Children at Church and Other Solemn Occasions
'Tis the season…to try desperately to keep your children quiet during religious services, concerts, plays, and the like. But let's face it, they are kids! They're not exactly hardwired to sit still and look angelic. Except, of course, when no one is looking. I mean, there is Murphy's Law to contend with. So whether you are looking to survive a one-time event or to make weekly services more enjoyable, how do you help your child stay quiet?
To start off with, we are assuming that you are going to an event where children are welcome, but need to be relatively quiet and calm. Let's just acknowledge that this is not always possible with little ones, and taking them out of the service if they are not handling it well is not a punishment; it's just acceptance of the limits of preschoolerhood.
Staying quiet requires a set of skills that can be worked on over time, but that we can't expect of preschoolers who have not had a chance to practice. Among other things, it requires:
- being aware of the volume of their own voice
- being able to control the volume of their voice
- ability to wait (self-control)
- following directions
- ability to focus on quiet activities
A child's quietness requires something of the parents as well. Parents need to plan for physical needs; ideally a child would go into a service or event well-fed and well-rested. A quiet, non-messy snack, a drink, and a comfort item (blanket, doll, pacifier) can be helpful for getting through a lengthy program. Parents also need to bring a lot of activities to occupy a child's hands and mind. (Remember that preschoolers have short attention spans; they won't play with the same toy for an hour.)
Here are some quiet activities that you can bring for your child to do. Ideally, these items would not be completely new (the child knows how to play with them without a lot of instruction), but not so familiar that the child is tired of them.
- Small dolls
- A notebook with pens or colored pencils for drawing or coloring
- Pipe cleaners/ Pipe-cleaner people
- Sewing cards
- A ribbon to wave if there is music
- Finger puppets (or paper to make origami puppets)
Set expectations ahead of time. On the way there, you can practice whispering. Make sure to give it a name (quiet voice, whisper, etc.), so that you can remind your child later to use their whisper voice (or whatever you called it). Tell them, "We are going to a place where we will be very quiet. I have some special quiet things for you to do. If you need to talk to me, use your whisper voice close to Mommy's ear."
Set your own expectations as well. You need to stay on top of your child's attention span, handing him the next toy or book as he begins to tire of what he has. Make sure you get them interested in a new toy before taking away the one they already have—unless you want loud protests!
Finally, stay positive. Your relationship with your children is important, and if you are feeling very anxious about their behavior, the best way to avoid losing your temper might be to just take them out. You can continue to work on skills for staying quiet at home, and these outings will get easier and easier.