16th April 2015
At our church we really like to have children and families coming together. When we come together to worship, God speaks to adults and children in many different ways, not just through the words we understand. In fact if God only spoke through words we understood many of us would be wasting our time in worship. God’s presence is experienced in different ways so it is important for children, even babies in bassinets to be exposed to the worship environment not because they understand but because they are able to sense and feel. Feeling is what small children are equipped to do. In early childhood we absorb sounds, rhythms and the “vibes” around us. Regular worship occasions allow a positive environment to impact our children from the outset of life. This is why we need to regularly bring our children and toddlers to church. It is never too late to start but the earlier the better. With the preparation and supervision required, you will need to accept that as a parent you may not be able to fully participate in worship for some years. In fact to be realistic, it needs to be said there will be times when you will feel “frazzled” or exhausted, but be patient because the tide will turn. The thing that keeps parents going is the belief that for now this is what it means to be a Christian parent. Be assured that with God’s help this is by far the best investment you will ever make.
Guidelines for every week
The Babe -in-Arms usually present the least problem. They are usually happy to be held and cuddled. Enough is happening in the general movement of the service to hold their interest. A stroller or carry basket can be placed in the aisle. A toy to cuddle or chew will usually occupy them. Rocking or a walk at the back of the church easily soothes minor fretting. Contented babbling is never really disturbing. Only leave the worship area if persistent crying or loud noise means that needs must be met.
Feel free to feed baby. Bottles, biscuits or apples are ok and a damp cloth is handy to clean up. Most churches have a crèche or place to withdraw when that is necessary.
Crawling children. Sit towards the back of the church. Small children cannot sit still and it is unrealistic to expect it. Allow them freedom of movement to crawl on the floor, under and on the seat. If they end up on someone else’s knee, what better way of illustrating the family of the church? However, books, quiet toys, etc will usually keep your child on your knee for long spells. With children of this age it is probably wise, where possible, to attend shortened services or part of a service.
Toddlers can be handled in much the same way as crawling children although concentration span will be a little longer and the variety of activities possible a little greater. They will, of course, want to be on their feet and walking some of the time. If the noise of this activity bothers you take their shoes off or bring slippers. Parents of children of this age may question the value of taking them to church at all. It has value for the following reasons.
(a)It helps them to become accustomed to the surroundings and atmosphere of worship.
(b)It establishes a pattern of regular church attendance for all the family.
(c)It helps them feel “at home” in the family of the church-- others know them and they get to recognise others.
Pre-schoolers can learn a lot about worship. Take time at home to talk about pray with your children and pray every night at home. On entering the seat at church pray briefly with them and continue your own prayer as they settle with play things. Encourage your children to stay with you and have interesting things that will help them from wondering. Some spaces encourage children run, jump and call out. Explain that worship has a different feel from other places. Tell them about the “special times’ in church when we talk to God, read and explain Bible stories, learn some songs and the Lord’s Prayer. This will help the pre-schooler to feel they have a part in worship. Bring a favourite book from home. Jigsaws, pencils etc may be provided. There will be times when they ask questions about what is happening. Answer at once. This will increase understanding and the feeling of belonging, as will the occasional explanation of things that are happening eg– the Minister coming in, children going up front, the offering plates being taken up etc. Help them participate in active things eg– putting offering into the plate, saying “Amen”. Pre-schoolers love routine and knowing what happens next. Praise them for participation. Be positive in your expectation. If a child knows you think they may not like it, they won’t
The five year old can enjoy the practical skill learning to read in church. Point to words on the News-sheet or screen, “the”, “and”, “father’, “in” etc. Tell them of the way in which you would them to join in and why you expect that kind of behaviour from them Involve them in the service in the same ways suggested for the pre-schooler. Remember to praise them. The five year old is not too old for a cuddle during the sermon.
Six to eight year olds who have been going to Church regularly will know and expect it to be part of the family’s lifestyle. Their participation will increase with age and so will reading ability. Bible stories, songs the Lord’s Prayer, a brief prayer before meals when shared with parents at home will all help.
By nine and ten a child is usually influenced by pressures outside the family as well as by those at home. As they grow they will test and question the family’s pattern. Attendance will depend on the consistent firm expectations of parents. Children of this age love clubs, belonging to groups, scouts, guides. Search out Christian bookshops for good gifts and resources. eg computer games, Cd’s, Dvd’s.
Young teenagers. As a child grows through the teenage years they will want to make their own decisions and parents will find them resistant to pressure. The child will largely build on whatever foundations were laid in early years. Teenagers observe faith more by relationships and mentors than sermons. Christian camps or groups like Scripture Union that challenge youth to decide about following Christ are important. The attitudes and practices of parents will remain important but flexibility and open relationships will be more important. Take time to talk about experiences at home and remember that as parent our expectations are not always immediately fulfilled. Pray for your children and know that God’s plan and timing for those we love will always surpass our own.
Adapted by E.A. (Ted ) Curnow from “On the Move” Joint Board of Christian Education.