If you're a church-goer, you know that Sunday mornings can seem as though they come from . . . well, not from heaven. Sunday is the day we need everybody to leave the house on time and look clean and neat. We want our kids to behave themselves in Sunday School, and be respectful during any of the service they participate in.
It's even harder during COVID--most churches aren't even offering Sunday School, so we either have to take all of the little ones with us, or mom and dad have to take turns going.
Is there a way to get past the crazy on Sundays? How can a family with young children herd them out the door on time, and get them to behave once they're there?
Like almost all of child-training, it requires some planning ahead and commitment to following through--oh, and practice!
Get a whistle, air horn, or bell--or just use the alarm on your phone. On a Wednesday or Thursday, set out a typical church outfit for each child in their rooms without telling them about it. Set aside 20 minutes after a dinner, or any meal when both parents can be present.
During the meal, tell the kids you want to teach them how to do Sunday Drills. The reason? You want to have a better outlook when you go to church, and you need all of them to help. Very briefly say, "A Sunday Drill is a special practice-run for Sunday morning. We'll explain after dinner."
After dinner explain the rules:
When Dad blows the whistle, etc. , the kids who can dress themselves will quietly wash hands and faces here in the kitchen/breakfast room, then as quickly and as quietly as possible, WALK to their rooms and put on the clothes laid out for them.
When they've dressed, they will stand at attention at the door of their rooms (or at a place of your choosing) and wait for "inspection."
Mom or Dad will inspect to see that each child is fully dressed, then comb and fix their hair.
Last but not least, they sit at assigned spots (we're going to use social distancing here for obvious reasons!) to wait until it's time to get in the car. Tell them they may talk quietly to each other, but must sit still until you blow the whistle again. (Allow time for one last pit stop--not optional. Make sure they know this in advance.)
That's a Sunday Drill. A couple of things should be apparent: 1) Make breakfast simple. 2) Not only will you need to make sure their Sunday things are laid out on Saturday, you should also get your things ready--being ready before they are, as much as possible, is key. 3) Somebody has to dress those who can't dress themselves.
Yes, it takes some thought and planning, but this kind of thing really helps them learn how to do it, and is so much better than constant nagging.
NOW--what to do about their behavior during church? Follow these steps:
During the week, when all are present, tell them you're going to play "Show and Tell."
Either Mom or Dad will demonstrate reverent behavior, and the other will demonstrate irreverence--as the kids watch, you'll both sit on the sofa and act it out. (One parent can act out one behavior, then the other, if you can't both be there.)
Ask the kids how they think you'd like for them to act, then tell them it's their turn. They'll probably act silly, but eventually do it. Once they are sitting quietly, tell them you're going to set the timer for 5 min., and whoever can sit quietly for that long can have an M&M (or whatever.)
Do this a few more times during the week, and extend the time each time.
On D-Day Sunday, at breakfast, remind them of the Sunday Drill, and announce that you're going to their favorite park for a picnic after church (or Chick-fil-A, etc.) Remind them about reverent behavior but DO NOT SAY "If you don't behave, you won't get to go."
TAKE TWO CARS TO CHURCH. Remind them again of reverent behavior just before they get out of the car, and as you're going in to church.
During church, gently correct as needed, with the following understanding: at least one of them will probably test to see what will happen. If a child refuses to obey, deliberately causes commotion, intentionally aggravates a sibling, etc., one parent should take that child from the service and go home. The child should be given some lunch, then sent to his/her room for the rest of the day.The rest of the family should go and enjoy the planned activity.
NOTE: The following points are absolutely essential:
DO NOT be afraid of your child's reaction. It's probably going to be big and loud, but stay the course and remain calm.
DO NOT back down, even if he/she apologizes, makes promises never to do it again, wails "you don't love me!," etc.
DO NOT threaten this up front. It will lose most of its effectiveness if you make threats.
The next Sunday, do the Sunday Drill as usual, give the reminders about reverent behavior, and again take two cars to church. My guess is it won't happen again, but if it does (some children really have it in them to push and test) you want to be ready.
Trust me, this is worth what seems like a lot of hassle. It's all about self-control, and it's such an important lesson for children to learn! Be strong, and stick with it--you can do it!