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Your Spitfire at Church: Strategies for Success

The two most precious words the Mom of an active toddler can hear on Sunday morning are ‘staffed nursery.’ This wonderful phrase can only be outdone by the amazingly beautiful sound of ‘amen.’ ‘Amen’ as in, it is finished. The last word of worship service has been uttered and you Mom, have survived another week. ‘Amen’ as in, open the floodgates and let that ball of energy loose!

Spitfire at Church

Photo courtesy of Andy Dean/Dollar Photo Club

The thing is, our church doesn’t have a ‘staffed nursery.’ Nope, we have a ‘training’ room. It is a glass enclosed bubble that overlooks the main auditorium. A fishbowl, like the one from that scene in the Graduate where Dustin Hoffman pounds his fists on the window overlooking the wedding. I can relate. For almost 1 1/2 years I felt like banging my fists on the window every Sunday as well. Anyway, I don’t call it a ‘training’ room. I affectionately refer to it as the ‘screaming room.’ Sweet Pea did a lot of screaming there.

Can you relate?

Signs Your Toddler Will be a Spitfire at Church:

  • She is the one banging on the glass door and screaming as loud as she can.. just for fun.
  • He is the one running non-stop around the auditorium.. darting in and out of the pews, perilously close to running/falling down the stairs.
  • As soon as it is quiet… you know, as soon as someone starts to do something serious– like pray– your spitfire decides it is their turn to perform. I mean, that is what this church thing is all about, right? Anyway, it is no fun to start screaming, or singing, or talking about their poo during the noisy parts of church. Nah, your little spitfire wants an audience. Bonus points if they loudly say goodbye to everyone when you take them out of worship service.

‘Sigh’– Sweet Pea is definitely a ‘spitfire in church.’ It was not lost on me that out of all the kids in her age group (including the little boys I might add), she was the loudest, the craziest, the star performer. I wish this was an accomplishment to be proud of but honestly, it wore me out— physically, emotionally, spiritually.

When Sweet Pea starting to become mobile… and thus the star performer, many well-meaning Moms encouraged me by saying that “it was just a phase,” or “just wait and see… before you know it, this will all be behind you.” At the time I just gave them a weak smile but on the inside I was screaming, “Take her!” “Take her now!” “Just for 5 minutes.” “I just want an adult conversation for 5 minutes.”

Of course they were right. For the most part that crazy phase of toddlerhood came to a rather abrupt end. We are back in the auditorium now, having successfully ‘trained’ our now 2 1/2 year to ‘behave,’ whatever that means. I guess the training room is an appropriate moniker after all. It just didn’t feel like training when I was wrestling with my spitfire of a toddler.

‘Training’ Strategies

I would like to encourage you now, just like the Moms at my church had encouraged me. You can do this. It is just a phase and it will not last forever. Don’t give up. What you are doing is eternally important. Don’t think for a second that you are not making a huge difference in your child’s life. Just like with the parable of the sower.. you are sowing the seed. The plant is not going to grow right away though. It takes time… but the training you are doing is not falling on deaf (or rather hyperactive) ears. Your toddler will learn.

It does help to have a few ‘tricks’ up your sleeve though, right? Ultimately, you have to pick activities that will suit the unique interests and personality of your child. However, the strategies listed below worked, and continue to work for Sweet Pea. Seriously, if these strategies work for that fireball of energy, I can’t imagine they would not work for you too!

  1. Bring more activities than you think you will need. I made the mistake on numerous occasions of not packing enough toys, snacks, boogie wipes, etc… If you don’t get to them all, that is ok. Just come prepared!
  2. Ziploc bags are your best friend. I have repackaged many of our ‘church toys’ and put all the little parts in Ziploc bags. This keeps things contained and makes your diaper bag or backpack modular and way more organized. Also, I can’t tell you the number of times Sweet Pea had no interest in a particular toy, but she loved taking it out of the bag and then putting it back in.
  3. Many Moms gave me this advice but it is great advice, so I will repeat it here: whatever you choose for your church toys, make them special toys that you toddler really likes, but only let them play with them on Sunday during worship service. That way it is a treat… and they associate worship service with something fun.
  4. Adjust your expectations. A 1-year old, who just learned how to walk, is not going to sit still for a 1 1/2 hour worship service. That just isn’t going to happen. When we finally threw in the towel and just immediately went to the ‘training’ room, we started a phased approach to worship service training.
    • Phase One: Let your toddler run free, as long as they are not sticking their fingers in the electrical sockets. Seriously, the room is for families with loud kids. Don’t fight it. You will lose (says the Mom who multiple times held a screaming 1 year old on her lap for 20+ minutes straight just to prove a point).
    • Phase Two: If there are two of you (Mom and Dad) position yourselves so that your toddler has some room to wander but is basically confined to a space equivalent to about three chairs between you. If you are going solo, I would seriously consider recruiting a friend to help with this. Don’t worry about how loud your toddler is being.. yet.
    • Phase Three: Gradually decrease the roaming space until there is just one chair’s worth of space between the two of you. Congrats, you have now successfully trained your spitfire toddler to operate within a limited space for an extended period of time!
    • Phase Four: Now you start working on the volume. Practice whispering ‘like a church mouse.’ Correct your toddler when they talk loudly or have an outburst. Get them involved as much as possible in the singing and praying parts of the worship service. If you are practicing praying at home, this will be a lot easier.
    • Phase Five: Congrats! You are now ready to go back to your regularly scheduled worship service!
  5. So, what kind of toys and activities are great quiet toys for church? These are the ones we either have used, or continue to use. I hope this list is helpful to you! (affiliate links are included for your convenience)
        • Melissa & Doug Animals Mini-Puzzle Pack (great from 1 to 2 years old and then Sweet Pea got bored with it)
        • Melissa & Doug See-Inside Alphabet Peg Puzzle (we still use this puzzle every. single. Sunday)
        • Smethport Create-a-Scene Zoo– This is a magnetic board with tons of magnetic animals on it. Great fun!
        • Plastic farm animals, jungle animals, etc… These were more engaging to Sweet Pea between 1 and 2 years old. However, she loved playing with them during that timeframe.
        • Crayola Color Wonder Mini Markers and Coloring Sheets- these are the best because they are no mess.

        • Doc McStuffins and Disney Princess Figurines. We replaced the farm animals with figurines from Sweet Pea’s favorite TV shows. This is where the Ziploc bags come in handy. I don’t bring the book to church (very bulky.. she isn’t that interested) but she will play with the figurines for 5-10 minutes, an eternity in church time!
        • Finger puppets. My Mom, who is amazing with a needle and thread, made Sweet Pea a Noah’s Ark complete with about 20 animal finger puppets (and of course Noah himself).
        • Stickers of all types. Seriously, now that we are back in the auditorium, I use sticker pages as major good behavior collateral. Sweet Pea loves stickers so much. I just pull back a little corner and she does the rest (great for fine motor skills too!).
        • Cra-Z-Art Mini Magna Doodle– Magna Doodle’s are awesome for church. One word of warning though– they can be loud. As in, your toddler decides banging on said magna doodle is more fun than drawing on it.
        • Any type of homemade Quiet Book. Check out this great idea for a No Sew Quiet Book here.
        • Lift the flap book. Here are some of Sweet Pea’s favorites:


Now it is your turn! What strategies have you used to minimize the chaos during the toddler years at church? I would love to hear your suggestions below!

Thanks for reading!

Love to Learn Linky

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The Day My Daughter Broke Me - Sunshine Whispers

Tuesday 29th of December 2015

[…] unprepared. Of course I had my church bag packed to the gills with all of Sweet Pea’s favorite tricks and distractions. Over the past year we had meticulously culled the contents of the bag, studying the interests and […]

Deborah from Mommy Crusader

Wednesday 25th of February 2015

My church is set up a little differently, with families expected to stay together for the first hour of worship. After that we have separate classes for children, teens, and adults, and finally a third hour with gender specific classes. During the last two hours, once a child is 18 months old, there is a nursery available. But, that first hour is what I call the wrestling match. It takes consistency of expectation, and a lot of activities, but children eventually learn proper behavior. Thanks for the ideas -- especially the ziplock bag idea.

maryanne @ mama smiles

Sunday 22nd of February 2015

My toddlers like sticker books and coloring, as well as small plastic animals.

Rebekah @ Surviving Toddlerhood

Sunday 15th of February 2015

I love these tips! Our four year old sits with us every week now for first service and then goes to Sunday School for the second hour. One thing that we had to do when training him to sit was to break the service into sections. When we were singing during worship we didn't have to worry about how loud he was, during prayer he had to practice being quiet, when the pastor was teaching we pulled out the snacks and our church provides quiet bags for the littles. Sometimes I would bring extra toys, but generally he liked, and still likes, the quiet bags because they have art stuff inside them. He gets to sit on the floor for a while as long as he is quiet. Our two year old hasn't been in a service for a while since we do have a staffed nursery, but maybe in the next few months we will work on transitioning him out for the first service. We'll see. Sharing!!

Suzanne Lamoutte

Thursday 12th of February 2015

These are really great tips. I have a little spitfire for sure. :)

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