November 12, 2012

Sunday S.O.S.

Sacrament meeting with my children is a trial of my faith.

I was preparing a gratitude-filled post with inspiring quotes, but I will have to save that for another time. Because after being pawed to death by my children-turned-demons today at church I decided to send out an S.O.S. to the smartest mom's I know (That's you.) Help! How do you survive sacrament meeting with your kids?

A year or so ago I wrote the following:

Getting kids out of the car and into the church can be quite a challenge. Especially when kids have fallen asleep in the car. I feel like I'm a fireman hauling dead-weight children from a fire, then running back out to get more, hustling to get seated before the opening song ends. Or some days staggering under the weight of several kids at a time and trying to keep my skirt up while my arms go numb and kids slide down each hip. (Word to Wise: Always double-knot drawstring skirt!)

Then once we're seated (after squishing past the bookend members to the middle of the row) a kid inevitably whacks their noggin on the hymnal holder (probably trying to reach for that crusty fruit snack left on the floor from the last ward.) Thus begins the evacuation procedure in reverse. This time as fast as possible before the wounded finishes taking that initial breath. (You know, the one that sucks all available air from the room as the kid prepares for a chandelier shattering wail.)

I squeeze through the row, sucking in so as not to booty-bump Brother So and So in the back of the head. I am dodging scripture cases and trying to untangle from the high-heel hungry tentacles of purses under the pew all while trying not to land in Sister Whatsits lap (again.) My efforts at sneaking past are futile because my little banshee's foot gives Brother Almost Asleep a swift kick as we shimmy through and my diaper bag knocks out Sister End of the Row as we stumble into the aisle. "Don't worry Brother End of the Row, I'll fireman carry her out too. Back in a flash..."
I am proud to report I have gotten better at getting everyone into and out of the building. (I'd like to see a fireman do that in heels!) But I haven't yet figured out how to have a revelatory meeting while the kids are playing 'king of the mountain' on my lap, squishing my cheeks and mussing my hair. If you are able to maintain reverence and sanity under such circumstances you are a zen master and my hero and I could use your tips. S.O.S "Save Our Sunday!"

 --------------------------- Jana is a mother of five who is VERY thankful for her children's primary and nursery leaders. She is also thankful for the squishy chair in the mother's lounge where she can hide and rock in the corner to recover from sacrament meeting. :) ----------------------------------

18 comments - Add a comment below -:

Anaise said...

I have 7 kids, and I spent years walking the halls with my busy little ones, but now I am able to occasionally listen to the meeting (though that is about to end for a season because my youngest is just becoming a toddler!) I get weekly compliments and expressions of thanks from ward members on how well-behaved my children are. I remember the harder days, and here's what we've done to get where we are now.

1. The children's feet are never allowed to touch the floor. No matter what, the children are to remain on the pew or in parent laps. All playing, coloring, snacking takes place off the floor.

2. Bring drawing/coloring supplies for everyone, and toys and snacks for anyone younger than four.

3. Any and all noisy, restless behavior results in being taken out the meeting (away from the fun stuff) and being carried about in a parent's arms. No one's feet hit the floor even now. Make that hallway time very, very boring!!

4. Sit in the very front row. It becomes very easy to get out of the meeting instead of having to cross over the "bookends." And the kids will eventually respond to the fact that all eyes are on them--even unconsciously.

5. If you're the only adult sitting with your children, get a church grandma to sit with you. Do not disperse your children around the ward. Sit as a family, and invite someone lonely to join you and watch the others when you take out a needy baby or restless child.

That's what we've done, and it has worked for us. It takes lots of time, but now I have kids who listen to the lesson and sit quietly all the way through sacrament meeting with little or no prompting.

Wishing you joyful meetings ahead!

Tristan said...

Ahh, the joys and trials of Sacrament Meeting! A few questions - do you have a husband helping you get ready for church and does he sit with you (or is he on the stand doing music/bishopric, etc)? I'm joyful that my husband no longer has meetings before church so I am not trying to get all 7 ready and to church alone anymore!!

Here is what we do. Your mileage may vary.

Pack all bags the night before. Just can't overstate this. So important especially if you have church before 11am.

Teach your children to do Head Shoulders, Knees, and Toes the night before. When they stand in their bedroom and sing the song they grab whatever is needed to cover that area clothing wise and put in on their dresser or wherever else you want it. So head means they grab hairbrush and hair things, shoulders means a shirt, tie, dress, bra. Knees means underwear, pants, skirt. Toes means socks/tights and church shoes.

Now, actually in Sacrament meeting we strategically place those who sit beside each other. This means my children are lined up beside the van in the parking lot. No joke! I have two children who absolutely may not sit beside each other at church (6yo girl and 5 yo boy) and then the 10 month old is in mommys arms and the 1 year old is beside daddy. The 3 year old can be by anyone but can't be by the end of the pew or he leaves.

Next, the only things we bring to sacrament meeting for entertainment are:
pretzels, which will not be given out until the final speaker begins.
Paper and crayons, to be passed out after we have taken the sacrament. This may be cut in shapes, folded into cards, or just plain old paper. Sometimes I get really energetic and print off a stack of the coloring pages from the Friend magazine and put them in a file to grab when packing the diaper bags.

That is it. The baby does get a blanket he can chew on.

Children are allowed to look at the hymnal. They are not allowed to get on the floor and turn around to use the pew as a coloring surface, or sit or lay or walk on the floor. They must be on the pew.

A few things that have made a huge difference.
- Be very careful what you feed the kids before church! No sugary junk cereal. No candy. No cookies. Watch out for things full of food dyes, especially Red 40 (food dyes really affect one of our chldren drastically).
- If you have time before church (afternoon church) run the little chidren's energy out.
- Naps - ah, that's awful. This year our ward is 1pm-4pm. Tired, evil children result. We just try not to cry when the little ones do. LOL.

One other thing may seem odd, but I promise it has made a huge difference in our children's reverence. Do daily practice time sitting reverently. We combined ours with scripture study at first and the rule was you sit and don't get up or talk, unless it is your turn to read. We line them up on the sectional, but pulling the chairs from the table and lining up similar to a primary class could be effective too. We started with 5 minutes. Once that became easier we added time until we do 15 minutes pretty darn great. My wiggliest boy is 3 even he makes it through well. Did I mention God blessed us with only 2 girls and 5 boys so far? The last four boys are my youngest children - 5, 3, 1, and 10 mos. They are like a pack of puppies most days, so this sitting thing really did/does take practice.

Hang in there. Even if you are not getting anything out of sacrament meeting your children are feeling the spirit and getting the habit of attending. They see that it's important to you. That makes an eternal impact.

((HUGS)) It's hard. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. But this too shall pass, right?

Megan said...

I have no idea. I will be listening in as my husband's work schedule changed, leaving me with no car and hauling the three by myself. I think it would be ok, but the three year old is something else. I've pretty much resigned myself to not go anymore. The last time I went the 3 year old and 1 year old were so wild, even my two hands were not enough. It was all I could do to not cry.

Evelyn Curtis said...

I may only have 3 kids, but it does not take away the fact that the principles are the same, no matter how many children you have. (I just Loled because many think 3 is a large amount of children and I said "only").

My hubby was on the stand when my two oldest were little 1 and 2 1/2. I tried everything. Quiet toys, snacks, books, crayons, colored pencils only.... I went through a lot of toys and activities thinking I just needed to find the right busy activity. Did I mention that we were serving in a singles ward? So it was extra quiet. I felt the pressure to get my kids to be absolutely silent!... which I did. How? I stopped bringing all the snacks, toys and crayons. They all lead to some kind of irreverent behavior.

I finally limited them to one small notebook, and one small crayon, pencil, or colored pencil...but no more. For me, that did the trick. I sat between them, and things got easier. But that wasn't all, I had to set boundaries.

Every morning before we got out of the car, I'd turn around and tell them what I expected of them in church. I warned them that they would not get any extra chances (I do this going into the store or anywhere public). I then make sure they understand. We don't leave the car until they have confirmed their understanding. Then consequences would be handed out if they "forgot". I also set the rule that no one leaves sacrament meeting...so take care of your business before or after. (Of course, with little ones, we have to be flexible.)

But ultimately, set your rules and expectations, and be firm about following through with them. I have a friend who boxed up every last toy after leaving sacrament meeting early due to naughty and irreverent behavior. She said it took them weeks to earn them back, and she didn't have issues after that. No false threats. They don't work, and kids know it. I have done it, and do it... and I'm sure I will do it in the future... but they never work. They just enable the children to act out more.

Now that I have 3 kids (a 6 year span between #2 and #3), I have enforced the same rules. For him, he gets one book that encourages reverence. For us, it is either a picture book I made of our extended family, or a picture book about Jesus. Either myself or my husband sit with him during the sacrament pointing to Jesus etc. He loves the sacrament water, and usually hollers in his baby babble (he's 20 months) until it gets to him. We bring a water bottle to give him a drink if he gets like that at any point during.

I think you just have to take into consideration each of your children's temperament, and prepare what they need to be reverent.

If my kids get too out of control (which for my olders is usually whispering or talking when they should listen and be quiet), they get taken out for a time out (for us is a nose on the wall: 1 minute per year of age). I never have to take my two oldest now. They know what I expect. If they forget their manners, a gentle reminder is enough for them. Also, I rarely have to take my tot out. If he gets out of line, I take him out and sit him on my lap. I NEVER let him run around outside of the chapel. I did the same with my olders when they were little. After a minute of holding them, I gently tell them (especially if they start squirming to get down) that if we go back in, he can look at his book.

Last but not least, be sure to give them a hug when you get home and commend them for their good behavior...even if they weren't very good. Find something to praise! :)

Mandy said...

Amen to getting prepared the night before!
We have found that having assigned seating on the pew works well for our family too. It has minimized many sibling squabbles.
We will also occasionally reward them with a "party" after church if they are well-behaved too. (It helps if we let them know before church that they're earning it). All this amounts to is something fun like a "hot chocolate party" (or some other easy treat), or playing a game together, etc.
I think it is really helpful for them to know the boundaries/expectations before getting to church too because it's so difficult to try to start enforcing a rule that they didn't really know during a quiet sacrament meeting.

Kristy said...

We used to pack all kinds of things for our children to do during Sacrament meeting, and then we stopped 4 months ago-cold turkey. We have paper and pencil which they may have after the Sacrament. My two oldest boys may not sit by each other, which often means my husband and I can't sit by each other either (sigh). But it is working. Sunday for the first time I was able to hear an entire talk from start to finish--that was with the 3yo on my lap. I was shocked and amazed! I think what helped this last week was how we spent our morning (our church is from 1-4). No crazy playing and running around the house. I read stories, we pulled out old copies of the Friend, we had family counsel and scriptures, wrote in our journals, and worked on Faith in God. The calmer morning meant calmer children at church. Now the trick is to make it 2 weeks in a row. :)

Becky said...

I think these moms have it right. Reverence doesn't come by being supplied with an arsenal 'quiet' toys, books or snacks. I keep snacks out of the chapel (unless I have a small baby but by one they are done.). My oldest children can bring a paper and pencil. Under 4 can bring one 'church' book and paper and pencil.
I used to come stocked and ready for whatever my kids could throw at me. I've found the more they have to do the less I can listen to the speaker. They need help too often with extra things or are busy banging cars or animals or whatever on the wooden pew. I don't get to listen because I am too busy reminding them to 'play softly' or 'use whispers'.
All in all there is never a perfect sacrament meeting and younger children always need help and reminders. I do feel since we cut everything out I have gotten much more out of sacrament meeting then I used to.

notmolly said...

Our strategies are going to sound repetitive following the other comments. :)

Our kids do really well with Sacrament meeting, and I do think it's a combination of them being generally pretty civilized, and the family attitude being fairly firm.

I do not haul goodies, toys, books, or amusements. Never have. I grew up with access to my scriptures, the hymnal, and plain paper with a pencil (which I had to remember to bring) after The Big Boys sat down following the Sacrament.

We've done this with our kids. I'll nurse the nurslings to take care of that need, but otherwise, we expect they can sit still for a bit, and can definitely go for 70 minutes without food. I don't like to "treat train" my kids anyhow, so we don't use food as a solution to boredom or as a reward/punishment.

Littles get to sit in a lap, or snuggle with someone bigger. We encourage everyone to sing, or at least read along in the hymnal. We run our fingers under the words for anyone interested in reading, even if they can't actually read yet.

I can't actually remember the last time I took a child out of a meeting. Usually the Death Stare With Huge Eyeballs clues them in that they're not behaving as I expect, and they straighten up quick. When we have had to remove them, we make sure any physical needs (drink, bathroom) are handled, and then return quickly and quietly. Sitting in the foyer is *not* a fun thing.

My kids are accustomed to being required to entertain themselves quietly, without me. Between working from home, and schooling multiple kids, that independence is something we do expect, and do let them develop slowly as they grow. I did regularly require my toddlers to wait sixty seconds, two minutes, five minutes, etc to let me finish a conversation with someone else, finish a lesson, finish a page, finish a task. I acknowledge them, but I don't always satisfy a want immediately. :)

NOT hauling everything is very freeing. I see what some families haul, and I just want to hug them and say, "You don't HAVE to! Your children are lovely little people! Expect more, train them a bit, and let them blossom! Save your back!" :)

Andrea said...

Um, I'm with the no snack or toys crowd. I have 5 kids age 9 and under. My oldest has the hardest time so she is allowed to draw in her journal (which she carries in her scripture case) what the speakers are talking about. That's it. If she starts doodling about anything else the journal goes back in the case.

The 7 year old boy and 6 year old girl are not allowed anything. They sit. They daydream or the listen. The 3 year old boy has to sit with dad because if he sits by me I tend to start screaming (internally) by the end of three minutes of being mauled. Dad takes boy. I have the baby (about 22 months) on my lap and she gets to have her favorite doll that is fabric and makes absolutely no noise. She also gets one small board book.

That's it. When we used to bring quiet things, even the Friend, inevitably somebody wanted the magazine the other person had and it all went downhill from there.

We also have a very strict seating order in that my 7 year old son is also NOT allowed to sit by me because he kicks my legs and drives me nuts, and nobody sits by the oldest except me. She's on the end. I'm next so if I have to leave with baby I'm only crawling over one person.

All I can say is--good luck. My kids are pretty well behaved but I still don't always get much out of the meeting because I'm still entertaining the baby. The important thing, to me, is that my children are learning that we are in Sacrament meeting to take the Sacrament and learn. Hopefully sometime they'll grasp the concept!!

Now if anyone can explain to me how to take my children grocery shopping without my ending up in hysterics--I'm open to suggestions. :)

Lorena said...

For Megan: My husband is required to work 1 - 2 Sundays each month. I have had many Sundays where I spend all three hours in the halls walking babies, trying to get kids to their classes (when they really don't want to go), etc. I mentioned this to a friend one day (who also was in the hall with a baby), and she said, "Sometimes the only reason we come is to show the Lord whose side we are on." A few weeks ago, my husband was working, my four-year-old wouldn't go to primary, my one-year-old wouldn't sit on my lap, and the newborn was in his carseat. My two oldest kids sat in Sacrament meeting alone and attended their primary classes. I was in the foyer/halls the entire time. When I called my mom about it later, I told her that the only thing I got out of church that day was getting the two bigger kids to their classes/meetings. But I think that is even worthy of the effort. It will pay off later! Don't give up!

Stefanie said...

I have never laughed so much in my life! I have 6 kids ages 22 - 6. We bring scriptures and each has a small notebook and a pencil. That is it. All bathroom and water needs are to be taken care of before hand. With olders all phones or other i products are to be lock in the car or left at home. We started practicing how to sit still when our first was about a year old. We started with 5 mins and worked up to about 30 mins. With each additional child we would start them at 5 mins and work up. It went much faster because they had siblings who set a good example. We always sat as a family and only had friends sit with us if their parents weren't there. I explain what is expected before church and I don't generally have a problem. If someones starts to act up a quick glare in their direction is usually all it takes. If more is needed a conversation in a classroom and a reminder of expected behavior brings all back to normal. Now if someone could tell me how to help my husband be less distracted...

Norman and Corie said...

I agree with all the wonderful advice given so far. My Children are no longer babies or toddlers (9,8 and almost 7). It is an excellent idea to 'practice' sitting quietly for small durations of time that increase when mastered. However I have found that my children responded better to 'earning' time during Sacrament Meeting. Every minute they were disruptive they sat after the meeting was finished for the same amount of time. They are required to be respectful and quiet during their 'earned' time. They sit in the same spot they sat during the meeting.The first couple of times we were sitting in a deserted chapel for almost 40 minutes.It was very peaceful and I was able to talk to them about the Spirit and how important it is that we invite the Spirit to be with us by behaving appropriately. After three times my children were no longer disruptive.Now I just remind them that they'll owe me minutes and their behaviour is modified immediately. Be firm but kind.I also have a husband who works some Sundays and it helps my sanity tremendously when the Sunday meetings go smoothly. Good Luck.

Jana said...

I knew you guys were the perfect crowd for good advice. Thanks all for your good suggestions. It sounds like I need to work on my "mom is serious" glare. Tristan: yes, hub is on the stand so I am on my own getting ready and in the pew. Megan: I feel your pain! Try to meet new people in the halls then it counts as fellowshipping. ;) Stefanie: thanks for catching the humor and I totally loved the 'husband' part!

Amanda said...

We have sacrament meeting last - shoot me, I know, and my husband is the bishop. YIKES! So I've been flying solo on our pew for the last 4 1/2 years (he was in the Bishopric before this), and my oldest is now 5 1/2. I have only one bit of advice. Look really pathetic and you'll find the members of your ward will start showing up with fun bags and snacks for your kids. I haven't sat with my 2 1/2 year old for months, but I know she's well watched over. And she delights the many grandparents, great-grandparents , and single women of our ward. Good luck! I think we get the spiritual boost simply for going, and props on getting them all in in heels no less. I swore i wouldn't wear those for years - not until I won't drop a child, since I'm clumsy like that!

Rooster Cogburn said...

These are all so helpful! I have a 10-month old, so in a few months, we'll start "training" him a little bit. I've noticed I've started a habit of shoving Cheerios in his mouth if he starts to get loud or bored. That might be a bad idea... :)

BlackSunshine said...

Lots of great ideas! For our family, we have to bring things for the kids to do (we have 4). We have issues of ADD and ADHD, including my husband and I! No one can sit quietly and stare off into space. We all have notebooks, crayons or pens. We have church magazines whether in print or electronic. There are several magazines so everyone has something to look at. We have church themed quiet books and sometimes board books for the littlest ones.

The biggest thing for us has been not what we bring or don't bring, but what the attitude about sacrament is. We teach about reverence and the purpose of sacrament meeting. We've had to teach the kids that just because something doesn't make any noise (like a ball) it isn't a reverent thing to have at church. That has made more of a difference than anything else.

Also some kids are not allowed to sit by each other because there are always problems with breathing the same air and sitting within 12 inches of each other! :)

My nine year old does great, my six year old does pretty well, and the little girls will learn more as they get older. And the best thing is that during dinner later in the day, we talk about what we learned at church and they all remember things from sacrament meeting! That is the best feeling.

Elephant said...

Oh I feel right at home with this purse. As I read, I commented in my head, "Yep, that's Sunday alright!"

Let me tell you, I go home after church feeling like I just finished an intense aerobic workout. Some days I even go home feeling judged for my children's seemingly out-of-control behavior. (It is probably all in my head, though...)

However, that being said, one of my most memorable Sundays is when I heard exactly ONE WORD from the talks given. I was literally bending down to scoop my daughter up from the floor where she was throwing a screaming fit in the middle of branch conference when I heard it. That word was COMPASSION. I took it as a personal message, so now I strive to handle all their actions/ inactions with compassion.

My main focus is to achieve reverence during the Sacrament. Afterwards we break out the crayons, snacks, hot wheels, stickers, The Friend, look-and-find books, lacing cards...etc. One of my present ideas for Christmas is to make each child a quiet bag with activities geared for each of their own personalities.

Again, thank you for this post!! It is wonderful to know I am not alone in my challenges. Blessings to all of you!!

Heidi said...

Haha! I love all these comments from experienced parents! Thanks for the idea list!

I am intriqued by not having food in Sacrament meeting. Maybe when my children are older I'll try it. One less thing to prepare!

For now, food works better than toys for my little family. All toys, books, etc get my child far too excited and he wants to share and play and engage with everyone and me! And since he is so stinking' cute, he is impossible for pew neighbors to ignore! Haha! Since my husband doesn't sit with us, I got to make it work for my 2 boys and me (a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old). My older one will sit calmly if he's eatting, so that is what I plan. :) The key words for me are: healthy and tidy! Things he can eat without my supervision and not get sugar-rushed! Some of our favorites are: beef sticks (beef jerky), clemintines (he'll peel them himself and put them in a little baggie or container), milk with ice (keeps it cold), sandwiches, and if I pack small bits like cereal (whole wheat), I give him 1-2 at a time so they don't get flung or spilled.

I think the main thing to think about is to know the needs of your family and help them make the choices they want to make (everyone wants to make appropriate choices and gain approval). And I also consider what I want: to be calm and feel the Spirit so I feel ready when I take the Sacrament, I want my children to feel loved and accepted, and as bonus points: I want my pew neighbors to not be too distracted (but after all you can do, and you can only do so much, you got to know that your pew neighbors are in charge of their own feelings.)

I'm happy I attend a church that welcomes all of us noisy people to worship together, so we can figure it all out together with charity!

Much love and good luck to you!