The other day, I was asked to babysit for a parishioner who had to go to a doctor's appointment that would a few hours. We arrived at their home at 8:30 in the morning and ended up getting back to our house at about 3:30. Though our daughter handled the day pretty well, it was clear that the boys needed some time to decompress and get to bed early. Father John took Sugar Plum to church and the boys took a bath, ate popcorn, and went to sleep. Obviously, we could have all gone to church. However, I am pretty positive that it would have ended badly and a church service that was supposed to be prayerful wouldn't have been.
It is a long journey to Pascha (Easter) and I hope that I can remember to pray with my feet, knowing that this is a fleeting time with my little ones!
1. Feed your little ones well and with good, healthy food before church. If a child's tummy is full and they aren't thirsty, their behavior will be a lot better.
2. Limit (or eliminate) television and sweets for several hours before church. I have found that my children tend to act much more calmly if they aren't hopped up on sugar and have been playing rather than vegging out before church.
3. Be positive about going to church. It is hard to go to church at night with little ones after a long day, but children pick up on their parent's attitude. If you are feeling resentful about going to church, then everyone in your family will too!
4. Keep your children close to you. Our church has 23 children and 35 adults. The parents in our church have found that if we insist that our children stay with us and don't play or talk with their friends during services, their behavior is a lot better. We also try to allow them to play together a bit after church so that they do have some time to cultivate friendships.
5. Bring your children to church in their pajamas or bring a bag of pajamas and toothbrushes with you to change them in the bathroom or car. Having them all ready for bed once they get home makes things a lot simpler.
6. If you have a bedtime routine that is important to you and your little ones, try to still do it. When we have church at night, we have bathtime before dinner and stories after we eat... then we head out to church.
7. Don't be afraid to leave church for a little while for a break (though you should check with your priest about the best times to do so). Sometimes a little walk around the building helps to relax children... try to remain in a prayerful mindset though (i.e. no running, screaming, jumping, etc.). It will distract the people praying in the church and it will make it difficult to calm your child down when it is time to return to the sanctuary.
8. Point things out to a wiggly child. There are often many things happening in church that will capture a child's attention: the priest censing, icons on the wall, singing Lord Have Mercy, lighting a candle, etc.
What are your tips for surviving evening services with little ones in tow?
Good list! I forget about some of these because I don't have "littles" any more. What you said about a walk around the building made me laugh. I remember walking around the church at St. Tikhon's so many times over the years we were there that I should have worn a groove in the road! At this point we're only having to make the rare trip to the bathroom.
How long are your services?!
It depends on the service... This week they are one to one a a half hours.
I've found that the more the children are in church, the more they enjoy it and feel settled there. Also, by bringing church into the home--by saying some of the same prayers they hear in church, singing some of the hymns before we eat, then the transition from one place to the other is made with more ease and understanding...
We only have one little one in tow right now, because our two older children sing in the choir. We've found (and he's very rambunctious) that being up front, where there are few distractions has helped heaps! This is harder to do when the ratio of kids to adult changes, but it is working for us at the moment.
Thank you for this timely post! With four in two, it's always a challenge knowing what to expect and how to help them do their best, while being patient and joyful through it. A most blessed Holy Week and Pascha to you and your family!
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