I attended Sunday School throughout my childhood. While I don’t retain very strong memories of the lessons, I do remember the converted house where we met for classes, sitting on folding chairs around the table. There were shelves with the usual supply of crayons and construction paper, and numerous books. But what I really liked was to go to the service. I enjoyed sitting between my parents in the pews, surrounded by their friends, while Mr. McPherson preached. All the while, I could gaze up at the domed ceiling where plump cherubim peeped over clouds. The sight of all that heavenly glory kept me quiet and content throughout the worship. At least, that’s what I recall. I did not aspire to the angelic, but we were trained to be polite and considerate children.
Most children have an innate wish to please. Kindness is central to our social natures. But of course, good manners must be taught. We have to learn what others need and how to cooperate. Every culture has its own customs. But all of them include self-discipline, respect, and fairness.
A recent post on the blog Empowering Families (http://empoweringfamiliesblog.com) gives some good guidelines for creating discipline in children. I’ve excerpted some of it here:
#1 Have realistic expectations
Be sure to remember that every child is different and as such, to some degree, we need to have varying expectations with our children. No two are alike. Are the expectations you’re placing on your child realistic? Example: Expecting a 2 year old child to sit patiently for one hour is NOT a realistic expectation.
#2 Be consistent
Are you consistent in doing whatever the action is that you are attempting to instill in your child’s life? Example: If you want your child to read their Bible every day… you need to read your Bible every day as well. Your consistency will help instill this pattern into your child’s life.
#3 Use a reward system – catch them doing good
The younger the child is, the greater the important the reward system plays. When you reward your child for doing well, you’re forced to spend more one-on-one time with your child and this will reap great rewards.
#4 Be sure to offer them more praise than correction
Children need to see that they are making progress. As parents, we don’t want to lead our children into discouragement. Praising them will help keep them on track and in the game.
#5 Remember that it’s not always about wanting to…
In years past parents understood that anything worth having… takes a lot of work. Today, it seems as though many parents are afraid to “force” their children to do anything they wouldn’t want to do on their own. The reality is… not all kids like to read, BUT all kids need to read. Moral of the story: it’s not always about wanting to do something.
As a minister, I welcome children in worship. I believe that it was a good discipline for me to sit still for an hour, and learn self-control. I knew that the price of attendance was respect: for the minister, the members, and for the occasion itself. In fact, courtesy developed into a continuous point of pride and amusement – it surprised the adults so much! I don’t mind the occasional childish noise or prattle. Frankly, the parents’ scolds and shushes are usually much more disruptive, and often upsetting.
Erma Bombeck gives a great illustration. One Sunday, she was in church and noticed “a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone.” As Bombeck reports,
…he wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnal, or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway, said, “Stop that grinning! You’re in church!” With that she gave him a belt on his hindside, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks she added, “That’s better,” and returned to her prayers. Suddenly I was angry. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us….
I wanted to tell the child I’ve taken a few lumps in my time for daring to smile at religion….What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only light left in our civilization, the only hope, our only miracle, our only promise of infinity. If a child couldn’t smile in church, where was there left to go?
Church should be a place of gladness, friendship and peace. Let us teach our children the joy of worshiping together in a community by setting realistic boundaries for them – and reasonable expectations for their parents. The future of the church is in their laps.