If I were to walk into a sacrament meeting and see children sitting quietly, engaged by the sacrament speakers instead of their Cheerios or coloring books, I would probably die of shock. Children just aren’t equipped with the ability to sit still and listen to religious vernacular (or anything) for extended periods of time. (For that matter, most adults even struggle.)
Just because kids have a hard time sitting still doesn’t mean they lack faith, but it does mean your task of keeping peace in the chapel is harder. Here are some ideas that might prevent icy stares from fellow ward members:
Life gets busy with kids in the picture, but even minimal preparation will lead to a saner sacrament meeting. Set out clothes on Saturday night (including your own), and make other church preparations—if you’re not running around on Sunday morning, it’s likely both you and your kids will be calmer.
Three hours is a long time for some kids to go without any snacks, so pack something to give them in between. But for the love of every primary teacher, avoid sugar. “That is just not nice,” says Merilee Slack, mother of four boys between the ages of 1 and 7. “Kids get way out of control.” Melissa Morgan, mother of three children between the ages of 2 and 5, suggests feeding the kids before sacrament meeting. “We have sacrament meeting last, so they’re usually pretty hungry by the time it comes around. I try to feed them right before; otherwise all they’re thinking about is the food.”
Make the Time in the Hallway or Foyer Unpleasant
If you have to take your child out of sacrament meeting, make sure wherever you’re taking them is not a fun alternative. Lots of people suggest making the child sit on a parent’s lap and practice being reverent. You can do this anywhere—in the foyer, in an empty classroom, or even the mother’s lounge. Kerri McLennan, mother of three little boys, says, “After they have practiced for a while, we’ll give them the choice to either keep practicing or go back in with everyone else. This works really well.”
Surround Them with Good Examples
Of course you should be a good example if you want your kids to learn reverence, but it also helps to sit near someone else who also displays good Sunday behavior. Jessie Walker and her family started sitting near two young women who her four-year-old daughter, Brett, admires. “I have Brett watch them while the sacrament is being passed and I tell her that what they are doing is thinking about Jesus,” explains Jessie. “She is starting to catch on. I'll catch her looking at them and mimicking what they are doing.”
Provide Reverent Entertainment
Keeping kids reverent must be a universal problem, because there are options everywhere for quiet and spiritual entertainment. Deseret Book even has a Heroes of the Book of Mormon app you can download onto your iPhone or Android, which offers puzzles, a coloring book, and a matching game. It also includes scripture references for study. Here are some other things that you can use to keep your little ones entertained:
• Activity Books—Whether you have babies, toddlers, or little kids, there are activity books to keep your little ones entertained and reverent. Who is This Jesus?, the brand new hidden picture book, showcases touching pictures of Christ but also has subtle pictures hidden in the pages for your kids to find. Younger kids can use the Book of Mormon Color by Sticker book, and older ones can do crosswords and word searches in the Book of Mormon Activity Book.
• Quiet Books—You can make these books on your own with help from websites like How to Make a Quiet Book or MormonChic. If you’re not so crafty or don’t have the time to take this kind of project on, you can buy quiet books online and in Deseret Book stores.
• Popsicle Puzzles—This easy craft is the answer if you’re a busy mom, but want to make something to help your kids make it through sacrament meeting. You and your child or children could make these puzzles together and have plenty of options for quiet entertainment when Sunday rolls around. Learn how to make popsicle puzzles here.
• Picture Books—Laminate pictures from The Friend or other church books and magazines, then punch a hole in the corner and slide a metal ring in the hole to make a flipbook. You can also laminate pictures of temples or prophets.
• Pipe Cleaners—Jennifer Hsu, writer for mormonchic.com, suggests bringing pipe cleaners in a Ziploc bag. This may seem simple, but I bet it could hold a toddler or baby’s attention for more than an hour.
Make Sure Your Kids Know What You Expect
Kids are bad at reading minds. Let them know why they are in sacrament meeting and what you expect from them while they are there. Make sure they know who is boss. You don’t have to act like a prison guard, but if you give your kids the choice of being reverent or rowdy, they will likely choose to be rowdy. If you let them know that’s not an option, they’ll learn to be reverent.
Your turn: What strategies have worked for your family? Answer by leaving a comment below.