Advice about Children Attending Church

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Four-year-old won't sit still in church

Sept 2003

I'd like to find out how many other 4 year old boys can't sit still and quiet in church for 20 mins. My child fidgets, does all the things that get him in trouble, giggles, goes out to the aisles and brings attention to himself and then when children's time comes up, won't go up by himself and rather not go up at all. I haven't seen one kid like this at my church and when I expressed my concerns, one mom suggested I take him in to get evaluated by a doctor. We have a doctor in the family and he thinks he's fine... but that could be bias... and then I think like every other field, doctoring can be very subjective. Does your kid sit still at church? Are the kids at my church an unusual bunch of angels? Embarrassed Mom

First of all I don't think I've ever seen a child that age sitting quietly in church. I am really surprised that the other mom told you to have your child evaluated. Most children fidget especially if they have nothing to do. Bring some books, paper, crayons, some match box cars or some of his favorite toys. A sippy cup also might come in handy.

My children are 7 and 6 and they get bored after a while so I always have a supply of things to do at hand and I've seen that most of the other parents use the same strategy to get their kids through the 1 hour mass.

Oh, and of course there is the after mass playground time that gives them something to look forward to. Simona

In our church, my two-year-old and my six-year-old attend the main service for approximately 10 minutes before the minister announces that it's time for the kids to go to their nursery and/or Sunday school classes. Within that space of time, I've had to stop them from crawling over the pews, running down the aisles, taking out the song books and donation envelopes and drawing all over them, playing noisily with a toy car of stuffed animal, etc. I really try to restrain them and take them out of the service occasionally but they are very active kids and egg each other on so I've just learned to endure it. It's getting a little bit better and it's important to me that they be exposed to a regular spiritual practice so we'll keep going with them but it really is a headache sometimes.

Don't be discouraged. Your child is completely normal. sj

Gee, 4 seems young to be sitting in church. Seems like the average 4-year-old would get pretty antsy after sitting still for even just a few minutes, whether it's church or anything else. I wouldn't take my 4-y-o to a wedding or a concert, for instance. Can you try to find something else for your 4-year-old to do while you are in church? Maybe do a trade-off with other parents so only one person has to miss the service instead of all the parents with little kids? I can remember being bored when I was 9 or 10. It was probably only about a 40-minute service but to me it was unbearably long. B.

My 4 year old couldn't sit through church either, but we are fortunate to have an excellent nursery for the young ones and childrens church for the kids pre-K - 2nd grade. Maybe your son isn't old enough to attend church with you, is childcare available? If not please speak with the clergy about the possibility of hiring someone to help with the children during at least one service a week. If you want your son included on worship activites, perhaps the clergy could help find age appropriate materials for you to take home and share with him in a more child-friendly environment. I hope that things work out for you, because you should be able to relax and enjoy the church service too.

p.s. Your 4 year old is perfectly normal, my 45 y.o. husband has a hard time sitting still and quiet. ha ha courtney

my 3yo girl nor 5yo boy cannot sit still in church. in fact, they often end up on the floor. luckily, there are other places for the kids to go during worship (childcare or children's church). i see very few kids (usually girls) that can sit still the whole time. your child is NORMAL!! suzie

Please don't be over-concerned about this! Four years old is pretty young to be expected to be quiet in church, even for 20 minutes. (My kids still have trouble at 9 and 11!) These little guys (and girls) are used to being active, walking around, talking, etc., so to expect them to be able to sit still and listen to womething they don't understand and have no interest in is just setting yourself, and them, up for failure.

The church I attend has packets for the kids to keep them occupied--crayons, pictures to color, and stuff like that. If your church doesn't, maybe you can put one together to take yourself. Or, we also have a ''waiting area'' just outside the sanctuary, where you can either sit or stand but still see and hear the service. That way he can move about and you can still participate in the early moments of the service.

As for not wanting to go up--it could be that he's intimidated by walking all the way up in front of all those people. Why don't you try to walk up with him, and sit in one of the front rows where he can see you? My kids were shy about going up for a while, but having me go up with them got them over the hump.

I truly do not think there's a problem with your active guy. With some practice he'll eventually be able to get through ''big church'' just fine.

Good luck and don't worry, Nancy

Sounds like a very normal 4 y.o. boy to me- nothing wrong with him. Church is boring to little guys, if they have a good imagination and are healthy and active, they feel the need to find ways to amuse themselves. Bring little toys- we bring a small baggie of Lego. Can't believe anyone who has brought kids to church would try to tell you this is abnormal. Pediatrician and Mom of 4 y.o. boy

I started going to church with my son when he was 2.5. It was a big deal teaching him to be reasonably quiet at church--by which I mean whispering instead of talking, and staying within our pew. I allow him to use the pew envelopes, cards, and pencils for drawing, and to fidget on & off the seat and even onto the floor. I draw the line at him leaving our pew or continuing to talk in a normal voice. I've been pretty successful by reviewing ''inside voice'' before we go in, and by threatening to take him to the nursery (childcare) if he's too disruptive--and by carrying out that threat when necessary.

Is it possible you're more embarrassed than need be? I've found my church to be very accepting of minor noise from my now-3.5-yr-old. Maybe you should ask around... Jennie

The kids you see in church are the ones who can sit still -- parents of the active kids may not even attempt taking their children to church. I felt bad about my daughter for similar behavior (in synagogue) and wished I had one of those kids who would quietly sit next to me, and not need me to stay with her during the kindergarten program. I spent most services hanging out at the synagogue playground while she played. It does get better. Now, at seven, she'll sit with me for a little while, and is able to go to the children's program or play outside independently when there isn't a children's service. She did learn lots of bible stories during those years (even when she wandered around the room), and feels very attached to our synagogue. I think you should just figure that for the moment your church experience is going with your son to the children's program and remember that this stage will pass. I also think that the person who commented about your son may have been one of those lucky people with easy kids and should have withheld judgement (maybe she'll learn with her next child). It's possible that you need to find a more family-friendly church if many people are like that; though I suspect that most people understand. Carol

Expecting a 4 year old to sit still during a church service is a tall order. Some can handle it better than others but I certainly don't think anything is wrong with your son and would be a little surprised at the suggestion to have your son checked out.

Do they have a child care program so that parents can attend worship?

If it's really a problem, can invest in a sitter for a while and try taking him again in a few months? Or maybe you can use some reward system. If you sit still through the service, and go up for the children's sermon, you can't go out to brunch with me, rent your favorite video, what ever works for your son. Let him know that there can be results for good behavior.