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Sitting Still in Church

November 15, 2000

Dear Mike and Debi Pearl,
Can you please help us? I realize you are very busy and may not have time to answer this, but after reading several of your books and a great number of your articles, I am unable to find any specific advice on how to get a young child (ours is 18 months) to sit still in church. We would so like to have him in the service with us instead of the nursery, but that is completely unrealistic right now. You wouldn't advocate spanking him right in the middle of church, would you? He is otherwise a fairly well-behaved, happy little boy who has responded well to your training techniques.

Dear Eileen,
Please don't do that! Don't disrupt the entire church to spank your child. When you train at home you will not have to train in public.

Train at Home

Go home and train. Set up a training session each day, duplicating as closely as possible the church service. Sit in uncomfortable chairs and play some hymns on the stereo. Then play teaching or preaching tapes while the family sits quietly and listens. Or you can sit beside him and read the Bible in a monotone voice. Better yet, if you don’t have the electronic media and you are able to induce your spouse to assist you, let your husband pretend he is the preacher and carry on for a little while, saying nothing interesting. [Mike wrote the above line, not me.] Keep your switch handy, but not visible during this session. Speak in a whisper or use sign language as you would in church. If the child offends at a level that would be inappropriate in church, then swat him while making your sign language or while whispering your correction.
He needs to know you are not mad at him; you are helping him learn to do a new thing. The first day, he may feel very mistreated and be unhappy. For that reason, you may want to keep your first sessions rather short, and build up to one hour. As the days progress, he will slowly figure out what is required of him and he will get more content. If you can’t get him to sit still at home during these sessions, then don’t take him in public where you will upset others.

We always took a little blanket to church so the small children could lie on the floor and go to sleep if they pleased. As the children got old enough to draw or color, we brought along something to keep them busy. This was not to purchase their cooperation, rather, we did it out of mercy. They do not have as much tolerance as us socially minded adults. Why torture them for an hour or two just to prove they can obey us under such adverse boredom?

The key is happy training at home. He will come to understand that when you require him to sit quietly, he must do so. We get letter every week from families that have successfully trained 6 or 8 children in one week. All training follows the same line. Drill, exercise, and practice while in a state of peace and control, before you reach the place of critical performance. Prepare the child so that he never reaches the breaking point. I say again: the secret is a cheerful countenance that finds creative ways to introduce the child to the demands he must face, and then to drill him in an air of cooperation and expectancy, until he develops the habits we desire. This eliminates the confrontations and crises, allowing everyone to continue in peace and fellowship.

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4 comments on “Sitting Still in Church”

  1. Thank you so much! I have a 21 month old girl who absolutly cannot sit still in church. I told my husband just tonight that I was ready to quit going to church because she misbehaves so bad. We are just a disruption to the service and I am not getting anything out of it. I will start training her first thing in the morning. Your article was a God send. THANKS!

  2. It also helps to turn on radio or television broadcasts of sermons and then insist on quiet time during that session so they can practice respecting the quiet first. Some parents bring all kinds of distractions into church like crayons and I even saw one parent hand their kid a smart phone to play Angry Birds! But, it's a huge distraction from Christ. You might as well send them to the children's room if you have no real intention of letting them hear what's going on by paying attention. This training is a must if your goal is to get them to someday sit in the church as an adult.

  3. This article is very helpful-thank you! We have a 17 month old little girl who is a very pleasant child, however she likes to laugh, giggle at people and play, so either my husband or I will keep her in the nursery. We will begin to train at home, so we can be successful in public! Thanks again!

  4. Thank you for adding the part about having mercy on your children and letting them lie down and sleep (or color when they are older). My children are pretty much grown now, but when they were little, we had trained them at home like you advised. It worked great and they were content! Then one day we went to visit a different church. I knew they had MUCH longer services, so I brought a blanket and some little quiet toys for the children to play with alongside me. They were quietly and contentedly playing, but OH the looks of disapproval I got-the people thought our children weren't trained "well enough." It was obvious. Unfortunately I was younger and more vulnerable to others' opinions, and I got very stressed and ended up with a migraine that day. I knew that my children were just that-children, who needed consideration for their feelings and needs. But I let others' looks "scare" me. Nowadays I'd be able to smile at the offended congregants and not care the least bit about what they thought. 🙂