Why I stopped entertaining my children at church.

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I sat in the chapel with my two older kids, infant in my arms, and my toddler out in the hall with dad.  The last speaker was closing up.  As I echoed an automatic “Amen,” I realized I had not heard a single word they had said.

I was too busy.  Busy handing out crayons, folding paper into fans, opening snacks, and basically being a referee.  Can you relate?  Later that day, I called my Mom and vented my frustrations.  For over 30 years, she had sat reverently on the third row with her 7 children while her husband was usually sitting on the stand.  Surely she would know what to do.

And of course, she did.  “Take away the distractions,” she simply replied.

What distractions?  My 30-pound Sunday bag was full of things to keep them reverent!  If I took it all away, then what would they do?  But those four words resonated with me all week long.  And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  So I tried it.  Cold turkey.

Miraculously, that first Sunday was smooth sailing.  I left my bag at home, and the kids all sat through sacrament meeting without a quarrel and nothing to do but listen.  Honest.  I was instantly converted to this concept and never looked back.  I can’t say that every Sunday since has been as successful as that first one and I don’t expect them to be.  But I have noticed a huge improvement as I implement this rule each week.

Of course it’s important to remember that kids are just kids.  However, I believe most children can sit and listen without other forms of entertainment.  But it’s a skill that needs to be learned.  We can’t expect them to be perfect without practice, just as we can’t expect them to ride a bike without teaching them how.  So, how do you prepare a child to sit reverently for an hour?  Here are a few other ideas:

Be an example.  Your children watch what you do.  Sure, you are quiet during the meeting, but are you being reverent?  Get rid of your own distractions like your phone or tablet.  Show them what it looks like to be reverent.

Prepare at home.  There are many great moments at home when you can take advantage of practicing reverence.  Eating dinner at the table may help your children to sit still while listening.  Family Home Evening can be a wonderful time to talk about what is expected of them during sacrament meeting and how you will help them meet those expectations.

Make them dread the foyer.  I am always surprised to see parents out in the hallway or foyer while their young children are running around, laughing, or playing with toys.  No wonder they don’t want to be in the chapel.  The foyer is fun!  If your child needs to be taken out, let them sit by your side and practice sitting reverently.  On occasion, my husband has had to take our screaming child to a classroom and shut the door.  He threw a tantrum a time or two, but quickly learned he would rather be in the chapel.

Teach the importance of the sacrament.  Sacrament meeting is the most sacred and important meeting in the church.  We need to partake of the bread and water each week so we can fully enjoy the blessings of the atonement.  Young children may not fully understand the importance of the sacrament, but they can understand that it is important and that they should be respectful while in the chapel.

I know this isn’t a “fix-all” for every family or situation.  But I do know that all of those distractions had ultimately caused more chaos than good.  It worked wonders for my family and it may even work for yours.  Sacrament meeting should be a positive experience for us and our children, and by taking away distractions and preparing our children, it can be.

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