How to Get Your Kids to Sit Still in Church: JUST KIDDING!

When I blogged about adopting toddlers last week, I shared that church is not exactly easy for us these days. While Baby Boy danced his way through a two hour gospel service when we attended church in Los Angeles this past fall, he cannot make it through even a few minutes on a typical Sunday. Worse than getting through a church service in the sanctuary with him is taking him to the nursery. Baby Boy doesn’t like to be confined, for one thing. And in front of our nursery sits a table full of enticing treats, which he typically can’t eat because he is allergic to dairy — but that doesn’t stop him from trying to get his hands on them and nearly killing me in the process. (Kidding not kidding.)

I saw this blog post circulating a bit on Facebook a few weeks ago. The title intrigued me — teaching kids to sit still in church? Yes, please! I gave it a quick read, hoping it had something brilliant I could implement that would allow us to sit through a church service in peace. (Heck — even ten minutes of a church service would be fantastic!) But I knew shortly into this well-meaning mama’s shared advice that these were not techniques we could implement with Baby Boy. He has sensory processing disorder, and getting him to sit through two pages of a BOARD BOOK is nearly impossible. Do we continue to sit with him and try to read before his naps? Of course. But let’s just say it’s not getting any better (ten months later).

I’m sure there are MANY parents who read this blog post and thought, “Yeah, right”, just as I did. Each child is different. While Yaya sat through  The Nutcracker in its entirety at 22 months old without even squirming, I probably won’t take Baby Boy to it until he is a teenager. She and Baby Boy possess different genes, had different beginnings and have unique personalities. One size does not fit to get hids to behave

While I didn’t do much besides roll my eyes and move on after reading it, this post was shared with me in a more direct after a particularly grueling service with Baby Boy (I was so thankful for the dear friends in our row who helped me out with him). I’ll admit that I was angry and completely humiliated when it was sent to me.

In my tears, I texted a friend from church. This friend doesn’t have children, and I knew she would be honest with me about whether or not Baby Boy’s behavior was so bad that it took away from her ability to worship. I was totally ready to justify his behavior and explain all his challenges and why I can’t discipline him in the way some people think I should (you Karyn Purvis people know what I’m talking about), but all she said was, “It doesn’t matter what’s going on. People should be supportive.”

I was so grateful to her for this Barnabas moment. I was also convicted. How many times have I not been supportive of another mom? So often, when it was just Yaya and me and we would be out together and see a child misbehave, I would think to myself, “That mom is not doing ________ properly if her child is acting like that.”

But here’s what Baby Boy has taught me: each child is DIFFERENT. Some kids are compliant and have an incredible ability to focus. Some kids need to be moving and need constant input. Some kids have special needs. Some kids are over-stimulated easily and can’t handle noise or being off their schedules. And sometimes, kids are just naughty (Psalm 51:5, after all).

To the friend who guiltily admitted to me that she turns on the TV for her kids so that she can have a break while they veg out: No judgement here. (What I wouldn’t give for my kids to be more interested in TV so I could enjoy a break, too!)

To the dad of the little girl whose preschooler was on the floor screaming during story time last week as he looked around, embarrassed: I totally get how hard melt-downs are and how out of control you feel when they happen. Especially in the quiet of the library.

To the mom who let her child quit ballet, despite the whispers of the other moms who said she should force her to “stick it out” and “see it through”: Good for you for listening to your child. You know her better than anyone else.

Becoming an adoptive parent and dealing with challenging behaviors have taught me an important lesson: I am not in control of everything. While I seek to do the best I can by reading and taking classes and following the advice of doctors and physical therapists and occupational therapists, sometimes there are things I just can’t force or train my kids into doing.

You won’t find me posting about how to get your kids to behave in church or at the library or at a restaurant because I HAVE NO FREAKING IDEA HOW TO DO THIS. We’re a work in progress over here and I’m KIND OF LOSING MY MIND.

I don’t know your child’s story and what makes him tick or why he throws tantrums at the library or can’t handle large crowds. But may I always work to be compassionate and supportive, because it doesn’t matter to me. If your child isn’t harming my child, then we’re good. You don’t need to apologize or look ashamed.

Bring on the crazy. Stop by and commiserate. Because THAT I know how to do.



  1. We couldn’t get Hannah to sit still in church, so we asked if she could join Sunday School at an earlier age. The starting age was 3. She joined the first day, and since then, she enjoyed herself every week in Sunday School. Both parents and child are happy!

  2. Love this! Amen! Raising kids is HARD. Raising kids is like being in one of those lab rat mazes. You just have to keep trying different buttons and levers until you figure out what works. And every new kid, every new phase, every new situation is a completely NEW MAZE! Sharing ideas is great an all–but don’t expect even the best ideas to work unless you happen to have the magical combination of child, phase, and circumstance.

    Anyway, love this post (=

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