Monday, January 19, 2009

Four year olds and church

Some people may disagree with me, but I find small children in church distracting. In theory, it is a good idea to expose little ones to the tradition, routine and content of a worship service but in my experience, it doesn't always work out that way. At least not for my kids. I like that the churches we have been to have been to provided safe, God-centered care for our children while they are too young to enjoy and participate in a full church service. I also appreciate the Sunday School classes that give my children a foundational understanding of why we go to church (as a supplement to what we already do at home). Since Jesse turned four I have been wanting to include him in the church service more as a way of introducing him to what goes on. In our new, small church plant we have been given that opportunity. The four years olds up through third grade remain with the parents for the beginning of the worship service through confession and a kid's sermon given by our pastor. I love our pastor's vision for including the children in the service and was excited to have Jesse start participating once we got the church up and going. But, as Jesse has joined me in the service the past few weeks I am growing more and more annoyed and not at all excited about the prospect. I have not been able to sing a song in it's entirety, pray a prayer with my whole heart or even confess my sins without tending to Jesse- telling him to stop making that noise, sit up, stop snoring, don't kick the seat in front of you, stop playing with your car, we are SUPPOSED to be confessing our SINS now, etc. Matt is usually leading or playing music in the service so it is up to me to make sure Jesse is not distracting me or others around me. Not to mention the kid's sermon. I never know what is going to come out of his mouth when the pastor asks a question. One week I felt like I needed to stand up and make a disclaimer: the views expressed by my four old do not necessarily express the views his parents have taught him. Not to mention the tattling he did b/c his friend wouldn't share this past Sunday.
So, I am wondering if I am expecting too much from my four and half year old son or if I have just done a lousy job of parenting him to sit through a church service. What am I supposed to do? I have tried to explain each part of the service to him, tell him why we are doing certain things, he doesn't seem interested. So, do I keep trying and discipline him when he gets fidgety? Is expecting him to sit and stand at the appropriate times too much? Do I let him lay all over the chairs and play with a car? Should I bring small toys or books for him to look at? I just don't know what to do! We have friends who have taken their child out of the service for some discipline so I thought about doing that this past Sunday. But that would require putting coats and boats on, trekking out to the car and then trekking back. It just adds to the exhaustion! And would I be disciplining him for something that is not age appropriate anyway? I haven't been able to look around and see if other people are having this issue b/c I am too distracted by my own son but I wonder if I am the only one?

Any thoughts?


Amy from Occupation: Mommy said...

I don't have any problem putting my kids in Sunday School instead of taking them to the service. I let them choose if they want to come up for part of the service or if they want to go straight to class. While I agree that they should learn about "the tradition, routine and content of a worship service," I think that it defeats the purpose if they are so bored that they are climbing all over the seats. I just don't want them to think church is boring. I would rather them go to class, learn about Jesus and have fun so that in a few years they will associate church with happiness instead of utter boredom.

But the difference here is that your church has a kid's sermon and tries to involve the children. Maybe you could ask the pastor to move it up in the service? Or maybe use it as a reward, "If you are not able to pray/sing/sit quietly, you will not be able to stay for the kid's sermon." Or maybe just wait a few more months then try again.
Let me know how it goes!

Lisa said...

At our church, nursery ends at 3 yrs old. We started trying to acclimate Geneva a little before that. We'd have her with us for the singing time and if she couldn't make it until the older kids were dismissed for children's church - back to the nursery! So maybe starting younger is helpful, but that doesn't help you now, does it!

I must share this anecdote from last Sunday to let you know you are not alone. During the children's sermon, G-love was on the edge of the group, standing (not sitting like the other children) and she starts checking out things on the communion table, etc. She's clearly not paying attention. She takes a few steps back and peeks behind the pulpit. People are turning to look at us with smiles, finding it amusing while I keep frantically looking to Bob wondering at what point one of us needs to start gesturing for her to sit down or actually go up there and do something! I was so relieved when the pastor finished and there was no damage done. I think he made a joke about Geneva walking off with his sermon.

Anyway, I think as their moms, we are more distracted my our own children than others are. And I don't know about you but I find myself much more easily annoyed during pregnancy. Just being aware of that sometimes helps me catch myself and quickly pray for self-control. So I guess I would encourage you to just try to keep your cool and make the most of the opportunity to teach/train him. Maybe try to emphasize the importance of being quiet during specific times in the service (perhaps confession and prayer) but ease up a little during singing? You will get to sing and pray whole-heartedly again someday. Also, maybe time at home in semi-structured family worship where sitting still is required would be a good opportunity for training (and of course of a blessing).

Kit said...

Oh Jane, I know your pain. I really agree with what Lisa has written. You are more worried about it than others are. And I'm not sure you need to discipline him unless he is just being defiant. We have taken our children out to speak sternly with them. But how will you feel when you come back in? Even more annoyed that you had to miss MORE of the service than you would have originally? He is still a VERY young child. It's so hard to remember that with the first one. I don't think it would be bad to allow him to play with cars quietly or draw or read. We still allow Theo to draw and he is 6. I've tended to pick one thing that I insist upon for each child. For example, Theo has to sit and stand at appropriate times, but can draw. With Lucy, it is a free for all, but she is able to be quiet (but not still). Of course, we expect (and get) more from the older ones.
As Lisa said, it won't last forever! I promise!!!! I can actually enjoy church pretty much every Sunday now. I will pray for are in the hard years, you just are. And God will meet you there, He knows you, He cares and He wants to make you more like Jesus! Whew!
Love you!

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know what we did, having our 3 sons grow up in church with Daddy as the preacher was not always easy. Our churches that we ministered in had children's church and all 3 boys participated in this more fun and age appropriate way. We let them choose where they would rather be by their personality. James and Jon always enjoyed children's church and attended for a long time (about 4th grade), whereas Joshua quickly adjusted to wanting to be in church with me(with the understanding he has to be somewhat still and quiet, which he did well.) I have been amazed at what he was able to pick up in the different worship environments that we have experienced. It was more his personality that drew him to adult worship. As with James and Jon, they eventually tired of children's worship and joined me for adult worship when they were ready to move on to adult worship I cannot imagine that James at a younger age would have sat through a 45 minute sermon and been happy or gained anything from it, he would have been miserable and I would have too. All three sons have been with me in worship for many years now and are learning and growing more each year.
We needed to provide the best situation for our kids that will help them to learn and to grow spiritually, and we didn't expect them to learn adult ways when they need to learn to be whatever age they are. i think you are building a good foundation at home and you can use your church to build on that foundation, but use whatever situation works best for your child. It is nice to have a church that reaches to the youngest of kids.
Just remember, we don't have to give them all of life's lessons and disciplines is an on going and ever changing process and you have time to work at it, they aren't going anywhere for a while at least.
I am very proud of my three sons and I have learned to relax with them and have fun while we learn to grow as a family in all areas our lives! We have so many people compliment us on our boys and how well the behave, especially during church!! Hope this gives some encouragement! From Aunt Becky

Jane said...

Thanks everyone for the comments! I was talking to Matt about it the other night and he said, as he would, that I just need to accept the fact that I will miss out on some of church for a little while so that Jesse can get used to things. I think that I knew that, I just wanted to be selfish! I do realize that he is only 4 and has never had to sit through this much church before, it will be a learning process for us all! I got a few activity books for him to work on during certain parts of the service and will continue to talk about what we are doing there. I am sure with time, he will get used to things...and maybe even enjoy it!