March 25, 2015

Are Children Ever Reverent During Church?

"Child's First Prayer" by Dawn Hudson
I came across this article about a mom who had a church member complain about her noisy children. She felt discouraged and contemplated not attending church the next Sunday, but another church member said a kind word to her the next Sunday. Many of us have had similar experiences.

During church services, my toddler runs up and down the aisles babbling. My older two sometimes wrestle each other. We break up the match and the two boys sulk. Some Sundays, I just give up on containing the chaos.

I've overheard the occasional comment of another member nearby mention to their neighbor how noisy my boys are or that their children were never like that. (Memories fade!) Luckily, this is the exception more than the rule. Most people empathize or laugh. But the insensitive comments have hurt, and I've seen it hurt others too. Because of this, we need to come to an understanding.

The Supposed Conundrum

Some religions encourage members to have children and also want to teach children reverence for God. Members, including parents, then feel that children must behave at church, as in sit still and make no noise. But children make noise! Maybe we need to view reverence in a different light.

What Is Reverence?

Children Often Show Reverence with Exuberance

Children have a natural love for God, which they show according to their personalities. Their reverence may be singing raucously at the top of their lungs, interrupting lessons to share, jumping up and down, folding their arms, or whispering. One way is not better than another way.

Consider a Child's Maturity Level for Outward Reverence

Each age has a different level of understanding. My toddler may imitate sitting for a minute or folding his arms. Otherwise, he wiggles or runs away. I've seen my two older ones be able to sit for a few minutes at a time while reading. Other children have longer attention spans than mine. Some special needs children show more exuberance.

Encouraging Reverence

Children imitate adults, so our examples go a long way. For adults, we can channel children's exuberance through periods of physical activity, sharing stories, singing, reading, and playing games. Then there are times to encourage quiet reverence and taking turns. Whatever a parent can handle.

During Sacrament meeting, I try for a minimum of folding arms, reading and talking about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ during the Sacrament portion. Some Sundays I am on a functioning level to where survival is my only goal.

Forcing "Reverence"

Sometimes we fall into the trap of forcing children to sit still and be silent. These children react out of fear. They are not learning reverence, but resentment toward parents and perhaps God. I cringe when I find myself telling my children to shut up, or hear someone else do the same. A few parents go to the extent of abuse when demanding silence. I'd rather hear a happy child scream than see a withdrawn child cower.

Be Sensitive to Other's Needs

Church with children will always be noisy (and no, we can't kick kids out!). Remember we were once all children. We each have a certain noise level tolerance and a different idea of reverence. We need to respect one another and show love as God would. It may be focusing on a talk and ignoring noise, or taking a fussy child to the hall. Some parents appreciate when others kindly help with their children. 

Avoid showing or voicing annoyance because it hurts both sides. Don't assume someone is talking about you. Pray for help to forgive and remember we are all imperfect. Many times, we just need to let something go. Find the humor in the situation--whatever it takes to cope.

The "Choir of Angels"

I remember when Elder David A. Bednar attended a sacrament meeting at my married student ward. He had told the bishop how much he enjoyed hearing our active 1-yr-old during Sacrament meeting. I felt much better knowing an apostle liked my son's noise. I remind myself that God loves all of us, no matter our level of noise. And we are all in this together.

So how do you feel about reverence and children? How do you cope with noise during church? How do we help children?