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Specific ProblemsBabies in Church
Plain old crying:

Question: Is it okay to let my baby cry once in awhile? I try everything I can to comfort him, but sometimes he just won't stop crying, and sometimes I have make dinner or care for another child and I just can't stop everything and pick him up. Still, so often I hear that you should never let a baby cry, that I feel guilty when I do so even for a minute.  So, is it okay to let your baby cry once in awhile or not?

Answer:  I guess I am a common sense type parent. No one wants their baby to cry and no one enjoys hearing them cry when they do, but after 20 years of child rearing and 10 babies, I know that sometimes babies are going to cry.  God gave them the ability to cry and the natural urge to cry. It's the only way they have to communicate. They can't talk, so they cry. They cry when they are hungry, when they are uncomfortable, when they are unhappy, when they are in pain, and when they are frightened. They also cry when they are tired, when they want something but don't know what, when they are over stimulated, when the lights are too bright, when their routine is upset, and when someone besides good old comfortable mom is holding them. They cry when you are rocking them and they cry when you stop rocking them. They cry when you feed them too much and they cry when you don't feed them enough. They cry when that milk comes too slow and they cry when it comes too fast. They cry when they are tired and they cry when they don't want to go to sleep. I strongly suspect that crying feels good to them sometimes (wouldn't we all like a good cry once in a while?), even when nothing is really wrong. And guess what? Now and then they even cry when they want something they don't need and shouldn't have.

I guess I just don't get that upset by a little ordinary crying anymore. In fact, I hardly hear it. I've had visitors interrupt our conversation to point out, "Ah, your baby is crying." Of course I feign deep concern and rush off to get the wee one, but really, isn't that what babies do?  They really don't need to be picked up within 5 seconds of the first tiny peep (and I have discovered that very often they'll go right back to sleep if you leave them alone for a few minutes).

Okay, I can hear some of you gasping from shock. Don't I love my babies? Don't I CARE? Maybe I shouldn't have had 10 children if it makes one calloused and heartless, right?  Well, believe me, I can still tell in a split second when a baby's cry means, "COME NOW!!!!!", and I hear it and am there is a flash.  I still love my babies, I still hold them and cuddle them and carry them and give them tons of love and attention and affection and security, around the clock. I do try to figure out why they are crying and I tend to their needs and wants, but I also do occasionally let them cry for a few, when they have no immediate need that I can do anything about, and when some other family need takes precedent.

Babies in Church:

Question: Help! I need to teach my 21 month old how to sit quietly in church. So far, we've been home churching via TV hook up and haven't had to worry about his behavior, but we are going to visit relatives soon and will be expected to attend church with them. We don't want to put our little guy in the nursery, but I know he won't sit quietly on our lap for all that time. What to do?

Answer: My youngest is 18 months so that's pretty comparable. I'll tell you what I'm doing with my guy and that might help you.

Before I ask for a difficult feat like sitting quietly through an entire church service, I teach basic obedience. I began this quite a while ago with my little guy, and he knows he has to obey me. He tests me a little (mostly because I'm sometimes not as consistent as I could be), but the minute my voice changes or I give him "the look", he obeys, because he knows I mean it now, and he had better obey or the next step is me enforcing my request. I'll get back to this in a minute, but you have to start by teaching your child to obey you. 

It is not like teaching a dog tricks. With a dog, you teach them to "sit", or to "stay", or to "come", when you give that specific command. That's not the way it should be with children. With children, the first thing you should teach them is that they are under your authority. You teach them that you love them, but you are their parent and they must always obey you. You do this by picking a specific thing to start with, but you don't start over with every different thing. The focus is on obedience in general, not on each specific behavior or rule. I hope I'm making sense here.

Once you've taught obedience in general, you can apply that to any different situation, including sitting quietly in church. They may test you with different things to see if the rules have changed or if they are different for different things, but the more you consistently require them to obey you under any circumstances, the sooner they will get the picture that yes, they really do have to always obey you. Eventually (and it won't be all that long) they will stop testing and just do what you tell them to, willingly.

Right now my little guy still tests me, and I have only myself to blame. I think he's cute and I let him get away with not obeying me promptly every single time. Now I don't let him get away with too much, so he doesn't test much, but he knows exactly how much he can get away with so he does just that. For example, when I call him, he will always stop and look at me, but sometimes he will not come immediately. Instead he will start to take a step toward me, but then stop and think about testing me. He'll smile and see if I'll just smile back and let him keep doing what he was doing, or if I am serious and am going to make him come. Sometimes I call him again and give him a couple of chances. Big mistake. That's why he keeps doing it. Now as soon as I start to get up out of my chair to correct him, he comes running over with a big grin. He has me all figured out and he's not going to obey one second before he has to. Now if I did what I know to do, and called him only once, and when he hesitated, got up and gave him that little swat right then (instead of giving second and third chances), he'd start obeying the first time. So it is completely my fault. (And I better shape up fast or I'll have to give up this website!)

Anyway, I got a little off track here, but I'm trying to explain the importance of teaching first time obedience. Aside from this little "delayed" obedience thing my little man does now and then, he is excellent. I think he is miles ahead of the average 2 year old. When I call him, he will definitely come. I don't have to spank or struggle with him. I would be shocked if he said "NO" and ran the other way, something that most 2 year olds do every day, (and he's not even 2 years old yet). Same thing with everything else he understands. If I tell him to sit on my lap, and not touch my computer, he might test me a little, (depending on what I've let him get away with in the past) but once he knows I mean it, he will sit there forever and not touch my computer. Of course he is a toddler, and wiggly and busy, and wanting to do something every minute, so I have to take that into consideration, but he is also very capable of accepting some reasonable restrictions.

Okay, now while I'm typing this, I've called my little guy over and put him up on my lap to try this out (since I don't normally practice with him). He was having a good time running around being generally free to do as he pleased, so I held him up and looked him in the eye to get his attention, and told him sternly, "Now I want you to sit still on mama's lap, okay?" He probably didn't know what I meant, but he did know I meant something, and it included obeying. Then I turned him around and set him on my lap facing my computer. I'm sure by the way I "parked" him there, he knew I wanted him to stay there.

But he decided to try to get down anyway. He started to twist around and try to slide down. I told him, "No. Sit still", whilst giving him a little swat on the thigh (he was sitting on his bottom and I wanted it to be an immediate correction so I swatted his thigh), and then repositioned him. He fussed a little, then sat there quietly. A couple of minutes later he tried the same thing again and I responded the same way. Now, a few more minutes have passed, he has not tried it again. I can tell by his body language that he's not going to, at least for a while. He knows I mean it. He is still moving around and babbling contentedly, but not trying to get down.

Okay, so since he is little and wiggly, I just offered him a pen and paper to play with on my lap (very bad idea - he just made ink marks on his tummy!) and he is entertaining himself quite happily. He's only touched the computer once, and all I had to do was turn his chin toward me, look him in the eye, and tell him quietly, "No. Don't touch mama's computer."

I just took the pen away and he did not even fuss. Then I sent another child to go get him a better toy, and he's playing with that. He did not know I was getting him a new toy when I took away the pen, yet he allowed me to take the pen without fussing, that's a very good sign that he knows how to obey. He does know that pens are usually off

Anyway, that's how I teach them to sit still in church. I teach them to sit still on my lap at home. If my child did not know how to do this, all the plane trips we take would be a nightmare. (He did very well on the plane for a 3 hour flight just 3 weeks ago, even before this practice, by the way, because he knows to obey me.)

I have also had a little one practice by sitting still on the couch, NOT as a punishment, but so that I can read them a story, or read to the other kids, or play my violin without having to stop with an interruption every 3 seconds, etc. I just put him up on the couch with a couple of toys and tell him to stay there. Then I sit in a chair facing him (so I can see him) and I practice my violin. If he tries to get down, I immediately stop and give him a swat on the bottom and tell him, "No, stay on the couch and play with your toy". At first (especially if you haven't taught obedience), you'll have to stop a number of times, but if he's already been taught to obey, you shouldn't have to do too much before he thinks, "Oh, I guess I have to obey here too."

Okay, that's the basics, but if you are going to church, you'll want him to be very quiet as well. You can practice that at home too, by teaching him what "shhhhh" means. That is much harder because it is very hard to enforce. But, if your child has learned obedience already, he will obey you in this too, so I would make sure I teach obedience first. It works for me, I've never really taught my 18 month old to "be quiet" but yet he obeys when I tell him to "stop crying - close your mouth - shhhh".

Sidenote: When I have to go to church with a little one who isn't well trained yet, I sit where I can get out if they do make a fuss. I nurse discreetly (or give a bottle if I am no longer nursing) if they need it. I pack a few interesting quiet toys in my diaper bag, and if I have an especially lively child I might also pack a ziploc bag with some cheerios in it. I give out the toys and Cheerios slowly and only as needed. At first I start with nothing and just hold them on my lap or sit them next to me. I try to time it so they are tired and go to sleep. If they don't and/or eventually get restless, I give them one small quiet toy (a little stuffed animal or doll for example). I make it a toy they never see otherwise. That usually lasts a while. Sometimes I give them a pencil and a little notebook. I might switch toys eventually or go to the Cheerios if I get really desperate. If I have to leave with them, I take them out in the hall and just hold them. I do NOT let them run around and have a lot of fun. I want them to prefer being in church if possible, and if I make it fun to go out in the hall, they will be sure to demand it the next time. I do these things out of courtesy for others, not because I think this is better than training them to obey. I still work at training at home.

Okay, back to my little guy. He is rubbing his eyes now, and if I keep him here he will soon be asleep. I've given him periodic hugs and kisses while I've been typing and let him wiggle and play as long as he's been quiet and stayed on my lap. I've had to remind him with a couple of "no's" not to do certain things, but that's it. This has been perfect for church practice. I've only had to give him those 2 little swats.

By the way, you can use this lap training as a great starting place to teach obedience in general if you wish.

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.