, I like these for variety sometimes.
- Pictures in Cheap Photo Albums. Pro: Cheap and a good way to use those Christmas cards or family pictures you printed and can help your child with family that’s far away. Con: our smaller children spent the whole time loudly telling us who everyone was over and over.
- Pictures of Christ in Cheap Photo Albums. Pro: It’s cheap and helps your child think of Christ, which is the reason we’re at church in the first place! Con: There is none, I need to get some more pictures and do this.
- Nothing. Pro: Jacob does this if I’m not going because of sickness and he says our kids do just fine without anything. Con: I’m not this brave and need to take a bag anyway for baby supplies so I might as well bring a thing or two.
- Scriptures. Pro: it encourages our children to read the scriptures when they’re “bored.” And reading scriptures is never a bad thing in my opinion. Con: not recommend for smaller kids who would just rip out the pages. Other than that, I love this one too!
Whatever you find that works for you or if you are still trying to find something, please remember that God loves you and your family just the way they are. Don’t let your family situation or your own insecurities keep you from feeling His love for you and your chance to grow closer to Him at church.