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Category: Delighting In Parenting

Motivating Our Kids to Church When They’re Throwing a Fit

Motivating Our Kids to Church When They’re Throwing a Fit

We had a plan, and it was beau­ti­ful: wake up ear­ly East­er morn­ing, get dressed and ready before the kids were up. Sip some cof­fee. And then wake up the three kids ages 5 and under, throw on their East­er out­fits and shuf­fle them out the door (with a donut in their bel­lies) for the ear­ly ser­vice. The ear­ly ser­vice! We were going to make it, on time, and noth­ing could stop us.

Except, per­haps, the kinder­garten­er hav­ing a melt­down about going to church.

But it’s SOOOO bor­ing! I’m NOT going to go! I’m going to stay RIGHT. HERE!” she sat and yelled, refus­ing to put on her dress, arms crossed and absolute­ly ter­ri­fy­ing. This was not in the cards, not in the sched­ule, and was going to make us late.

The­se types of melt­downs aren’t entire­ly unex­pect­ed, espe­cial­ly because the ear­ly ser­vice doesn’t have kid’s pro­gram­ming for kinder­garten­ers. But with the clock tick­ing and our patience run­ning out, it was impor­tant to remem­ber a few keys for help­ing moti­vate our young kids to go to church when they’re throw­ing a fit.

Don’t Fight With Your Back Against the Wall

Anti-church out­bursts are big deals, and we need to be care­ful in how we respond. But take a breath as well. Even on a reg­u­lar basis, the­se respons­es in our young kids are not deal break­ers. Ele­men­tary chil­dren not want­i­ng to go to church does not mean they’re going to walk away from Christ, med­dle in dark witch­craft or start a secret anti-Jesus cult dur­ing Sun­day School.

To be hon­est, I’d be more con­fused by a kid who con­sis­tent­ly does want to go to church and sit through an adult ser­vice than one who occa­sion­al­ly, emo­tion­al­ly (and just after wak­ing up) express­es frus­tra­tions.

Point Out the Group Identity

When­ev­er we help kids process through their involve­ment in church, we need to be care­ful to help them see church as some­thing they’re part of, not just some­thing they go to. This will help them under­stand their impor­tance, the val­ue of their pres­ence and con­tin­ue to rein­force a Bib­li­cal notion of church (I Cor 12:12–31). So, work with phras­es like, “Remem­ber, sweet­ie, that we’re part of church on Sun­day morn­ings because it’s good to be with oth­er Chris­tians!” Or, “The church is some­thing we’re apart of! We get togeth­er with oth­er believ­ers to wor­ship togeth­er — this is some­thing that’s good!”

Both of those phras­es are more help­ful — espe­cial­ly in the long term — than, “No, hon­ey, this is some­thing we need to go to.” Or, espe­cial­ly, “God wants you to go to church.”

While the first two phras­es are unlike­ly to moti­vate your 2nd grader to hop up excit­ed­ly and change his atti­tude on the spot, over time they’ll help rein­force a pos­i­tive, Bib­li­cal notion of what church is and help estab­lish sound guardrails again­st the, “Ugh-I-hat­ed-going-to-church-and-only-went-because-my-par­ents-made-me” men­tal­i­ty.

Provide Space with Boundaries

I’m a fair­ly strong believ­er that kids with invest­ed par­ents will usu­al­ly make the right choice if given a) the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the right choice and b) the space to move past their emo­tions. The bat­tle we need to avoid is the emo­tion­al one — the argu­ing or the par­ent-child Thun­der­dome. So, estab­lish some clear bound­aries and expec­ta­tions, and then get out of the room to allow the child to process their emo­tions and make their own deci­sion.

For our part, this looked like me mak­ing eye con­tact with my daugh­ter and say­ing, “Look, I under­stand that you don’t want to go, but it’s impor­tant and we’re going as a fam­i­ly. I would love for you to fin­ish get­ting ready, and then come down for a donut. You have five min­utes. I’m going to leave and give you that time, but if you’re not down the stairs in five min­utes, I’ll get you dressed and we’re going to leave.” Estab­lish­ing the clear bound­ary, “We are leav­ing in five min­utes” helped give her the space to process through her emo­tions and the act. As I walked out the door, she was mut­ter­ing along the lines of, “This is bor­ing!” and “This isn’t fair!”

But she was down the stairs in five, and the emo­tions passed.

The Parenting Mountain

The Parenting Mountain

I’ve been read­ing the book, “Five Min­utes Peace,” with my two year old before bed; it’s a book I inherit­ed from my mom and dis­tinct­ly remem­ber read­ing as a child. In it we fol­low Mrs. Large, a mom­ma ele­phant who’s just try­ing to escape from her three kids and find some peace and qui­et.

The sto­ry is fun­ny and cute and Eben loves the pic­tures, so I’ve tol­er­at­ed the con­tent up to this point. But I shake my head when I con­sid­er that an entire children’s book was writ­ten about a par­ent want­i­ng to escape her kids, and how strong the lan­guage is at times.

Why?” asked Lau­ra. “So I can get five min­utes peace — from you!” said Mrs. Large.

What’s strik­ing to me isn’t that this book exists, but rather that we all res­onate with it so strong­ly. Let’s be hon­est: the writ­ing of the book is so much less extreme that many parent’s aver­age Face­book posts.

Here’s the truth: we love our kids, but there aren’t many of us who love par­ent­ing them.

The Mountain

Imag­ine tak­ing a sheet of paper — just a reg­u­lar print­er sheet — and writ­ing in black sharpie every­thing that frus­trates you and both­ers you about par­ent­ing. It wouldn’t take long to fill the page, would it? “Dates are so hard.” “Expen­sive!” “Can any­body but me clean this house?!” “NOISE” “Just five min­utes peace!”

Those phras­es and thoughts are real rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the strug­gles of par­ent­ing — they’re accu­rate and they shouldn’t be dimin­ished. I don’t want to dimin­ish them. But at the same time I am con­vinced they absolute­ly pale in glo­ry com­pared to the moun­tain of good­ness that is God’s design for par­ent­ing.

God’s design, will and goals for your role as a par­ent — in the lives of your kids — is so unfath­omably incred­i­ble that to stand and con­sid­er its glo­ry can actu­al­ly take away our breath. Yes, God’s inten­tion for the fam­i­ly is a moun­tain of good­ness.

But it seems that this beau­ty of par­ent­ing is com­mon­ly obscured behind the list of our strug­gles.

It’s About Focus

What’s larg­er, a moun­tain or a sheet of paper? Well, the moun­tain of course! But then why is our pub­lic dis­course about par­ent­ing so much more about the paper, and so much less about God’s glo­ry and inten­tion? Is the paper that huge? Or is God’s plan tru­ly that small?

Actu­al­ly, I believe it’s because we’ve cho­sen to hold the paper in front of our faces, and we’ve point­ed all our focus there. Even a sheet of paper can obscure a moun­tain if we hold it close enough to our nose.

This is a grow­ing and real real­i­ty — we’ve focused far too long on the paper we’re hold­ing, and we’re not near­ly well-enough acquaint­ed with the moun­tain. We need to learn to let the sheet drop, to pull away our eyes, and to focus on God’s plan.

Over the next few months, I want to begin a project to both explore God’s good inten­tion for par­ent­ing — clar­i­fy­ing a the­ol­o­gy of par­ent­ing, if you will — but also to try and iden­ti­fy when we start­ed star­ing so ful­ly at the­se sheets of paper as a cul­ture. I’ll share the books I’m read­ing, the insights I’m gain­ing and the prayers I’m pray­ing.

I want to be clear again — I don’t want to dimin­ish those strug­gles. They’re real. They’re unique, and they can’t be ignored. But my ulti­mate desire is to see our strug­gles as par­ents in light of God’s plan — not as spite to God’s plan.

I would appre­ci­ate you accom­pa­ny­ing me on this jour­ney! Check back for updates. I’ll cre­ate a mail­ing list as some point in the next few weeks for reg­u­lar updates as well. In addi­tion, I’ll be salt­ing the blog with plen­ty of tongue and cheek posts — I’m sure it would be hard to resist with VBS right around the cor­ner.

Let’s learn to enjoy this ride, rather than just tol­er­ate it!