Although it may seem counter-intuitive, bringing fewer activities (or none at all!) for your child to do during church services seems to help improve church behavior. Here are some important steps for changing your expectations of your children’s behavior at church.
1. Make a Plan
Decide which activities you’ll get rid of, which ones to keep, and possibly activities you may choose to add (to replace your old activities that were problematic). Decide what your expectations are for your kids behavior during church services so you can be clear with everyone about what how you want them to behave.
2. Talk with your Spouse
Make sure your spouse or any other adults that attend church with you understand your plan and expectations. Getting them on your side will be essential to your success.
3. Hold a Family Meeting
This meeting can be formal or informal. Let your kids know that during church you’ll be bringing fewer activities in hopes that they’ll learn to be more reverent. Remind your kids how you expect them to behave (sitting on the pew, no talking, seating arrangements if you have them, whatever family rules and expectations you have decided upon).
4. Weed Out Half of the Activities in Your Bag.
The first week get rid of half the activities in your bag. Each week afterward take out an additional activity or replace an activity. Transitioning over a few weeks will make adjustment easier, rather than going cold turkey. Read about how to decide which activities are most appropriate and helpful during church meetings in the article “What to Pack in Your Quiet Church Bag”.
5. Stick with Your Plan
Continue to bring only your “approved” items. Don’t ever bring anything you’ve decided is problematic. Don’t allow your kids to bring in items you haven’t approved beforehand. Continue to remind your children about your expectations for their behavior each week on your way to church.
6. Verbally or Visually Reward for Good Behavior.
Make sure to give your kids lots of positive signs that you approve of their reverence during church (a wink, a thumbs up, a whispered compliment, or a smile). After church make sure to sincerely compliment what they did well. “Wow! I noticed that you stayed sitting tall the whole time, you didn’t lay on the bench or on the floor at all. It made you seem really grown up! That’s something I hope I’ll see again!”
7. Offer an Additional Small Incentive
If you feel like it might help, offer a reward that they will receive AFTER church. Before you leave home you might leave the reward on the kitchen counter (a tootsie roll, a game to play with dad, a package of fruit snacks, a sheet of stickers, or something small that would be meaningful to your child). Explain to your child that if they behave well they can have the reward when the family returns home later. After a few weeks or months your child will settle more securely into their “good behavior” habits at church. When they seem to be doing well, only offer the reward when they remind you about it. Eventually, they will behave well without even thinking about the treat. Before long they will behave without being rewarded. The small reward is short-term motivation while they are establishing a new habit. This step is optional. If you don’t feel good about offering your child a reward, then you can stick with verbal praise.