Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Last month Kelly P. emailed me asking for advice on helping her then-four-month-old be content in church and I sent her a lengthy response. She suggested I post it here in case others might find it helpful. I've removed personal references for privacy's sake, but otherwise, the remainder of this post is copied and pasted from my emailed response to her. :-)

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I think about four to five months was when my babies stopped being content just sitting in church and needed real training. Our youngest, Baby #7, is the only one of ours who's never been in nursery before. We decided to keep all ours in church with us just before Baby #5 was born, about eight years ago, and I wound up putting her and Baby #6 in the nursery on occasion, mainly because we were in a church where, while young children were encouraged to be in service, noises from babies were frowned on. We were in a much more baby-friendly setting for #7, and that made training easier.

I tried to work on it in two ways, and can offer these suggestions. First of all, have some training time at home each day, preferably at around the same time of day the church service happens. Put on some music or a story or sermon tape and just sit quietly with Baby on your lap. You might want to give this time a name like "sitting time" or "listening time" or something, so you can tell him cheerfully that it's sitting time now, and tell him how you expect him to behave. Yes, tell a four-month-old. Also, during family prayers, do your best to keep him occupied and quiet. I don't advocate any kind of corporal punishment during prayers, since you want him to enjoy the time with you and Daddy, so instead, have him start out sitting quietly with you, kneeling when you do (well, at four months, he'd just be on the floor near you), and hold him when you stand, and have something quiet that he likes that you can amuse him with when he becomes restless. Also, if you sing during prayers, sit him on your lap facing you, clapping his hands if appropriate.

However, a thump on the leg might be appropriate during your morning "sitting time," since that's more of a training session. For the first few days, just see how long he can manage to sit quietly before he gets restless, and see if he's sitting longer each time. If he starts moving around too much, just firmly but gently put him back into the position you want him in. This doesn't have to be rigid - you just have to decide how much movement you think is acceptable. You probably wouldn't want him leaning upside down over the edge of the chair, or standing up, but changing from one sitting position to another is going to be normal. At some point, you may feel it's appropriate to flick his thigh if he starts kicking around, but I wouldn't suggest it right at first. What you really want to aim for is to lengthen the amount of time he can sit quietly before getting restless. You do NOT want to sit so long that he starts crying. So at first, have him sit with you, with nothing in his hands, just cuddling with you, and when you sense that he's beginning to grow restless, give him something quiet to distract him. If that does the job, then sit just until he begins to be restless again, and if he's not very, very easily distracted, go ahead and tell him that sitting time is over, and praise him for sitting and listening so well.

You want him to succeed at this, so aim for ending the time (both training and prayer times) on a successful note. This is a big mistake I made in child-training in general with my first few. I thought that if I did anything as I've suggested here, I was letting the child direct the training session, and so he was only learning how to get what he wanted. I thought that if I hadn't corrected disobedience, then I hadn't really trained in obedience.

So, training at home is the first thing. Training during the actual service is the second. Generally speaking it's not too much different from your prayer times at home, with the exception that you should give him a little more leeway (you might even let him sit on the floor, or crawl around a bit in the pew, as long as this helps him stay quiet rather than encouraging him to get rowdy), and that you'll have to be ready to leave the room if he gets squirmy or noisy enough to bother other people. If you have to leave your pew, it's better to go sit in the back of the church, or someplace where you can still hear the sermon, rather than to go to the nursery or a cry room where there are other moms and babies, particularly if the moms are chatting and letting the babies play, so that you can continue the training. Also, I know that in most Presby churches, the families with young children nearly always sit in the back of the church, but I've found that our kids pay attention better if we're sitting as close to the front as possible, since they can see better, and have fewer distractions.

With #5, we bought a little seat sort of like this one, only it was collapsible, so it was more portable. We took this to church with us, and when she was tired of sitting on laps we'd put her into it and give her a variety of quiet things (one at a time, of course), like a board book, or a cloth doll, or a few of these Lauri puzzles. If you do this, I recommend having these items be special Sunday-only items, so they're fresh every week - not something he's used to playing with every day. This doesn't rule out bringing along his favorite everyday quiet item, though.

Reading over what I've written so far I realize that I haven't said anything at all about keeping them quiet in church. This is because I haven't figured that out yet! During training I try to put my hand over the mouth and give a gentle "Sh," but sometimes that just makes them louder. If that's the case then you'll know not to do it in church. I generally allowed finger-sucking or pacifier usage in church, even when I was trying to discourage it elsewhere, simply to help the baby stay quiet. Naturally, this means they'll be sucking their fingers or whatever for much longer than they would be if you were discouraging it consistently, so it's your call. Sorry I can't be more help there!

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Mrs. P., I think it would be helpful if you'd add your experiences over the past month in the comments, since all my suggestions to you were going off of things that we did over the past few years and, well, my memory ain't what it used to be.

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