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How to Keep Kids Quiet in Sacrament (+ 5 Fabulous Activities)

Kate Ensign-Lewis - August 29, 2013

How can we teach reverence to very young children (nursery to Sunbeam age) while still being sensitive to their need for interaction? Here are a few ideas for keeping the peace at church . . . well, as much as you possibly can with the little ones.

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The loud voices. The constant squirming. The screaming. And the crying. Oh, the crying. Every. Week.

Each of us has experienced young children in Sacrament--either as an outsider or the parent/child wrangler. So how do we teach reverence to very young children (nursery to Sunbeam age), while still being realistic about their developmental needs of movement and stimulation? This is labeled a "how to," but I'm still learning--so I'd love additional suggestions below. I've gleaned ideas from my own and other's experiences, as well as ideas online--and these can be applied across the board to other Church meetings as well. So here goes:
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Bring a bag, for heaven's sake. As a first-time mother, I started this later than I should have. My baby turned into a busy toddler before I realized it, and for several weeks we were miserable trying to keep him occupied with hymn books and the (now forbidden) iPad. Now, I pack a coloring book, crayons, several quiet/board books, and sometimes a snack (though I will probably end that soon). My sister made a gospel ABC book for her 2-year-old daughter, which she loves to look through any time; there's also a wonderful book by Sister Kristen Oaks about testimonies that comes with an interactive "testimony glove" (check it out here). There are also gospel coloring books and other church-centric activities (see below) that help occupy and teach.

A bag for a younger baby might include milk, chew toys, soft and silent play toys, etc. Make sure to switch activities out every couple weeks or so, and weed out the things that become unnecessary as your child grows--which might be sooner than you think.

Once at church, wait to bring out the bag. Middle-aged Mormon Man (a great blogger and friend of LDS Living) feels practically the opposite from me on church bags for kids; read his "Thoughts on Reverence". While I disagree that activities for young children should never be used, I agree that reverence needs to be taught early. Wait as long as possible before bringing out activities; encourage your child to fold arms and listen to the Sacrament prayer, and take breaks from activities so he or she can start learning to listen to the talks. Whittle down activity time as age and mental development progresses.

Make time out of the chapel less pleasant than time in the chapel. Early on in our toddler-wrestling journey, we would simply remove our son when he started getting loud and unreasonable and would either sit in the foyer or just walk around the building with him. He (understandably) started to prefer time out of the chapel, so he would start acting out or simply ask--quite loudly--to go out. Now we take him to a room and sit quietly so that he understands reverence in the well-lit, activity-filled chapel is preferable to being taken out--and he's even happier to rejoin Sacrament meeting and try again to be still.

Use your resources. If you know it's going to be a tough day, find someone who doesn't have young children and ask them if they might be willing to help you. Visiting teachers, home teachers, etc., will likely be more than happy to help handle children. 

My husband has also told me of a magical room where he grew up called "the cry room." It was a sound-proof room on each side of the chapel with a two-way mirror--meaning parents could take unhappy children in there and still participate in the meeting without bothering others. (I'm thinking of petitioning for this to be included in every new chapel.) You may not have this, but maybe your ward could arrange a short-range broadcast to another room in the building, where you can take crying children but still participate in the messages.

Use developmentally appropriate tactics. This will differ for every child. My 2-year-old son already understands time outs and can (usually) talk calmly with me and give me a reason, when it's over, for why he was there. To a certain extent, he understands choice and consequence. Other 2-year-olds do not. By this same token, he wasn't ready for us to start teaching rule enforcement before 18 months, but some children may be. Pray to understand the needs of your child, and even if you have to endure stares from others as you stick to the plan that is right for your child, you'll know you're doing the right thing.

And now, a note to those who do not have young children: Much has already been said about other people's children making noise during church--both from those who dislike it and those who love it. As hard as I and other young parents try, we will not always be able to quiet or remove our children in a timely manner--meaning you might be disturbed in your listening or meditation. And here is where I make an impassioned plea: please, be patient. Ours is a family church, and we should always be mindful of being welcoming and helpful to those with young families, rather than making them feel that coming to church isn't worth the effort and embarrassment.

All any of us can do is make resolutions for ourselves and how we will handle our own families--and offer help to others who might be struggling. Truly, if we are put off by someone else's handling of their children, it is more our fault for choosing to take issue or offense. The Spirit resides in a peaceful and loving heart, and I believe this can be true even when outside forces, beyond our control, may not be peaceful. So, as always, a little understanding goes a long way. And if a particular child is really bothering you, try to sit near that family the next week and kindly offer to help.

In addition to the above general suggestions, here are 5 fabulous quiet activities that might bring new life to your church bag:

1. LDS ABC Quiet Book
Create your own using the clear alphabet template at TryingtoBeImportant.com:

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Or use an idea, like this beautiful one from Grey Square Designs, to create your own:

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2. Dry-erase (or washable marker) LDS activity book:
Includes letter tracing with scriptural or general authority names, colors, etc.

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Photo from Live, Craft, Eat


3. Stitching cards with gospel pictures:

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4. Puzzles:
Popsicle stick puzzles. Simple and genius.

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Photo from Bits of Everything.

Easy 12-piece puzzles:

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Photo from Deseret Book.


5. LDS picture Bingo
To encourage the beginning of listening to talks (and great for ages that can't yet read).

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Image from LDS About.

© LDS Living, 2013. Image from Thinkstock.
Comments 9 comments

cubby said...

07:16 AM
on Aug 29, 2013

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I used to buy little photo albums at a dollar store and put the covers of beautiful religious Christmas cards in them to look at during the sacrament for the littlest ones and after for the older ones. Our children did well knowing when you are three you will not need a picture book during the sacrament. When you are eight you will be old enough to sit through one talk. When you are 12 you will be expected to leave all toys and games behind you. If you are bored you can read your scriptures.

cubby said...

07:19 AM
on Aug 29, 2013

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One year we had a sweet sister move into our ward with four children, no husband support, and noisy kids. It was a three ring circus. The children were small. That year I did the twelve days of Christmas for her family starting with a dollar store bag labeled "Sunday Bag. " It sure made a difference in the noise level in the chapel and I learned later it was a huge hit at their home, too.

familyman said...

09:59 AM
on Aug 29, 2013

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I like the idea of making it unpleasant for them to be outside of Sacrament. I don't think rewarding them or giving them treats is the way to go. I believe the church has said that giving treats is not the way. I seems like I am always hearing the phrase " I don't want to hinder my child's spirit" Wow so let them think they are always going to get their way and they don't have to obey the rules and have respect for others. Then people wonder why their kids are in jail when they are older! Sometimes a swat on the butt doesn't hurt either!

supportwon4u said...

02:52 PM
on Aug 29, 2013

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Anyone who is trying there best to keep their kids under control deserves a hug and compassion.

busygrandma@ said...

03:37 PM
on Aug 30, 2013

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I am raising my granddaughter and have been very lucky, she has always loved church. She is only two and getting a little more wiggly. We bought her an LDS quiet book and she is only allowed to look at it during church. It is made by The Growing Season and they have several different books for sale. She loves this book and it keeps her quiet during sacrament meeting.

lmcs12 said...

12:48 PM
on Sep 01, 2013

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I think these are wonderful ideas. I think it is important to teach reverence early, but also to be mindful of where a child is developmentally. I have always loved that ours is a church that allows young children to sit with their families and learn to be reverent within the chapel. I don't think children should be allowed to be a huge disruption, but think that there needs to be an understanding that there will be a small amount of noise. We are all learning, parents and children included. The gospel is a wonderful, beautiful blessing. Let's help children learn church is a positive, loving place.

dgrandmarmie said...

04:34 AM
on Sep 16, 2013

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I think these are great ideas, but you forgot about where you should sit! Yes, we all should have compassion and patience, but when parents bring their struggling very noisy children to the front of the chapel they are just being inconsiderate to the entire congregation. Those in the front of the chapel are the example to the rest of the congregation, as people age, it gets more difficult to hear and filter out extra noise.... So we sit toward the front trying to hear and knowing we are no longer a distraction, but an example for struggling families. We already raised our children, spent years in the back or out in the foyer with struggling children trying to teach them appropriate chapel reverence and not be inconsiderate to the speakers and the rest of the congregation. Also, yes your children are cute, but Sacrament meeting is not the time to show them off or the time to read to your children, no matter how quiet your voice is. Also anything larger than a cheerio should not be eaten in the chapel! If your children are hungry, take them out and feed them in a more appropriate place. The pews are for sitting and it is not appropriate for children wearing outside shoes to be walking on the pews or kicking the backs of them either...please pay attention to your children.

noemchen said...

01:50 PM
on Sep 22, 2013

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Our little daughter is almost 1 year old. When she needed to be fed, I always left the chapel to do it. I live in the Netherlands (born and raised in Germany) and our ward always provides translation and when I needed to leave the chapel to feed her (breast feeding), I took one of those translation headphones and could still listen to the talks while sitting in the room next to the chapel. As for games... I only bring games that do not make any noise. I even made some myself. I let her play with other kids, too and as long as they are playing, most of the time they are quiet and do not disturb anyone. At least no one ever complained. Thank you for your ideas, I will keep them in mind when I need them in a few months and in the coming years!

megankreuger said...

12:33 AM
on Aug 06, 2014

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A lot of people struggle to even get their families to church, some are new converts, and others have nonmember or inactive spouses. I do not like all of the negative comments and "better than though" attitudes towards children and families who believe in allowing different activities during sacrament meeting to help kids stay quiet. That's great if you are so awesome that your kids don't need the extra help to sit quiet, but there's no need to try and preach to other families about it. Also, if there is no where to sit but in the front, I will take my three noisy boys to the front. It's not out of disrespect to anyone, it's because I know my Heavenly Father knows that we are trying our best to teach our families, and by golly we made it to church. Now if the noisy children bother you that much, maybe you should re-evaluate your own attitudes and tolerance levels instead of becoming upset that a family with young children dare sit in front. Also, I know many, many people who have come to church and never come back because of the way that they are treated, and when I get on blogs and just see some pretty sad attitudes towards other people, it's kind of upsetting. Anyways, these activities are great ideas, but just shocked that some of these comments are coming from members of the LDS church. :( Judgmental much?
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