Right now I have a two-year-old son. He is busy. We love him, but staying in one place is his least favorite thing to do. Sitting on a hard chapel bench for 45 minutes is like asking him to jump over the moon. Can’t be done. (But I do think he’d at least attempt a moon jump.)
And I know we aren’t alone. I’m sure most young children struggle to find the “fun” in sacrament meetings—it’s just grown-ups standing and talking, saying big words they don’t understand. Where are the bright colors, fun songs, or cartoon friends?
This list is in no way exhaustive, but here are a few of my simple tips as a mother for parenting your toddler during sacrament meetings.
1. Come prepared
Before we head out the door on Sunday mornings, I double-check my diaper bag full of supplies. Board books, small toys, coloring books, and mess-free snacks are all excellent (and quiet) resources we’ve used with our son during sacrament meeting. I’ve seen other families in our ward bust out stickers, blocks, busy boards, origami books, and puzzles. If you’re willing to hand over your smartphone or tablet, the Gospel for Kids app also has really engaging digital coloring book pages and illustrated scripture stories perfect for little ones. You might even consider having some small toys or books that only come out during sacrament meeting. We’ve found that sometimes the novelty of a once-a-week opportunity to play with or read something keeps our son’s attention for a little longer.
Parents should independently decide what sacrament meeting activities or supplies they are OK with, and this may differ for each family. My only hard-and-fast rule: please make sure the activities are noiseless or the toys have had their batteries removed.
2. Emphasize the importance of the sacrament
It’s not realistic to think your nursery-aged child will sit still and listen intently for an entire sacrament meeting. I think Mary and Joseph may have had the only toddler even capable of it. But most toddlers can learn to sit quietly for two short sacrament prayers.
Elder L. Tom Perry said, “The sacrament is one of the most sacred ordinances in the Church. Partaking of the sacrament worthily gives us an opportunity for spiritual growth. Attend sacrament meeting with a spirit of reverence and with gratitude for the opportunity of partaking of the sacred emblems.”
As we’ve worked on teaching our son reverence, before the sacrament we will sit him on our lap and ask him to (or help him) fold his arms for the prayers. As much as we can, we try to keep him there while we talk about the young men who are passing the bread and water to members of our ward, whisper stories about Jesus to him, or softly sing a Primary song in his ear while the sacrament is being passed. And let’s be honest, sometimes it lasts for 30 seconds before he wants to wriggle away, but I am hopeful he’ll get better at it and learn to recognize the importance of partaking of the sacrament every week.
As children get a little older and a little more patient, parents might consider holding off on extra activities or playtime until after the passing of the sacrament to emphasize its importance and sacred nature.
This article also has even more suggestions and practical ideas of some activities you could use to keep your toddler engaged in the meeting.
► You may also like: 5 fabulous activities and ways to keep kids quiet during sacrament meeting
3. Enlist the help of others
When my husband was in the bishopric and not sitting with us on Sundays, we had a very sweet gentleman who came to our ward alone and served as my “bookend” on our pew to keep my son from running away.
At least now there are two parents to corral him in, but our son is also older, faster, and even more prone to bolt out the doors. Luckily we have amazing friends and ward family members who think our son is just too cute for words—let’s be honest, he’s pretty darling—and have been more than willing to send a toy car driving down the bench or turn the pages of a book for him. And we’ve found that no matter how many toys or books we bring from home, they are always more exciting when a new friend (i.e., not Mom or Dad) is involved.
Obviously, we should be respectful of other families and ward members’ desires to participate in the meeting—there shouldn’t be any expectations or serious disruption—but chances are high they’ve been in your same shoes a time or two. Or even if they haven’t experienced it, most people understand that toddlers can be tricky. If people in your ward or branch have offered or have shown a willingness to engage with your child in the past, we should give them an opportunity to serve and give your child an opportunity to see reverence and kindness from others.
4. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to take them out
There’s nothing wrong with taking your child out into the hallway. Let me say that again: There’s nothing wrong with taking your child out into the hallway. Sometimes it’s got to be done. Sometimes it’s better for the sanity and happiness of everyone, including you, your spouse, your child, and the ward members around you. There should be no shame, and no one around you will think less of you for it. Most members of our faith have grown up with siblings, had young children of their own once upon a time, or are right alongside you in the throes of parenting and can sympathize.
We tell our son all the time, “It’s hard to be two, isn’t it?”—and we mean it. There are a lot of big and new and hard things about being so small, and you have to learn a lot of new skills, including good manners, inside voices, emotional regulation, patience, and reverence. It’s a wonderful and important thing for young children to learn how to sit quietly in a seemingly boring, grown-up meeting, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Some weeks will inevitably go better than others, and that’s OK.
The important thing is that you keep trying. Like most challenges in life, it will get easier. By bringing your toddler to church, as dreaded as it may be, you’re teaching them good habits and priorities early in life. It might be extra effort on your part as a parent now, but Heavenly Father will bless you for your efforts and magnify your abilities to exercise patience and teach your children to follow the commandments.