Keeping Kids Quiet During Services

Keeping kids quiet is never easy. Which is why some people think parents shouldn’t bring children with them to worship in a synagogue or church. It’s just a child’s nature to talk, and a baby’s nature to cry.

Now up to a certain age, we encourage our children to make sounds like “mama” and “dada” and we await that first word like a thirsty traveler in the desert seeking water to drink. But once kids learn to talk, they never seem to stop. Even when we’re desperate for some peace and quiet. Like when they’re with us in church or synagogue, for instance. Let’s face it: keeping kids quiet in a house of worship is a challenge.

Some parents handle the dilemma of keeping kids quiet in church or synagogue by leaving their children at home with a babysitter. That’s a neat way of solving the problem. Leaving them home means no noisy children to disturb the holy atmosphere of a service in progress. Essentially, you’re keeping kids quiet by way of exclusion.

Why Work at Keeping Kids Quiet?

The drawbacks of leaving kids home with a babysitter when you go to your house of worship? For one thing, when kids are kept home, they get no practice in keeping quiet during services. For another thing, they don’t get to actually experience those services or be exposed to your deepest held beliefs about religion. Also, you’re not able to show your child by example how to behave in a house of worship if they never get to spend time with you there. Sure, you’re keeping kids quiet, but at what cost to them?

Meantime, other parents may bring their children with them to worship and ignore the dirty looks of the worshippers around them. These parents feel that people should be tolerant of children and the noises they make. They think that keeping kids quiet is not really their problem. They think it’s important for children to attend services no matter what.

Is there something in between these two extremes—keeping kids quiet by keeping them at home, or forcing the other worshippers to suffer through their noise?

Of course there is. Let’s take a look:

1) Take the sitter with you. Assuming you can afford a babysitter, why not bring the babysitter with you to services. That way, your child can join you for part of the service, but if he becomes rowdy, the sitter can take him out of the main sanctuary and play with him somewhere out of hearing or take him for a walk. This way, your child has some practice time at being quiet and considerate of others and also receives exposure to the spiritual beliefs you want him to have. Meantime, when he can no longer sit still and quiet, there’s someone to take care of him and let him vent his excess energy—his need to play and make noise. A win/win situation all around.

2) Know your child. Not all children are noisy and full of spirits. Some children will sit quite nicely in church or synagogue, knowing instinctively that this is a place for hush. Such a child should be brought with you to services on a regular basis. If the child becomes wound up or cranky, bring out a quiet toy for her to play with, but if this doesn’t work, be prepared to take her out into the hall in order to avoid disturbing others.

If your child is, on the other hand, always very active and talkative, it would be better to keep her home until she has more self-control. Talk about this at home, practice with her, give her a try every once in a while by taking her with you, leaving when she gets a bit too loud for comfort. Let the child see attending services as a goal to work toward.

3) Practice at home. Keeping kids quiet is easy if you turn it into a game. At home, whenever you have free time, play Let’s Go to Services. The two of you can practice speaking in your “quiet voices,” or a low whisper. Some kids really just need to learn the concept of speaking quietly or motioning with their hands to say what they want and then they are fine.

4) Talk about how to behave during services. Many children need to be taught that services require special behavior. For these children, showing them by example is not enough. It is helpful to remind them that, “When we go to services, we need to be very quiet so that everyone can hear what is happening and can take part in the prayers. If you need to tell me something, tap my arm and whisper into my ear as quiet as a mouse, whatever it is you want to say.”

5) Talk about what happens in services. It can help a child to know which prayers are said when during services. It helps them feel involved so they don’t get bored, which is what you’re trying to avoid: it’s the boredom that makes them talk too much, too loud, and whine. By knowing what will happen during services, kids have some way to gauge how much longer they will have to sit still and be quiet. They also know what to do instead of making random noise. For instance, they can say prayers and sing with the rest of the congregation where appropriate, instead of sitting around and doing nothing. Prayers can be learned and practiced at home.

6) Offer a reward. There is nothing wrong (and everything right) with giving children rewards for good behavior. You might buy several small, inexpensive toys or stickers to be doled out for good behavior and keep them handy. The children feel acknowledged for trying hard, and you feel good about keeping kids quiet so other worshipers aren’t bothered by their presence.

Keeping kids quiet may not be an easy parenting task just as learning to keep quiet may not be the pleasantest lesson for kids to learn, but once they master the technique, it will open up vistas! Just imagine, you can take your kids to the library, on an airplane, or to a fancy restaurant, and everyone will be amazed at their terrific manners. It’s certainly worth a conscious effort.

What’s your favorite trick for keeping children quiet during services?

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.