Christian Parenting Blog

How to Train Your Child for Church Services

Written by Cassandra Ebersole

Proverbs 22:6 teaches that our children should be trained in how to live. Are we applying this to teach them how to sit quietly at church? How do we do this? 

We’ve all heard of church etiquette, right? 

Church etiquette is essentially the “dos and don’ts” of how to behave at church. It is important because we want our church services to honor God, reflect decency and order (1 Corinthians 14:40) and be an environment where everyone can comfortably listen and learn without distractions. Ultimately, we should be concerned about church etiquette out of love for our brethren. 

But when you have children, practicing church etiquette can be a challenge! We may have sat next to little Sally and Joe, who sit beautifully on their blankets, play quietly and never make a peep. But we’ve probably all sat near children who aren’t quite as quiet and well-behaved as little Sally and Joe!

As parents, we may feel a bit envious when we see Sally and Joe behave so well. How do they do it? Is it solely a matter of a child’s temperament, or are there strategies we can use to help our child behave similarly? 

Proverbs 22:6 instructs us to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

We generally associate that scripture with spiritual teaching. However, the proverb also applies to teaching children proper behavior—including how to behave during church services. If we teach our children to sit quietly when they’re young (basically once they no longer need to nap during services), then the lesson should stick with them as they grow older. It’s a beautiful sight to see children of all ages sitting quietly, whether on a blanket coloring a picture or in a chair taking notes.

So, how do we train our children to behave properly during services? Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up from observation and discussing this with other parents and teachers. 

Practice blanket time 

Start early with blanket time! 

Blanket time is exactly what it sounds like—having your child sit on a small blanket on the floor. Find some quiet toys for your child to play with on the blanket. Some parents have found it helpful to provide special church toys that their kids get to play with only at church. Steer away from hard toys, toys with multiple pieces or toys that are designed to make sounds, which would be distracting for brethren sitting around you.

Small children will naturally try to crawl or walk off the blanket, but be consistent and firmly remind them that this is their play spot during services. Children need boundaries, and this blanket should serve as a visual representation of their limits during services. Each time they get up or crawl off the blanket, gently bring them back. 

A great way to introduce this is by “playing church” with your child at home. Simulate church services by placing your child’s blanket on the floor along with quiet toys while a sermon or a replay of Sabbath services is playing. Explain that during the service replay, it’s time to be calm and quiet. You can even use this replay as part of your own Bible study for the day. Begin with a short portion of the service and gradually work up to the entire service. 

This should make quiet time at church services a more familiar experience for your child. Celebrate your child’s effort and success in sitting quietly during this time and give positive reinforcement.

Children need to learn the principle that different situations call for different ways of behaving and talking.

Talk about church

If your children are old enough to have a conversation, explain to them why we want to be respectful, quiet and well-behaved during church. We are coming before God on His holy Sabbath day. Explain Exodus 20:8, “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy” (Common English Bible). Elaborate on how holy time is special and requires holy behavior. 

We can also explain how we show love to God by respecting and honoring those around us, especially His people at services. We can illustrate this using scriptures, such as 1 Peter 1:22, which admonishes us to practice “love of the brethren.”   

Explain that one way we honor and respect those at church is by using quiet voices when we need to talk during services. Remind them that we must be mindful of those around us so we don’t distract them. You can incorporate practicing appropriate whisper voices during the time you are blanket training at home. Teach your children that when they are on that blanket, they whisper. 

Children need to learn the principle that different situations call for different ways of behaving and talking. When they are at the park, running and shouting is appropriate. But when they are at services, it’s not appropriate. In addition to explaining why running at church doesn’t honor God, we should also explain the dangers that running can pose to other brethren, especially the elderly. Explain to them that even a little nudge could cause some people to fall and get hurt.  

Of course, that lesson should always return to the central lesson we want to teach them—that our conduct should always reflect “love of the brethren.” 

Older children

Once your children are old enough to listen and pay more attention during services, you can challenge them with small games. For example, if you have preschoolers, you can listen to the messages and keep an ear out for something your children can draw. If the speaker mentions a lamb, lion, family or a striking biblical event, you can whisper it to them and encourage them to draw a picture of it. In time, you can challenge your children to listen for something to draw.  

If you have primary school–aged children, you can make a list of words for them to listen for. Each time they hear one of these words, they can make a tally mark on their coloring sheet. At the end of the service, see how many they heard!

You can go even further by having them help you develop this list by predicting what they might hear. These provide great opportunities for your children to practice listening and paying attention to the speaker while still playing quietly with their toys. 

Eventually, when they’re at the appropriate age and readiness, we can encourage them to take notes by writing down all the scripture references they hear. 

What happens if your child acts out? 

It will happen! Children are children, after all.

A proper way to approach this is to take your child out of the service and discipline him or her in a developmentally appropriate manner. Keep in mind that our services are usually held in public places, so administer discipline that is acceptable for a public area. 

We also need to make sure our children aren’t intentionally misbehaving so they can leave services and play. This behavior is distracting for other families and teaches children that misbehavior during services allows them to leave and play in another room. We want to make sure our children learn to stay in the service, listen, be respectful and practice church etiquette. 

If your child is too rowdy to be in the service, take your blanket and church toys to the other room—with the expectation that he or she will still follow blanket time rules. Don’t give him or her an incentive to leave the hall. Make it clear that you expect the same behavior inside and outside the church hall. 

Remember, your ultimate goal is to teach your child how to stay quiet and attentive during church services—not how to sidestep that expectation. Continue to practice the same strategies with consistency and kindness. 

Our children may test us at first. It’s essential to make them clearly aware of the rules and boundaries and consistently enforce them. If we waver on this, it will teach them that rules and standards apply only sometimes.  

More tips 

Here are various tips parents in the Church have found helpful. 

  • Keep a diaper bag or lunch box well stocked with snacks, milk, water, pacifiers or favorite quiet toys.
  • Before services, avoid giving your children sugary snacks or drinks that can make them jittery or restless during services. Set them up for success!
  • Always take your children to the restroom shortly before services to reduce the likelihood they’ll need to go during services. 
  • If your children tend to struggle with staying still throughout the service, take them out during announcements or hymns to let them get up and stretch for a few minutes, but make it a goal to gradually increase the amount of continuous time they’re spending in the room.
  • Establish consistent routines for Sabbath services. Most children thrive on routines, and this can help them develop strong church etiquette!
  • Have a conversation on the way to services, reminding your children that this is the Sabbath day and that we are coming before God, so we must behave accordingly. You can also remind them that God cares and watches how they behave at His services. 
  • Ask others for advice and insight. The Church is filled with people who have been through the same thing with their children. Consider the parents and grandparents in the Church to be a treasure chest of resources with other helpful tips and tricks not mentioned in this post. 

A few notes

Please note that these tips may not work the same for every single child. Some children with special needs might require adjustments to blanket training. In such cases, parents might need to adjust their expectations or recognize that it might take longer to achieve success. But don’t give up! Focus on the positive progress and encourage your child to exhibit the best behavior he or she is capable of. 

Likewise, even children doing well in blanket training can sometimes have bad days. Some exceptions and situations arise—sickness or other circumstances—that can throw your whole plan out the window. There will be weeks when you think, “Wow, my children really have church etiquette down,” and other weeks when you feel the need to apologize to everyone around you.

Don’t fret, though! 

Encourage your child (and yourself!) that he or she will do better the next time. Try to determine what went wrong and what steps you can take to get back on the road to success. Remember that you and your kids aren’t perfect, and neither is any other parent or child in the room. No one (including you) should expect perfection every week. What matters is making consistent progress toward the goal. 

Find what works best for your family, stay consistent and pray for God’s help, guidance and blessing in training your children in the way they should go. Remember that God loves family, and His whole plan revolves around it! Children are a blessing, and we must teach them His way.

As the years go by, you’ll see the positive benefits your children will achieve by practicing self-control, respect, honor and quietness every week! That training will become a part of their character. Learning how to behave appropriately in different settings is a valuable life skill that will help them progress toward maturity. 

This blog post benefited from the input and insights of many people, including Dave and Pam Myers.