Muzzles

I have the attention span of a squirrel when I am sitting in one spot and trying to pay attention.

This made university difficult. I used to knit in class so my hands would be busy while I listened. When I studied, I had a stress ball that I would bounce up and down continuously. The real reason I never studied in the library wasn’t because I preferred my carefully constructed home study area (the couch, the piano bench, the floor, the turned-off sauna, the deck, my bed, under the desk). It is because I knew I would have gotten kicked out for irritating the crap out of people trying to do something constructive. In church, I have discovered the art of note taking on my iPod. Not only does this keep me focused, I also look like I’m totally way too cool for listening at church and instead am Tommy Texting my BFFs the whole time. It’s awesome. Here is a screen shot from this week’s notes:

Now before you wannabe grandmas run home and tell your eligible sons to never marry me because I would dash any hopes of producing well adjusted offspring, let me explain. I want to have children, I do. I would not put muzzles on them. Maybe a leash, (this is clearly a joke. I’ve seen you parents disguising your child’s leash as a furry Winnie the Pooh knapsack. You’re not fooling anyone) but not muzzles. I probably wouldn’t shove socks in their mouths either. I was frustrated when I wrote this.

Let me set the scene. I was sitting beside my witty mother who is really good at saying hilarious stuff and then masking church giggles. We were behind a family friend. If you met this friend, she would tell you that I was the flower girl in her wedding and that I was sooooooooo cute and that she can’t believe how grown up and talented I am now. This friend is a big sister/mentor/teacher friend/confidant and someone who is freakishly good at communicating complex in-depth thoughts through eye contact alone. Myself, my friend and my mother are a trio of eye contact communicators with twisted senses of humour. My friend was sitting with her friends, one of whom was a former prof of mine (I never knit in his class). This was a set up doomed to go awry from the beginning. We were sitting right beside the “parents with young families” section.

It was loud.

That was a vast understatement. Let me rephrase.

It was LOUD.

There were two children talking in their outside voices. They were not tiny children. One could count to ten and the other could read. We also learned that their father could read and decided to demonstrate his skills in the middle of the service. It was a very long book. To say that it was difficult to attend to a sermon while children were causing a ruckus is also a vast understatement. My mother suggested the exit signs be made bigger. I suggested they deploy Jon Acuff’s birds of prey from the pulpit in order to snatch the children, remove them from the service and drop them into a ball pit. My friend suggested my dad turn and glare (this would have been the most effective solution and result in numerous pants being peed). The whole escapade climaxed with the little girl yelling. “I DON’T WANT TO BE QUIET!” which was accompanied by stomping and screaming and my former prof saying, “Sometimes you just have to let it aaaaall out”. And it’s true. It happens. Children don’t like to be quiet. BUT THEY DID NOT LEAVE THE ROOM. Screaming child stayed for the majority of the fit, eventually taken out by her parents, only to return a few short minutes later, not fully over her explosion.

I get that she’s little and it’s probably been a long weekend. I understand that children are noisy and don’t understand how to sit still and quiet for a long time. I have difficulties with this, too. I understand (and wholeheartedly agree) that children are a necessary, joyful and integral part of a church family. I love kids. I love seeing kids with their parents. I love when parents bring their kids to church. It makes me smile. It makes my heart sing. Children are amazing examples of the unfiltered joy of the Lord. I completely believe that. I think it’s important for kids to see parents in a church context. Church is definitely a family activity and we too often break everyone down into their age groups and send them off to separate parts of the building, instead of having everyone together as one big congregation. I’m all for cross generational mixing. I think we can all learn from each other. Children in a church are a sign that it’s a healthy, growing community.

But.

And there is a but. A big but. This baby got junk in her trunk. I don’t know what that means in this context exactly, but we’ll pretend that it didn’t happen and move on.

I don’t know how to deal with this but. What about the people around you? We absorbed nothing from that sermon. I reread my notes and honestly don’t remember much of it. It was difficult. It was distracting. I come to church to learn and dig deeper. I look forward to hearing what my pastor is going to say. I think it’s important for a church to be informed and guided by the Bible. A lot of this teaching gets done on Sunday mornings. But this Sunday I heard nothing. What about you, parents of loud children? Did you get anything out of the service while you were reading to your kid? Did your kids benefit from being in “big church”? I do know that we have an awesome kids program which would be fun for your kiddies as well as give you the opportunity to learn with the general congregation. While it’s true that kids can learn from sermons, the kid’s program is designed for them specifically.

I was thinking about this all day. Is it something I have to get over? Is the blame placed on the parents? Do we have any ground to stand on as members of the church to say, “I like that you’re here, but it’s difficult to hear” to those parents? Or is that a big giant load of disrespectful hypocritical dung since we were giggling the whole time, too? I’m not sure.

During our post-church debrief, my dad said it best:

Kids don’t know how to sit still and be quiet. It’s not their fault. They need to be taught these things. If you want your kids to sit in church with you, you have to build up their stamina. Start with five minutes of quiet. Then gradually increase to ten and fifteen and twenty. You have to build it up. These things need to be taught.

Wise words from my daddio. While it’s important to teach your kids the role of a church community, it’s also important to teach them how to be respectful of that community. Kids don’t know how to do this stuff on their own. That’s why they have us, to teach them. Teach them to be loud and joyful and pleasant and wonderful tiny human beings. We all need that spunk in our lives. But also teach them to slow down and listen. Teach them patience and quiet and how to learn. They’ll get there, eventually.

 

But until then, the Information Island needs to hand out muzzles.

 

How do you deal with loud kids in church?

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30 thoughts on “Muzzles

    • It’s one thing to expect a child to behave during church; it’s another thing to tell a child they’re not welcome in church. I know the intent is to avoid distraction, but I’m not sure “the adults don’t want you bothering them so you’re not allowed” is the right message for a church to be sending if it wants its kids to grow up into teens and then adults who want to be in church.

  1. Very well said…I fully endorse the availability of muzzles after yesterday morning! Someone did a good job of teaching you to be still and quiet in big church!! Could it have been your dad’s evil stare?

  2. Hey, look! A screen shot! Looks like you need to charge your battery.

    As for loud kids…that’s a sticky wicket. I’m not a fan of completely separating kids and adults for the whole service; I think it’s valuable for kids to have the family worship experience. Not so much the sermon — not unless the kids actually have the capability of keeping quiet for an entire sermon — but at least up until that point. But if — BIG BIG IF — the kids are going to stay with their parents for the sermon, the parents should be strongly encouraged to remove their kids when they get rowdy. That’s just basic courtesy. Yes, I’m saying this as a cantankerous single guy, but it’s still basic courtesy.

    As an alternative, all church ushers should be equipped with duct tape and tranquilizer darts.

  3. I am SO glad I’m not the only one who knits in class!!!!!!

    Also – the church I went to as a kid had a separate room with a window facing the front, with speakers so the parents could still watch and listen but we didn’t have to hear their children. Not sure if it’s the best solution…but we hardly ever had children yelling…although since I was a child when I went there maybe we did and I just didn’t notice ;)

  4. In order to for kids to be in “big” church, I propose they sign a document stating the Holy Spirit lives inside them. Otherwise there’s no room for judging them for acting evil when that’s all we can theologically expect.

    I always blame Mom and Dad. I pray for them. And then I pray against them. Unfortunately, God says “no” to me quite a bit.

  5. Our church has several options.

    Ages 7+ = Big Church!
    Ages Really Squacky and Jittery – 2 = Soundproof ‘family’ room with clear glass wall looking into the sanctuary. You’re a part of the congregation, just the segregated don’t-bother-the-rest-of-us part.
    Ages 2-5 = Sunday School

  6. I can honestly say that the first 2 years having a baby was in part a spiritually dry time, not in whole because I was so enamoured with my little girl that watching her was like seeing a real life miracle blessing in itself, but dry because I didn’t learn anything new at church for those 2 years. For various reasons I could not put her in the nursery, so I would rock her in her little car seat bucket or spend that entire sermon trying to teach her to keep QUIET and keep her happy. The second she peeped I bolted out of there as quick as I could (with her of course). I am so grateful our church starts sunday school at 2 because she LOVES it, and I can pay attention whole heartedly. Sitting still is very much a parents job to teach. It is more difficult than I would have thought before having her, but soooo worthwhile. We are looking forward to taking her to special teas and formal dinners once she is capable :)

    • I really appreciate this, Eva. And I’m sure other people around you appreciated you bolting if she made a peep, too. I think us childless individuals don’t give you guys the credit you deserve. It’s hard work. It takes sacrifice on your part, but I’m certain it will be worth it and your little one will so appreciate you for it. You are a fabulous Mommy! And can you adopt me? I want to go to special teas :o)

  7. In one service at our church, some parent decided to let their child have a set of keys. Not the plastic kid keys, grown-up metal house/office/car keys. And this kid jingled them like the pre-school kids during “Come-on Ring Those Bells” in the Christmas service. Except this wasn’t a kids concert, it was regular church service. The lady who was delivering the message had done admirably pretending that it wasn’t happening until she just stopped speaking and stared. For like 5 full minutes until the parents realized what was happening and took the keys away. It was awesome. We still talk about it in reverent tones.

    And I totally agree with you on this post about kids and church. I would add that it is so important for parents to have the opportunity to grow in their own faith. So if you think you were distracted and didn’t get anything out of the sermon, you can bet those parents didn’t either. God is supposed to come before anything, including your children, so parents need to make time to foster their relationship with Christ so they can be the best spiritual role models possible.

    • I’ve always thought about how distracting it would be as the speaker. Some people can carry on without a hitch, like the guy Nick was talking about. Yes, parents do need to take time to foster their relationship with Christ, but in the case of Eva (the comment above yours), it’s not always easy and straightforward. It’s tricky, but I think it’s good to talk about :o)

  8. I love kiddies :) they’re amazing. I heard one pastor say in regards to a women in his congregation who was desperately trying to silence her crying baby: “Don’t worry about that, it just mean he’s alive. We love babies.” Its perfect!!! While it does seem that the children in this instance needed a little parental love in the form of a swift kick in the pants, I personally grew up in a church from birth where there was no child care. For that long hour every week I would sit quietly or kneel in front of my chair playing silently or reading and starring at the clock until I could run from that room to the cookies waiting downstairs. I just knew Sunday was quiet time. Children are a blessing from God and its part of the reason Jesus didn’t just skip that stage of life. He loves babies and children. It is a learning curve that I was born into. But children who get dropped in for the first time after having the alternative of Sunday morning television (which is awesome btw) are going to be rattled!! It’s no fun at all, and mom and dad get really uptight for this hour every week and its hard to understand what the crap its all about. Sunday school is a great alternative but there is times where a family needs to be together. What really works well is when sunday school lessons and the “big church” sermons are on the same topics and that leaves parents a door to connect with their children and build church into more than sunday-no-fun-time, but rather something that Daddy and Mommy love and they think is cool so we probably should too.

  9. I love you Amanda!!!! I was thinking about it all afternoon! I wanted to just kindly chat with them and see if they had seen the kids wing, but I’m a bit chicken. I would never want to see them not come back to church.
    But, it was VERY funny sitting infront of you and your mom, knowing exactly what you were thinking the whole time!

  10. I do think parents need to control their children, and take them outside to calm/discipline them if they become disruptive. From as early as I can remember, I was in big church. Dad sat at the end of the pew, mom sat next to him, I sat next to her. Dad’s arm was long enough to reach across mom and settle on my knee and squeeze if I grew too rambunctious. I don’t know what age I first had the “this is God’s house and we behave respectfully so everyone can hear the sermon” talk, since I don’t really remember a first time, but I was expected to behave, allowed to talk in whispers if I had questions about the sermon or something, expected to bow my head and close my eyes during the prayer, etc. Situations like this are not usually isolated to Sunday, but indicative of a parent who does not have disciplined control over their kids in general, especially the way you described.

    I am reminded of a moment near the end of a service I was in one time, where a baby started crying suddenly, and the pastor smoothly said “It’s okay honey, I’m hungry, too.” and went on going. :>

  11. The real benefit I got as a kid from being in the service with my parents was getting to see how important this was to them, and be a part of it. I taught Sunday School for several years, so I’m not at all knocking Sunday School. But I do think it’s a mistake to tell kids they’re not welcome with the adults for several years and then expect them to want to be there later. Statistically the majority of kids raised in church leave “church stuff” behind by the time they finish college; the more we can include them in church life and teach them to know Jesus deeply and personally, the more we can equip them to handle the barrage of anti-Christian viewpoint they’re going to hit in most schools and most colleges.

  12. One of our pastors actually said from the pulpit (during announcement time and specifically referring to very young children), “You think everything your baby does is cute, but the rest of us don’t.”

    It was followed with, “Before you all write me nasty letters, know this: I have kids, too. I love kids. We have cry rooms in the back, and an amazing kids ministry full of trained and dedicated volunteers where kids can play but also learn about God on their level.

    “You don’t know the situation of the people sitting next to you. There are people here in this room that have prayed and prayed and prayed for a friend or a family member to come to church. And finally that person decided they’d give it a shot. And even if your child is being adorable instead of screaming, your child can be a distraction from what may already be a rare opportunity someone is going to have to learn that God doesn’t hate them and in fact loves them.”

    I’ll admit that it’s never something that I had thought about.

    • Then we have the question of: what if that friend or family member came with their child? The child who may not want to leave mom/dad and whom the pastor is now insisting be put out of the room to go be with strangers? I know when I was little, if my parents had been visiting a new church and were informed that I could NOT be in the service with them, they’d have taken me out of the service and right back out to the car and left and never come back.

      If they’re there because God’s drawn them there to get through to them, He’ll get through to them no matter what distractions get thrown in the way. Yes, a screaming child who doesn’t quiet quickly needs to be taken out and dealt with, as a courtesy to others. I love that many churches that can afford it seem to have made provision of rooms with an audio (and sometimes video) feed of the sermon so that parents can take their child out without missing most of the service when necessary. I also think it’s good to warn parents if a sermon may contain age-inappropriate or disturbing material (a sermon on sex for instance, or a graphic description of the things endured by Christ at the crucifixion). But I have serious issues with a “no children in the service” policy.

      • snickeringcorpses: I think we could argue both sides of “should kids be in the service” all day and not really come to a conclusion. Every church is going to handle it differently and every parent is going to handle their kids differently. We could talk in “what ifs” all day and not do anything productive. To argue it to the bone is not what I wanted to do with this post. I presented my frustration in a light manner, meant to spark conversation, not to argue it to death.

        However.

        I do have serious issues with making the Bible “age appropriate”. Parts of the Bible are disturbing, bloody, wretched and dark. While I do believe children should learn the good, beautiful and joyful aspects of the Bible, I don’t agree with shielding them from the tougher stuff. It’s tough to swallow, for sure. But the Bible isn’t a book only full of daisies and butterflies. There is some crazy, shocking stuff in there.

        Children are sponges. You would be surprised at what they pick up on. There are some things that kids are not going to understand because of age or spiritual maturity. If they hear a sermon on sex, a five year old isn’t going to truly grasp what’s going on. If they do, then maybe it’s a good idea to start having those conversations with your kids. If they’re aware of what sex is already, then they’ve obviously heard it about it elsewhere, and likely their information isn’t totally accurate. Clearly you’re not going to go in to graphic step-by-step details with your five year old, but guess what – neither is your pastor! Personally, I can’t think of a better place for kids to learn about the “big stuff”. What safer environment, besides the home, is going to offer a place for your child to ask questions, to be scared, but to be comforted by a God who is desperately in love with His people.

        Yeah it’s scary that Jesus was brutally crucified on the cross. It’s hard to take as an adult and yes it’s going to be scary for your kids. But guess what. Jesus’ blood was shed for them too. It’s real. It’s brutal. It’s unbelievable. Maybe if it wasn’t shielded from us as young kids, we’d have a better grasp on the weight and reality of what Jesus did for us.

        • What I meant on the age-appropriate part was simply that I think it is wise to warn parents if you’re going to be dealing with a subject like that, so that they as the parents have the opportunity to choose whether they feel their child is ready to handle that. It’s a parental rather than a pastoral decision whether the child should be exposed to that, so if there are routinely children in services, then the pastor should give parents fair warning when a topic like that is planned for the sermon that day. Some parents may use it as a good lead-in to talk about the subject with their children, while others may not feel their child is ready to understand it.

  13. oh man. so sticky, this is. if my kids acted up in church, they got the real fear of God put in them. we always tried to to attend church where a simultaneous children’s church was happening.

    parents who don’t control their children in any setting make me nuts.

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