It Begins with Ants in the Pants – A Look at Christian Parenting
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, CLR
The late humorist and author, Erma Bombeck, once wrote: “The inside of a house of worship must be the most confusing place ever to a child. There’s water that you can’t play with, books without pictures, and mysterious doors that no one ever opens. You’re never allowed to see what’s behind you, and the only thing you have to play with is your tongue, and that’s punishable by severe pinching.”
It begins with “ants in the pants” syndrome. They squirm and wiggle and are minimally a complete distraction for you, not to mention others in your pew. It comes as a surprise, though, when that cuddly little angel announces, “I don’t wanna go to church.”
You can be assured, you are not alone. As with most conflicts, there are a variety of reasons for the problem, and it takes a variety of changes to bring correction.
Sin. Face it. We all deal with the ugly realities of sin and sometimes those realities seem to surface at the worst times. Why does it always happen that your little one is well behaved until you sit down in the pew? Remember that the tendency to do wrong is always evident even when you desire to do right (Romans 7:14-24). Of all the times in your child’s life to misbehave, the devil would most like it to be a problem while you are trying to worship.
Role Models. Children imitate others and are especially watching you for direction and example. At a young age it is unreasonable to think those young minds comprehend everything about the service. Yet you are modeling for them. You are teaching, by example, that going to church is a joyful experience. “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD'” (Psalm 122:1).
Out of Order. Children require clear direction, and that direction needs to come from the parents. Too often today, the children seem to be in charge as parents are afraid or unwilling to handle the challenges of their responsibilities. All this needs to come into focus in the light of Proverbs 22:6 that tells parents to “train up a child.” “Who’s in charge” is clear from Scripture and requires a clear application when it comes to Sunday mornings.
Worship Experience. Let’s face it, sometimes we adults don’t get excited about going to church. Lackluster singing and boring sermons bug us too. Worship today presents many real challenges when compared to the way we are entertained today. Use a stop watch to see how quickly images change on television. Most people are conditioned to receive information in sound bites and colorful images, so sitting still and paying attention to the 20-minute sermon creates a challenge that is sometimes hard to overcome. Another reality is that you spend much time encouraging your young one to walk and talk, but church is a place for quiet and stillness which only adds to their confusion and frustration.
Correction and encouragement come by addressing elements in each of these related areas.
Sin. Perhaps the best way to address sinfulness is to consistently reject it. The temptation is to stay away from church with your little one until behavior can be controlled. It is better, however, to attend every week and give your child the opportunity to learn about that environment and the proper behavior that you expect. This will, of course, demand persistence and commitment, but it will pay off.
Role Models. Now is a time for self-evaluation. What is the impression you are giving about your own priorities and spirituality? Children don’t make all the logical connections, but they do observe. Make a conscious effort to talk positively about church already on Saturday night. Get up with enthusiasm on Sunday. Discuss the service on the way home in the car. Ask your children some age-appropriate questions about the service or Sunday School. Remind yourselves and your children that going to church is meant to give praise to God as well as to learn and be strengthened
Maintain the Right Order. Never surrender parenting. There are times when your children will rebel against going to church or behaving in church. There are also times when they will try to skip brushing their teeth or eating their vegetables. You know the value of these activities and must insist on them. Church attendance and spiritual growth are no less important, because the spiritual component of worship brings the ultimate in benefits.
Worship Experience. We’ve already shared some of the stumbling blocks in a worship service, but how do you deal with them in a positive manner? In some cases, you need to address issues with the pastor or church leadership. Maybe a cry room, children’s bulletins, children’s sermons, or designated seating areas are needed. Other issues rest squarely on the shoulders of the parents though. Set a goal to have your child in the worship setting as much as reasonably feasible. When your child becomes a distraction to others, it is time to make an adjustment. Taking a child out for misbehaving is appropriate, but getting them back into the pew is also necessary. As a child matures, help them understand the service. Rather than getting to church at the last minute, get into your seat a little early and take time to adjust and prepare. Encourage your children to help with finding the hymns, readings, Psalm, or liturgy. Help young children follow along. Quietly talk about the altar and pulpit. Show them the baptismal font and remind them of their baptisms. If you prefer bringing “distractions” from home make sure they are not going to interrupt other people’s worship experience. Allowing babies and toddlers to play with keys or eat messy food are problems. Rather, provide quiet toys and snacks. A child that likes to color can keep quiet with a picture and one or two crayons. Leave the box of 64 Crayolas at home! In summary, the results of your decisions should keep your children in the service as much as possible without interrupting others.
Finally, change does not come easily or quickly. If a five-year-old announces he doesn’t want to go to church, remember that five years of impressions led to that statement. Yet, with consistency and patience, your children will learn the real value and purpose of worship and will grow in their appreciation for Sunday morning.
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