Thursday, July 11, 2013

Q&A Thursday: Managing Church with lots of Little Ones

Today's question come from a reader:
 I wondered if you had any advice on how you handle church and manage your bench with several little ones. I don't know if you've had the experience of doing it alone because of a husband's calling, but I'm in that boat. I'd love any advice or suggestions you have to offer.
While my kids are fairly good at Church right now (hoping that continues), it helps a lot that my older ones set a good example for the younger ones and can help entertain the younger ones.  I also am blessed to have my husband there to help me, where other moms' husbands are needed elsewhere.

I put the question to some other LDS moms of many and I got plenty of wonderful suggestions:

Christina (me) I've found over the years that I prefer simplicity. I'll bring Cheerios only for if the baby gets restless. I bring notebooks and colored pencils (long ago learned that my kids have a compulsion to peel the wrappers off crayons if I bring them) and Friend magazines, but that's all. We don't get out anything until after the sacrament. We have an older couple in our neighborhood that are wonderful to welcome my younger girls to sit with them, but we don't let them go sit there until after the sacrament. Kids over 8 are expected to listen the entire meeting and not color (though I have an 11yo son who has an origami compulsion). When necessary, I take the younger restless ones out in the hall where I let them get some energy out. Unless they've been outrageous, I don't really put them in time-out or make the hall a punishment. So far, most of my kids learn how to behave pretty well over time.
all dressed and ready for Church

Marybeth:   I'm pretty similar, except when I take my kids out in the hall. I don't want the hall to be a fun place, so they do not get to run out in the hall. I hold them or make them sit and do nothing on the couch out in the hall. I want them to want to go back in to sacrament meeting, even if it is only to color. (I figure they will hear something!) The only other activity I bring is Tangrams (those geometric shapes with green triangles, blue diamonds, red, and yellow hexagons) that they can make their own designs on the bench or match up with the books that I have.

Diane:  I'm on the don't take entertainment boat. I bring pens and paper and that is all. I actually think it goes even better when I bring nothing and all they have to do is listen, read their scriptures or look at the hymnal. I only bring food if we don't have time for breakfast. I feel like food in church is too messy and too noisy. 

Katrina:   When our oldest was still around 1, our RS president gave a homemaking meeting about reverence with children. She basically said that our children will rise to the level of our expectation. If we allow them to run around in the halls when they misbehave, they will use that as an escape (because what 2 year old really wants to sit still when they could be running around). So we will bring something small to eat for anyone younger than nursery age, but no one else gets a snack. We have some picture books that I made (I got the template from a blog somewhere) with scripture stories and facts about the prophets and apostles. We bring those and the LDS scripture readers, and that is it. If we have to take our youngest out (he is almost 2), we hold him the entire time and have/help him fold his arms. It is NOT something fun for him because we want him to prefer to be in sacrament meeting. Sometimes if I know he is tired and needs to sleep, I will try the mother's room to rock him and help him sleep, but usually there are too many mothers/children (as in 7, 5, and 3 years old whose mothers use the mothers room as a room to let their children play/talk), and I can't hear anything that is going on in the meeting. It is so refreshing to be in there with someone else who actually wants to hear the talks and will let me listen - but that is a rant for another day! 

Siobhan:  yep, all of the above. sit in the front, too. we sit third row back on whichever side the bishopric is on. no toys at all, church books for after the sacrament is passed. our 8yo and 9yo are expected to listen, but can write in journals or read their scriptures. no food once you're old enough for nursery because you'll get snacks in there. if you have to be taken out, you can stand with your nose on the wall till you're ready to go back in. no bathroom or drink breaks.

we watched a large family follow these rules before we had kids and we adopted them immediately for our now six kids. it's worked pretty well and i have to say we have the best behaved kids in our ward. they're certainly not perfect, but i think minimizing distractions and sitting close makes a world of difference.

Andrya:  I prefer not to bring anything. Sometimes they bring pencils, pen in the scriptures and then they may write or draw on the program. I only brought snacks for toddlers or younger.My husband had a calling in the high council and I was on my for getting everyone ready and doing the whole church thing. My oldest was 11 at the time. We got down such a system that when my husband was actually around it threw us all off and I found I was irritated because he didn't know our system. lol. kind of. 

Montserrat:  We do the same! I don't bring anything extra except for scripture stories or Friend magazines so the nursery aged kids have something to look at. When I have to take a child out (usually it is just a nursery aged child) I hold them on my lap or take them to look at the pictures hanging in the hallway. The other kids know to behave when I am out (my husband is the Bishop). If they don't there are consequences! All of my kids are required to get a drink and use the bathroom before the meeting starts. I do not allow them to leave for those during sacrament meeting. Everyone can hold it for an hour. No one will die of thirst. Kids will rise to your expectations, especially when you discuss with them what you expect and why. Usually when a child is having a hard time it is either because they are hungry or tired. Try to take care of those needs before by planning ahead and it will so much easier.
Montserrat's family

RaelynI am also for less is more. I no longer bring snacks to church- but have a sippy cup of milk for my nursery kid. We have friend magazines that kids can look through. I do have an ipad and iphone with some LDS games on it for the toddlers-but that sometimes backfires on me if I am not diligent on who has it.

Wendy:  My husband is the bishop in our ward. Before that he has had callings (bishopric and high council) that kept him from being in our bench with us. Even before he had callings that kept him from sitting with us and before we had a lot of kids, I was strict. People are always asking me how I keep my kids do reverent during church. They often do not like hearing what I have to say as it means they will have to actually parent their kids. OK, that is harsh, I know. But I get annoyed when people think it is a magical pill or something that will make their kids behave, instead of working hard at being a parent. Our kids are not allowed to use the bathroom or get a drink during sacrament. They know the rules and I do not feel sorry for them if they don't prepare beforehand. We sit in the 3rd or 4th bench from the stand. The less distractions in front of us, the better the kids can pay attention. They are not allowed to turn around. We have a seating arrangement with older siblings and me between younger kids. I don't let kids sit by siblings that they cannot be reverent near (for example, my 9 yo boy and my 11 yo boy do not ever sit together). No one is allowed to have treats past the age of 3 at church. And there are never toys, books, crayons, papers, etc. They have to sit quietly. It is their choice if they listen to the speaker. I try and be a good example by looking at the speaker attentively (even if it is a struggle for me), acting as if I am enthralled and could not imagine doing anything else more fun. They seem to do better when they see their parents doing what they are asked to do.
Aislinn:  Yes, we do like the rest of you. Snack only for the baby, church books/magazines/pictures for kids under 8, and expect over 8 to listen...and if they want to write, they can take notes. I hate when people comment on my reverent children and follow it up with, "My kids are just too spirited and active to get them to sit still!" or some such. Ha! I know all about "spirited" and "active"...they've just been taught that sacrament meeting is not the place!

Tana: This was a lifesaver for me. When my hubby was in the bishopric, I'd sit in the smaller side pews (near the front) with half the kids in the same row and half in front of me. Having us in a "clump" like that rather than spread out linearly on a long pew made it so much easier to manage. I also had a couple of ladies and a man that I pre-arranged help with. They sat near me and also knew that if I gave them The Look, I needed them to help. As for activities, we're minimalists. I let them look at copies of the Friend or the GAK, and they can have a pencil and notebook. We don't take snacks and we don't let kids leave during the meeting unless it's a true emergency.

Lorraine:  Great comments here. It sounds like Generals making strategies for war! Here is something that helped me: I made a page of little drawings depicting all the things that were BAD on the top half and all the things that were GOOD on the bottom half. The pictures were things like kicking the bench in front, touching other people, getting out of your seat, etc. There are just so many millions of ways to get in trouble, that my kids needed specifics! The good pictures were also helpful. We had a FHE and taught them our expectations. Then I took the sheet to church every week and when someone did something wrong, I quietly pointed to the picture of what they were doing wrong, and to the picture of what they should be doing. They got the message!

Gerilyn: We all seem to have figured out what works. I just want to add that I have always had "reverence practice" at home. Esp. with the little kids, to have to do pretend sacrament meeting and sit on the couch quietly for 20 min. is super helpful and effective. By the time mine are 3 they are expected to sit quietly through the whole meeting. When I do this consistently I hardly even have to try at church. My husband is also the bishop and he is also very reverence-conscious. So he has asked and expected us to be a good example to others (and boy, do some need it!) I agree with Montserrat, kids rise to the level of expectation.

Cheryl: Okay, so what do you do when you have a Special Needs child who can't sit still? Or a child with an auditory sensory disorder who needs attention and can't process what's going on?

I have a son with an auditory sensory disorder, and so we make allowa
nces that people would find annoying or interpret as being bad parents.

I get that it's important to teach our kids to be reverent. I do a lot of the things you guys have mentioned, but I also feel like I need to speak for the women who --for whatever reason --can't and don't. Who have kids who eat treats when they are 4 and those who have kids writing and drawing pictures at 13 and for those who are just grateful they got to church on time (or at all).

I know this thread was an answer to questions about how to improve behavior, but the original OP seemed to want to know how to survive without spousal support. And I think she needs to know that if her kids are irreverent or if it's not perfect --it's okay. She brought her kids to church. That's a beautiful thing.

I mean, because we understand what it's like to have a lot of little kids. And we work extra hard to teach our kids to behave. But that means we should also understand and be more empathetic and sympathetic to women who might not have the talent nor the inclination to make this a hill for them to die on. Their kids aren't going to go inactive because they don't sit still in church, their kids aren't going to refuse to go on a mission if they eat cheerios in Sacrament Meeting. This is in no-wise a judgement against the things people teach their kids or their expectations of behavior. This is more a plea to be a little less assumptive in how children/families should behave in church.

Cheryl's cute kids

Gerilyn:  When my husband was called in to the bishopric years ago we were in a military ward. During the height of the war. Almost every single bench had a family with no dad on it! I learned then and there never to judge. I simply joined their ranks, and counted myself lucky that my husband was at least in the building, not on a ship in the Persian Gulf! Cheryl is right, it can be difficult even to get to church for some,and we should welcome all who can make it! For some of those moms church was the only break they got all week. But we all should do the best we can and help the Spirit to be with us. Often that comes through reverence, but many times it is kindness that brings it!


Anaise said...

Find a church "grandma" who sits alone and invite her to sit with you! That was the advice I got from our stake presidency when my husband was called to the bishopric and I had 6 children 7 and under--two of whom were babies less than a year old. I followed that advice, and it has blessed us ever since. We've made friends and my children have been loved, loved, loved through church. And I've even gotten to enjoy the occasional sacrament meeting talk. :)

Cynthia said...

I noticed most of the moms have banished any food at church but what does any mom do with 11am church time and no food at church? I have no expectation of any of my young kids (6,4,2,1) to make it until 2pm or later with no food, when breakfast was at 8/8:30. This is an honest, not meant to be snarky question...especially for the younger ones that are also tired because it is not only lunch time but nap time as well. With 9am church I stopped bringing food for my older children and just a few snacks to help the younger ones but 11am is rough (and yes, I hate later in the day church times, I will take 8/9am church any day!)

Jessica said...

We have 11:30 church and I have my kids (11, 9, 6, 3, and 1) eat a snack right before church either at home or in the car. That helps with the no food at church thing. You're right, 8-2 is way too long for little kids to go without eating. The nap thing is killing me, though and my tiny person is a beast child right now. And I pretty much have to go outside to find a quiet place without other people when I take her out, so the whole making the meeting more interesting than the hall is an extra challenge in this particular ward.

Diane said...

To Cynthia: We have 11am church too. I agree that the hardest part with that time is food. I am even hungry at church. I still don't bring food to church. On Sunday's instead of breakfast, we have more of a brunch at about 10am before I get all of the little kids into their church clothes. The kids know if they do not eat this meal, they will be hungry. When the morning doesn't go smoothly or I am not well prepared, I'll hand the kids a granola bar or a bagel to eat on our 5 minute drive to church and often I'll let them finish it before the Sacrament starts.

After church I usually have a large meal either something hot in the crockpot or big fancy sandwiches or burritos. Then closer to 8pm, we have something small before bed. Sundays are just different.

siobhan said...

i'm "siobhan" above and we also have 11:00 a.m. church and have had it for four years. my kids are currently 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9yo. we pretty much do as diane does... aim for a later breakfast, but have a snack on the way to church if we eat breakfast too early. our nursery leaders always feed the kids snacks and enough that our son can go straight down for a nap when he gets home. our ctr-4 teacher sometimes offers crackers in class, depending on how the kids are hanging in there.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Cynthia, my favorite meeting is 9am too! And that's saying a lot because we have to leave by 8:15am in order to get to church on time. See my picture up there with ten kids in it? (I'm Montserrat) Yeah. Teenage girls aren't helpful because they are too busy doing their hair and makeup. :) But I love having the rest of the day to relax.

Anyway, when church is at 11am we will have a snack in the car right before going in to the church building. We have sacrament meeting first so by the time my littles are starting to get hungry again it's time for nursery where they will have snack in the first half hour because ALL the kids are hungry. It's lunchtime after all! Our nursery leaders are great because they adjust the nursery schedule depending on what time church starts.

The rest of the kids are on their own. Because we do live so far from town and normally don't get home until 3pm when church starts at 11 we bring granola bars or peanut butter sandwiches to eat as soon as church is over. Our Sunbeam teachers usually provide a snack of apples and string cheese with this meeting schedule too.

It is a hard time, no doubt about it. But, it can be done with a bit of planning and effort. It usually takes us oh, about March, before we are finally in the habit of bringing the food we need for right before church and after. Those first couple of months on the new 11am schedule are a BEAR.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

As far as naps...I can't offer any help. With our long drive the younger ones fall asleep on the way to church AND on the way home...which means no leisure time (read no naptime for Mom!) once we get home because they are wide awake. 9am church is definitely my favorite time.

Amber said...

We usually have a late breakfast/brunch on Sundays, the kids snack on fruit before then, I don't take food for littles to church anymore, we just eat right before and right after, maybe I will start when the 1 yr old gets out of hand.

Britt Kelly said...

to me the question is not about reverence, it's about hunger. I cannot go 4 hours without food and I know my young children cannot...esepcially those who are hypoglycemic like me. We pack a cooler with sandwiches. After sacrament meeting we meet in the kitchen and eat our sandwiches, then go to class like normal. I have at times done nuts and raisins in the same manor.

11-2 is nuts.

I check with the nursery staff to see what they feed for "snack". Some nursery classes take this opportunity to have a lunch instead of a snack...if they don't do this...I supplement for the 2yo there as well, bringing little sandwiches for all the little people.

None of this comes into sacrament meeting...we also try to have a little bit of a later breakfast.

Real said...

We have 11 am church right now. Obviously, the food thing isn't a real problem for my teenagers. But the younger ones would have a hard time. Fortunately, they don't really look at the clock and know what time it is or what time lunch is supposed to be. So we just get up and have them eat breakfast right away. Then serve "lunch" before we leave for church. And no matter what time church is, it seems we always eat immediately upon arriving home!

We lived in Belgium briefly and church was from 11 to 2. But it was so far away and we had to take trains and buses and walk to get there. So we left at 8am and didn't get home until 4:30. So we just ate breakfast in the morning as usual and then had snacks on the train before we arrived at church and did more snacks on the train after church and then dinner as soon as we got home.

Shelley said...

This topic rubs me the wrong way. I come from a ward with a lot of different circumstances and hard circumstances. We have lots of non members, new members, single mothers, grand children coming with grand parents etc.. I am just thankful that they are even at church. I believe we can and should set an example with our own families but should try to refrain from a superior or criticizing demeanor. I am usually at church with my 4 kids 4 and under with Cheerios in tow all by myself. My husband is in med school and still holds down a job so we don't see him very often any of the 7 days of the week. Parenting is hard work especially with slim help and I am usually just thankful that my kids aren't sick making it possible to even go to church.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the responses...I fix a big breakfast usually (pancakes, eggs, etc) but we always eat by 8 or my kids are a mess, as is mommy because I am doing the single mom thing right now as my husband is working away from home. I like the idea of eating before church, this would work with the older two...the two year old is a completely different animal and the only way to keep him calm is food all through sacrament meeting. My mom told me that when my siblings and I were in Nursery they had the parents pack a sandwich to eat at the beginning of class time with the 11am meeting time, which for her solved the lunch problem for the littlest of us.


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