We aren’t church nursery people. There’s no judgement in that statement; we just choose to keep our kiddos in church with us. A question we get a lot when we tell people that is, how?? How do you keep your 2 year old in church for 2 to 3 hours every Sunday? It’s not an easy task to keep a toddler in church (and it doesn’t always go smoothly), but we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve…
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First Things First: Why
Quickly after people ask how we keep our daughter in church, they ask why? After all, church nursery is fun and it would give us a nice break and she would get to play with other kids. All of those are true, but we have two big reasons we don’t put our kids in the nursery.
First, our girl has never liked to be away from mom and dad. That, combined with the fact that she nursed during church for over a year, has caused us to just accept the fact that she’ll always be with us in church.
Second, we want our family to be fed spiritually together. Of course we understand that our two year old isn’t taking in most of what our pastor says, but this is setting the foundation for the next few formative years, where our kids will begin to be fed the Word of God. That’s a huge reason we want them to be with us, in church, so that we are all growing together spiritually as a family unit.
Now that we’ve got our why covered, let’s look at how to keep your toddler in church.
Let ‘Em Move
This should be a given, but don’t expect your toddler to sit completely still on the seat next to you for a couple of hours. For most kids, that’s almost impossible. Many parents prefer to sit in the back because of this. We don’t sit in the back, but we do sit on the wall end of a row so that our girl can go in and out of our row. She frequently sits on the floor against the wall, which is totally okay with us!
Also, allow your little one to climb in and out of the chair/pew as they wish. If they want to play on the floor, so be it. Obviously as they get older, you’ll work on church etiquette, but my philosophy is that if they’re quiet and entertaining themselves, I can’t be too picky.
Be Willing To Interact
The reason most parents give up on keeping their little ones in church is because they can’t get their kids to play independently and let them listen to the sermon in peace. I understand that frustration well, but you have to be willing to interact with your kids.
You should absolutely encourage independent play, and I hope some of the next few suggestions will help with that, but they may need some of your attention as well. I regularly end up reading to or coloring with my daughter during church. Sure, I miss out on some preaching, but if it helps her to stay calm in church, then I’m willing to take one for the team. It’s just for a season, after all.
And all the church mamas said, AMEN!
Not only should you be prepared with snacks, but we do “diaper bag only” snacks, which means our daughter doesn’t get these snacks on just a regular day at home. They stay in the diaper bag, which we usually only take to church and a few other outings. That makes them more special and they tend to hold her attention longer. Our current favorites are Goldfish, Cheerios, and Craisins.
(Tip: Take more than one kind of snack. That way, if they get bored with one, they can switch to the other. It’s all about distraction.)
Our girl loves to color, so this is a must-have! We just take a notebook and a bag of crayons. We’ll also sometimes keep a few colored pencils in the bag as a “special” treat.
Something else we’ve been taking recently is her electronic writing tablet. It’s basically a fancy etch-a-sketch, and it is a LIFESAVER! She loves it, and we don’t have to keep track of crayons or worry about running out of paper. I highly recommend getting one for each of your kids! (But be prepared for dirty looks because people think it’s an actual tablet! Haha!)
We are big on reading at home, which means we always take a few books in the diaper bag because our daughter loves them. As she’s gotten older, she now picks the books that she wants to take, but when she was younger, I would just pick 4 or 5 of her favorites and toss them in the bag.
Our success with books varies, but they’ll usually give us at least of few minutes of calm while she looks through them. Some weeks, though, she wants me to read to her the whole time, which I don’t always love. Again, though, this is a season, so I try to at least meet her halfway and read a couple of them.
Don’t forget the toys! Find something that your kiddo loves that doesn’t make noise and you’ve got the perfect toy to take to church. A few things that have been successful for us:
- Baby dolls
- Plastic animals
- Old cell phones
- Stuffed animals
- Zippered bag with small toy inside
I just keep a few of these in the bottom of the diaper bag and pull them out one at a time as I see my daughter starting to get bored/restless. It’s almost a surprise for her every time, which makes it even better!
So maybe this is just my kid, but she loves to have a wipe to clean herself, her toys, her chair, etc. Of course we have a limit on how many she can have (only 2 per service), but it’s one of her favorite things to do during church.
(Side note: I’m pretty sure we have the cleanest section of the wall in the whole building now!)
Call it a bribe if you will, but I prefer the term incentive. Our church has a small playground outside, and our daughter knows that if she stays in church and is calm the whole time, she can go outside and play for a few minutes when church is over. It’s a small thing for us, but it makes her really happy and motivates her to be calm and happy throughout service.
Leave For A Few Minutes
This *may* be counterproductive, depending on your child. When our daughter was younger, we couldn’t take her out of service and bring her back, because she thought if we left once, we were done. But as she’s gotten older, we’ve learned that when she starts to get worked up, we can take her out and calm her down, then come back in and it’s a do over for everyone.
Note: we don’t take her out and let her play for a few minutes. That will most likely backfire. We have a small church, so we either take her to the fellowship hall or out to the car (places that are not exciting) and just talk to her, let her calm down, etc.
A Few Other Notes
We don’t use electronics during church. While our daughter might not be learning anything specific during service, we don’t want her to be so invested in a screen that she doesn’t have the opportunity to hear what is being said.
I just want to say again that I’m not anti-church nursery. I’m actually the Nursery Director at our church. It’s a wonderful resource. If you choose to use the nursery when your kids are young, I’m sure that’s a great choice for your family, and I hope these tips help you whenever you begin the transition to “big church.”
Finally, remember to keep appropriate expectations for your child. It wasn’t until 18 months that we saw any improvement in this area, and it was closer to 22 months when our daughter could consistently make it through an entire church service. We also keep in mind that if we had a late night on Saturday or she isn’t feeling quite herself, she may struggle more with being calm and quiet, and that’s okay. Our expectation is for her to do her best, and that varies from week to week.
So tell me: how do YOU teach your toddler to sit through church? Any other tricks that I need to know about?
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