7 Strategies for Success During Prayer Services With Kids
We’re sitting in the pew with a bag full of goodies and almost a pantry’s worth of fruit snacks. We are “those” parents.
While the priest delivers an important message meant to refuel the soul, we are silently praying for an hour of cooperation in the pew with these two little humans.
The Huffington Post recently published an article about this very feeling. Many families do not bother attending a service because of the potential for chaos.
Here are some tips and tricks from us here at The Behavior Momma that may help you begin or continue your journey (re) entering the spiritual community with your chicks.
Proactive tips to *prevent* problem behavior:
1) Teach and reinforce waiting in other places
Go to a restaurant. Go to a park. Require your child to sit and wait. You can start with small amounts of time, like 3-5 minutes. If you practice for the big game ahead of time, sitting and waiting won’t be a new experience. Reinforce this waiting with access to items that are quiet. These are the types of items you would likely have with you in a religious service. Speaking of items….
2) Have a bag prepared
These should be thing like books, Slinkies, Post-it notes, dry erase boards. If you have kiddo who loves food, you can try fruit snacks or squeeze pouches. These are foods that not so “noisy” to consume.
Here’s a quick snap shot of ours:
(Top: Flashcards, book, snacks/juice. Bottom: dry erase, playdoh, slinkie, post its, sticker book)
3) Set ‘em up for success
Why should your kids behave in a church service?
What’s in it for them? While we are motivated to learn from the service, our little ones are not yet equipped to digest knowledge presented in the same way.
As a Catholic, I realize my 2 year old cannot grasp the concept of transubstantiation. She does, however, understand that when she quietly sits, she can have some fruit snacks immediately. My 4 year old understands that if he does the same he can watch Mickey Mouse when he gets home.
This only works if this valuable thing isn’t given to them freely all of the time.
Pick something valuable that can be associated only with a religious service as a reward for appropriate behavior. This is called pairing. Tell them prior to attending the service: “If you sit nicely during the service, you can ______.”
4) Consider the environment
Like a stealthy ninja, you must work quickly if you need to get up. Don’t sit in the middle of a pew. Sit on the end and have easy access to get out, if needed. If the music can be too much, sit on the opposite side. Or if your kids LOVE watching the music, sit near. But have an exit strategy.
Reactive tips *after* the problem behavior has occurred:
1) As SOON as trouble nears, say “Tell me you need a break”
If he simply wants to leave, tell him to ask for a break by saying it, pointing to the door or some type of communication. Then, take a walk to the back of the room or a cry room.
By reinforcing communication before the full-blown tantrum, you may increase your child asking for a break instead of having a tantrum.
Eventually, you can put a limit on the number of times he can ask for a break. You can use a visual, perhaps a board with 5 break cards that can be used during the service like this:
2) Immediately remove the item
If your chick has an item, like a toy, take it away immediately. Yes, he will get mad. It’s okay. Tell him what you want him to do in order to get it back.
For example, you can say: “Sit in your chair and you can have it back”. Wait for him to sit, then give it back.
3) Step outside — but only briefly
If all else fails, it’s okay to go outside.
Now hear me carefully: Outside is not fun time.
If you go outside, he should sit down or go somewhere that is totally boring. Why? You want being in the service to be more reinforcing that being out of the service. If being outside becomes “fun,” they will learn that engaging in certain behaviors in service will gain access to the fun place outside.
During any reactive strategies, do NOT negotiate with your child. What you say goes, then let your actions do the talking.
Finally, prep as much as possible and pick your battles carefully. Do not simply pray that everything will work out. Well, do pray. Just pray and prep.
We’re in this together, B-Mommas,
The Behavior Momma
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Danforth, J. (2016). A Flow Chart of Behavior Management Strategies for Families of Children with Co-Occurring Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Conduct Problem Behavior. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 9 (1), 64-76.