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WARNING: There will be some things written in the post that some of you do not agree with. Please keep in mind that these are my thoughts, and you are getting them for free. And they are worth every penny!
Reverence is important to me. You can probably tell, because I have written about it a couple of times already. (Here and here) It is important to note that when I talk about reverence, it's not just about Sacrament Meeting. It's about flag ceremonies, the National Anthem, Mutual opening exercises, home teaching visits, choir and orchestra concerts, etc. Reverence is how we show respect for the things we consider important. That said, Sacrament Meeting and the temple are the two places that deserve our very best. Yet some people just don't get it.
Our family is reverent at church. We always have been. Even as young parents we were often complimented on how well-behaved out kids were. Don't get me wrong - I'm not bragging. (Actually I am bragging) I am first to admit that one advantage we have is that my EC is a very calm, sweet woman, and it does rub off, sometimes. (We do have 4 boys still in the home.) But as I have watched over the years, I've been trying to decide what we have done as parents that seems to have worked out right. I have distilled a few ideas as to the good, the bad, and the ugly, as far as teaching reverence goes.
A while back I was asked by one of my readers if I had any tips on how to help kids learn to be reverent. I do have some tips, but before I give them up, I want to talk about things that can get in the way of having a reverent family. Barriers to reverence, if you will. There are probably more, but I want to discuss three. They are:
1) Philosophy. Some people do not feel that reverence is very important. If that's you, then we're done here, and you can get back to whatever you were doing. Others feel that it is important, but one of those things that the kids will just pick up as they get older - no need to make it a big deal out of it.
Parental philosophy can also get in the way of reverence. I know some parents who feel that their children need to be raised in a atmosphere of total positive support, and they have purposefully banned the word "No" from their parental vocabulary. This in on purpose. Granted, it has no foundation in the scriptures, nor is it the way our Father parents us, but that is beside the point. "No" is never spoken. (I wrote about this here.)
If the parenting philosophy is timid, permissive, or skeptical, the odds of raising reverent kids are really long.
2) Traditions. I didn't notice this until a few years ago. Reverence runs in families. Not just your immediate family, but across generations. That sister on the back row of Relief Society that chats with her friend non-stop all the way through the lesson? Her son and daughter are most likely busy chatting away in their respective classes.
I first noticed this as I attended some 50 Stake baptismal services. When we would break out into wards for the confirmations, there was a huge spectrum of reverence. Some were quiet, some were raucous. I observed that the families that were reverent were reverent across generations. The grandparents were reverent and respectful, so were the parents, and finally the kids. Not only did this happen across generations, but sideways to siblings and their families as well. The family had a tradition of reverence for the sacred. The same trend was noticeable on the negative side of the spectrum as well.
3) Expectation. Some parents just don't expect very much from their kids. They think that their 5 year-old who sits through 6 hours of school a day cannot sit through a 70 minute meeting without a drink, a trip to the bathroom, a book to read, snacks, and a toy. Maybe they know that is their child's limitation. In our family, our expectations are a little higher. I figure if they can sit through two episodes of Sponge Bob like a statue, they can sit through a Sacrament Meeting too. You'll notice it is the same kids who leave sacrament meeting every week to do whatever it is they are doing...
Our children are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. Even toddlers and young children can embrace the family tradition of reverence. They learn a lot by example, and will embrace what is expected of them.
(Please don't comment and tell me how your child is the exception. I was raised with a handicapped brother, and I know all about it. Most kids can learn to be reverent - not all. Occasionally there is a child where the expectation is rightfully low, and mom and dad are just happy to make it through the block with a shred of sanity intact. I understand. I also have great sympathy for the mom wrestling the kids as dad sits on the stand.)
Remember, the goal is not to have an army of silent, robot children sitting with their arms folded, staring straight ahead as if their power switch has been turned off. The goal is to have children who make an effort to quietly sit and listen to what is going on around them, so that they understand, learn and feel. Most of the distractions we provide our kids, in an attempt to keep them quiet, distract them from the main purpose we want them there to begin with: to feel the Spirit.
There are some things that make a long-term commitment to reverence much more difficult:
• Snacks and food - except for infants. Leave the food at home. Not only do the Froot Loops become the focus of the meeting, it is extremely irreverent to leave a mess in a chapel. Feed the kids before church. They will survive. Expect more.
• Toys, storybooks, notepads, crayons, dolls, lacing cards, quiet books, etc. Leave them at home. Help the kids recognize that Church is different. As soon as one kid breaks out a coloring book, all the rest of the kids, and often a parent, are no longer focusing on the meeting. They won't learn, and they won't feel. Expect more.
• Potty breaks. Tell your teenagers to go to the bathroom before the meeting starts. When they get up and leave, they are really just going to check their Facebook page anyway. Someday every single one of us has to learn to go 70 minutes without going to the bathroom. My guess is they do it every day at school already. Expect more.
• Easy on the backrubs. (more here)
Here's a couple things that make it much easier to be reverent:
• Be early. Get a good seat. Listen to the prelude - it really helps set the tone. The kids pick up on our anxiety when we are running late, and it translates into restlessness.
• Sing the hymns. Even if you are a non-singer. I feel that not singing is equally as irreverent as talking during a meeting.
• Have home evening lessons where you actually practice being reverent. Discuss the the "why's" and the "how's".
• Start a dinnertime tradition of discussing what you learned in church that day. Ask each member of the family to tell a something they learned in a class or in Sacrament Meeting. It helps them pay better attention, and reenforces what they learned. It also gives you an opportunity to correct or amplify as needed.
• Say "No" and "Shhh". And then ignore. The kids will learn to stop asking if they don't get a response, and those sitting around you will be grateful.
Tomorrow I'll post one of my very best techniques that I used in raising our kids. Yes, it is good enough to call it a "technique". But you'll have to wait until tomorrow. Ooooh! Suspense! (Here is the link)
Please feel free to share any techniques you have mastered with your kids. But remember, NO FOOD, NO TOYS or OBJECTS that they bring from home. One day they will have to lose their dependance on distractions - why not now?
(Remember, I warned you at the outset that there might be some disagreement...)
PS: Follow-up posts with ideas on how to motivate kids here and here.
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