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{LDS How-to} Keep Your Kids Reverent in Church

Mandy Slack - March 15, 2012

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We know hoping for reverent children in church is like dreaming the impossible dream. But there are a few surprisingly simple ways to achieve it.

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:

Prepare
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.

© LDS Living, 2012.
Comments 17 comments

kjsmith77 said...

04:55 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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I agree with everything above, apart from the pipe-cleaners i haven't tried them. My rule is keep it sacred. So my kids are not allowed toys or random colouring books. I find it difficult to explain why reverence is important if they can play on an iPad or PSP or even colour pictures in a book I think conflict with the meaning of the Sabbath. I print off the sacrament booklets from www.scriptures4kids.com and they love them it keeps it guided yet fun. We also have the Book 'Sacrament Time" form Deseret Book and they can read that quietly or look at the pictures. I have also made photo/ quiet books from the 'Who's your Hero?" pictures - I have all of them from the Bible ones to the BOM ones too. I also have the Joseph and Emma Smith ones too. This helps them learn the faces to the stories and they love them. I feel it still keeps them reverent. Also we practice sitting still and reverent by reading the sacrament prayer at home and having a reward chart for beating their reverence record each week. Hope this helps.

momto3 said...

08:02 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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We have learned not to show all our cards too early. What I mean is, don't get out anything until it is necesary. Your kids need to learn to listen and pay attention at some point so expect them to listen to at least the youth speaker and then gradually expect them to listen to all of sacrement meeting without any snacks or toys. Our six year old and three year old just have their own Book of Mormon and compact Hymn book (they love these). We do not allow snacks during Sacrement Meeting.

bethanymom said...

08:35 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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Ducktape!! Just kidding. I have found that it helps to sit with others who have children. My 6 & 8 year old girls love to make faces and wiggle their fingers for the babies/toddlers. It keeps them quiet, and it entertains the littler ones.

mmormonman said...

09:32 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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I agree with most of this, but I don't think the words "reverent" and "entertainment" belong in the same sentence. The goal is to get the kids to listen, learn and feel the Sprit. As soon as the coloring books, or The Friend are brought out, they stop paying attention. Next thing you know, they are on the floor looking for the red crayon. This is from earlier in the week. Thanks! http://middle-agedmormonman.blogspot.com/2012/03/thoughts-on-reverence.html

grams said...

09:56 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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All of these things are good, but how about teaching the children at home about being reverent. This was from an example I saw in 1963-4 when I first joined the church. A mom & dad could leave their 6 children ages 9yrs-2yrs by themselves in the pew while they were on the stand thru most of the 1 hr & 30 min Sacarament mtg we had back then. She spent time at home teaching the children how to be reverent. It took time and patience, but wow what an example.

darcy said...

10:29 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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I would add one more thing and that is practise church at home. Whenever my children were not reverent at church, we practised. I set the timer for 5 minutes and they sat reverently in our front room until the timer dinged. If someone wasn't reverent we added 5 minutes. We only had to do this a few times but my grown children remember it well and say today that it was the best thing! It isn't remembered as a punishment and they plan to do it with their own children. I pretty much did all the things you mentioned in your article plus practised church and we had very reverent children in church.

bgtaylor4 said...

11:34 AM
on Mar 15, 2012

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The comments here are excellent -- reverence begins at home -- practice, discussion about it and, most importantly missing in the tone of this article, the expectation. The author presents numerous fallacies revealing her own shortcomings and indicating low expectations -- kids can't sit still or pay attention, and "most adults struggle." Children cannot go three hours without food? Really? What about Fast Sunday -- supposed to be 24 hours -- or sleeping through the night? Mostly though we're talking about 70 minutes in sacrament meeting where the children and the adults are expected to be on task/not distracted with coloring, puzzles and games, quietly paying attention... or else, forbid, maybe you shouldn't be there.

maryjanelle said...

05:20 PM
on Mar 15, 2012

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I think these are great ideas. Other people may have three year old children that sit quietly for an hour with their arms folded but mine needs a little extra help. Some churches don't allow little children in their meetings and I think it is great that we can teach our kids reverence and help them to enjoy sacrament meeting. Its unrealistic to expect a little child to be completely interested in deeper gospel topics that they don't understand yet.

les_w_powrie said...

11:04 AM
on Mar 16, 2012

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We found that giving Pro Vita biscuits (wholewheat crispbread)that do not mess other than occasional crumbs, but do not smear or stain. Then, as suggested, not make going out a pleasing option. It was not painful or unpleasant experience for our five children, but certainly not appealing. Quiet books, pencil and paper, simple things to keep them occupied.

ryanandrew said...

09:11 PM
on Mar 16, 2012

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As a parent of 4 sons all under the age of 8 I can say I agree with the ideas in this article, especially the hallway unpleasantness. I believe that most parents could hold children to a higher standard (myself included). "Be loving and demanding" is a saying I've heard and agree with. Having said that I must take exception to bgtaylor4's comments… They absolutely should be there (that comment was unbecoming of a Latter Day Saint). Little children do need snacks (my oldest has just tried fasting for the first time). Expecting a toddler or even a 5 year old to pay attention to a 20 minute talk is unrealistic. Hold your children to a high standard but if you’re too forceful and pious your children will learn to dislike church (I’ve seen it).

elizabethw said...

04:31 PM
on Mar 17, 2012

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I think the article had wonderful advice. We have always brought reverent Christ centered activities to help our little ones. It seems by the time they are 8 they are listening to the speakers because they naturally are ready for it. I also just wanted to mention quickly to bgtaylor4, who is perhaps a new member that our church welcomes all ages, even if they don't have much on attention span, yet. ;) After all, these little ones are "the kingdom of heaven." Our job as parents is to teach them reverence, of course. But they, as we ourselves, are a work in process. ;) Also, in our religion we do not believe in children under the age of 8 fasting or even compelling them to fast once they turn 8. Here is some doctrine on fasting you might find interesting: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=340a7befabc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=32c41b08f338c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

arp59 said...

01:52 PM
on Mar 19, 2012

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There is no one answer for all children. What works with some doesn't work with others. I appreciate advice. The best advice for me is stay calm, loving, and try your best and all will be alright. Don't be too hard on yourself if your children aren't perfect in sacrement meeting. Celebrate any quietness at all. Think about sucesses more than failures. And I also like the advice in this article. (Just for the record I'm not physically strong enough to make my children sit on my lap quietly. Perhaps others can relate with this.)

katied said...

07:15 AM
on Mar 20, 2012

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This was a nice article but I just want to offer some solace to those, who like me, read the article hoping to find something to help them with what feels like an impossible situation. These ideas may work for some, but will certainly not work for everyone. Sometimes you just have to do what you can to make it through and pray they grow out of it soon. I have 5 kids and the first three never had any problem sitting in Sacrament, but my twin boys, who are now 2 1/2 have no interest or ability to approach anything resembling reverence. We count ourselves lucky if we last long enough for the sacrament to be passed before we have to take them out. Since our other 3 girls are still too young to sit alone, one of us has to deal with both two year olds. There is no lap wide enough, nor arms strong enough to hold them, so we take them to the gym and let them play with balls or we take the to the nursery and let them play with the toys. Even this is a stressful solution as they often escape and run in opposite directions. Many times we simply save ourselves the dread and come to church as Sacrament is ending. It's what works for now and keeps us active. That's all that matters. I trust Heavenly Father to make up the difference:)

margaret said...

04:33 PM
on Mar 25, 2012

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I enjoyed your article and whilst I agree with most of it (I have successfully used these tactics myself) however I must disagree with one item. I have never given my children food of any kind in the chapel and this has never been a problem. If you think they can't go without something in their mouths for 1 hr 10 mins then give them something to eat just before they enter the chapel (not in the building) and again after Sacrament meeting has finished. We must teach our children the sacredness of not only the Sacrament meeting but the chapel itself and this is one way to start

alitsa said...

12:35 PM
on Mar 27, 2012

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As a convert I have attended other denominations and noticed children dressed nicely and sitting reverently, so I know it IS possible! I have even seen it at an LDS ward. <feigned shock> A couple of small suggestions are: do not bring items in noisy plastic, cello, or paper bags. The rustling alone can be distracting. Don't bring toys with wheels. It is just tto tempting to run them along the seatbacks in front of you and even more tempting to give them wonderful revving noises! If you find your kids are not obeying you, or you just want some help while blessing others, befreind and let them sit with someone who does not have children. Children will often behave better for non-parents and empty-nesters/childless couples/singles would love the opportunity to have youngsters on their laps or by their side. Are we too lenient or even unaware? I think so. I have waited many, many, years to have my family join me at church and I wondered how they would react to the irreverence. (People kicking/tapping/pushing the bench or chatting can be very distracting when you are the one sitting on the pew in front.) Recently, I finally had the opportunity to bring my sisters to church and they were horrified. Me, too. But it wasn't just the little children. Here are some examples of behavior witnessed in the rows in front and behind: Brushing/styling another's hair, talking during the entire meeting, clipping fingernails, and (ew) squeezing a blackhead on another's nose. It was embarrassing. I am constantly amazed at the lack of etiquette from the adults. No wonder the children don't know how to behave!

grandmagreat said...

08:54 AM
on Dec 29, 2012

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My children are all grand parents now however, we have had our time trying to keep them quiet in church. One of my granddaughters sets a wonderful example, with 7 children, and last two of them twins, a boy and girl, with Autism added as an a dditional challenge. She has made each one a special quiet book, using picures of the Savior and the prophet. If they do not maintain reverence, these are taken away from them, and they are taken out of the meeting, and are required to set quietly in the foyer, with no talking. I remember a good many years ago when one of my Brother's in law was in the Bishopric, and his youngest boy just would not be quiet, he took him out and put him in the car, and he was told he had to stay there until he could be quiet. Today I am sure that he would be in trouble for taking that action, but that boy grew up to have a family and be a Bishop, and he says he threatened many times to do the same thing with his boys, but they immediately would be reverant. I do get a little concerned in my ward when people take their children out of Sacrament meeting, and let them run up and down the Hallways causing noise, for the other ward that is in their meetings. I pray that the Old folks will set the proper example.

jsmiles said...

11:12 PM
on Mar 24, 2013

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I think the article gave some good suggestions. Some of these comments seem a little self righteous... Everyone's situation is different, and when children are not being reverent at church, you can't really judge what might be the problem, or what the parents are doing wrong. Every child is different. I have 6 children... the older 3 boys were further apart in age and I don't remember them being as hard as it is now with a 4, 2 and 9 month old. I think most people are doing the best they can, I hope people are not watching me this harshly in my ward.
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