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Here is an e-mail I received from a dad:
We have three children and one due in January. Their ages are six, four, and one. We have always thought it was important to have our children in church with us so we have done that from the birth of our first child. Not long ago we joined a church that was as close as we could find to what we wanted. Just recently we were asked to put our one-year-old in the nursery because of the noise and distraction he was causing. Could you refer me to any Dad’s Corners that may address this issue? A questioning dad
I agree with this father that it is a wonderful blessing for the family when they can worship together, including the babies and toddlers. However, we have noticed in raising eight children and also observing other families that children don’t automatically know how to sit still and be quiet at appropriate times such as during a church service. Therefore this family with four young ones can expect quite the challenge when bringing the children into a worship service. It is a reasonable request that a child who is disturbing others in the worship service be taken out, at least to a cry room. What saddens me greatly, though, is when a church bans all children from the worship service. If the children are quiet then they should be able to be with their parents. “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The Greek word for suffer is “eao” and means to let be or let alone. Sadly, many try to hinder those who Jesus said we were to, “Let them come.”
In our Maxwell family conferences we have the policy that children are welcome in the sessions. Normally, people are respectful of others and will take a noisy child out to a cry room, or if it is “toddler noise,” they will go stand in the back to avoid being a distraction to those listening to the session. I particularly remember, though, a conference with an extreme disturbance. There was a three-year-old girl angrily screaming while sitting on her daddy’s lap close to the front of the room. She was clearly not happy. The dad was gently trying to “shush” his daughter. His attempts to quiet her didn’t do anything except make her more upset, and so she screamed even louder.
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This dad was provoking his child to wrath, and we were all suffering along with her. The father should have taken his daughter out of the session so as not to distract others and care for the needs of his little girl. After she was calm, then he could have brought her back.
The key we found, and that I encouraged the father who wrote me to use, was practicing at home. A parent shouldn’t be surprised if his child throws a fit in church if he never has been taught to sit quietly. It didn’t sound to me as if the dad who wrote the e-mail had a child who was really carrying on but rather just being a bit noisy. Regardless of how much of a distraction a child might be in a worship service, practice is what is needed to correct the problem. No one puts a child on a bicycle for the first time and expects him to ride it without at least training wheels. So how does someone teach his children to sit quietly in church?
Our nightly family Bible time was an excellent practice opportunity for our young children to learn to sit still and pay attention. For Bible time, we included all our children from newborns on up. (I had to consult with Teri on this section because I found my memory of that time was not accurate.) Until the babies were six or seven months old, they were usually not noisy during family Bible time. As they became more mobile and vocal, the practice was needed. Teri worked with the baby while I led Bible time and concentrated on the other children. We found it reasonable and attainable to have a level of success with little ones by the time they were eighteen months old to sit tolerably quiet in church. However, with a child that young, he was not going to be absolutely perfect so we were sensitive to taking a child out of the worship service if he was noisy.
We found that the consistency of practice during family Bible time every night was the key. Before beginning Bible time, Teri would make sure the baby’s diaper was dry. If he started being noisy during Bible time, she would whisper “Shhh. Shhh.” If the noise continued, she would carry the child to his crib where the room lights were on and leave the room, telling him she would be back for him when he was quiet. She would wait a couple of minutes until he was quiet, walk in the room praising him for being quiet, and bring him back to Bible time to start the process over again. Our babies liked to be with the rest of the family and therefore taking them to the crib was a deterrent to their noise-making during Bible time. It just took a consistent consequence, and they began to learn that they needed to sit quietly. It was a gentle and harmless process, and it worked! It is amazing how smart little ones are.
The key is consistency! We must choose to invest the time and energy necessary for success. I have noticed an interesting facet of men. When something is important to them, they will do it. If they don’t do it, it isn’t important to them. What is more important than a family being together around the Word of God? If we believe that, we will be determined to make it work.
Next month we will continue with this important subject of worshipping the Lord together as a family.