Friday, January 29, 2010

Training Little Ones to Sit Still

The other day, I mentioned training littles to sit still in church. Holly asked, in the comments, if we practice sitting still in church during our weeks. We do, not every day, but as often as I remember to work it into our schedule, we do. Why? In addition to church, having littles who are able to sit still, or at least relatively still, comes in handy in many places, like the dinner table- at home or away, in a waiting room, even the checkout line at the grocery store or Target.

Let me be up front- I am no expert trainer, I'm an ordinary Mom. My children are not expert still-sitters, they're ordinary children, who can wiggle and squirm with the best of them, or maybe the worst of them. I have sought out a lot of advice have been working extra with my two youngest lately and wanted to share some of what I've found to work and perhaps a little insight into why.

A few years back, I read a recommendation about training children to sit still in church. This is just about the Ultimate Sitting Still Challenge, because it's usually a longer amount of time than most dinner situations and children are expected to be much quieter and not doing things like, well, eating. I didn't like the idea of having 2 and 3 yr olds in the nursery week after week when I knew it was not only preferable, but possible, to have them sitting in the service with the family. I read the advice with hopeful and eager anticipation.

The advice I read long ago entailed setting a specified time, like the time your normal church service is at, and lining up the kids on the couch to sit, listening to a recorded sermon or maybe an audio Bible, or even to Mom or Dad reading, rather dryly, from the Bible. Yes, this advice said to read dryly, boring even. The idea was that this was not entertainment time, this was a time to train children to sit still in spite of the fact that they were not being entertained.


We do this, to a degree. Right now I'm working with my 15 month old, just trying to get a good 15 minutes of quiet and sitting still. He's still not convinced it's a good idea, but he is learning that it doesn't matter, it's Mom's idea, and therefore he needs to go along with it.

In our house these days, training to sit still happens on a more ongoing basis than just "couch church" times. Whenever the 1 yr old or the 3 yr old spend any time on my lap there is another opportunity to train, and this is the area I've been focusing more on lately.

It seems whenever I sit down, that one or the other of them wants up. Once up, they tend to wiggle and squirm, reaching for my book or my pen or worse, my coffee. When I make it clear that they are not to touch but they are to sit still, they will almost always decide they'd rather be down, pursuing their own will, out of my reach. This is the moment to train. Once the squirming has begun, the training kicks into high gear.

With the 3 yr old, this is a bit easier. She understands more. I tell her, "Nope, you can't get down. You wanted up, and now you're going to sit nice for Mom until I say you can get down." She may slump back with a sigh, but she stops squirming and knows she needs to wait quietly, usually for 2 or 3 minutes, sometimes longer, at which time I let her down, on my terms. I don't always remember to do this, but as I know that consistency is key when it comes to training, I am trying more and more to remember to work on this and am seeing some real results.

This isn't even really about sitting still, this is about obeying Mom. Realizing this has been the key for me. It's good for a child to learn to sit still, but it's way more important for that child to learn to obey Mom, right away, and all the way.

With the youngest, little Chipper, currently 15 months, things are a little more challenging. Okay, a lot more challenging. This obedience thing is still new to him. When he gets up on my lap, he starts squirming right away. He's quite the active little bugger. He likes to reach for things on my desk, or things on the arm of the couch, or things in my hands, depending on where I'm sitting and what I'm doing. Anything will do, he's a toddler, though the shinier the better. I tell him "No, don't touch". He's heard "No" enough to know that something is going on at that point. He usually pauses a moment, and if he pulls his hand back I will give him an encouraging "Good job, you obeyed Mommy!". If, after pausing, he turns back to what he was reaching for, determined to get his chubby little fingers on it no matter what I may have to say about it, then I will swat his hand, not hard, but firmly enough to let him know that I mean business. Sometimes once does the job, sometimes we go back and forth a few times, and at some point he will try to slither away.

This is where the sitting still training comes back into play. I will hold him in place on my lap. When he arches his back in protest, I will out-muscle him and 'bend' him back into sitting position, while telling him "No, you need to sit still". He'll arch, maybe attempting to kick a bit as well, and I'll hold him up, not letting him get away. This make take a minute, it may take 10, it may even take 20 or 30*. At some point he will give in, he will stop fighting. He usually sits and cries a little bit of a pity-me cry, wallowing a bit in defeat. I will usually pull him a bit closer, giving him a little reassuring cuddle, and tell him "Good job sitting still" (assuming he's actually sitting still in my lap at this point) and attempt to shush the crying. After he's been still for a minute or two (I'll increase the time increments as he gets better at complying), I'll look around for something he might be interested in and may say something like "Are you ready to get down? Should we go build with some blocks?" and I'll set him down and we'll go on with our day, having another training session under our proverbial belts.

Our almost 5 and just turned 7 yr olds were pretty content lap-sitters and I don't remember working quite as hard with those two, or maybe I just look back with my rose-colored glasses and only remember the good times. With the oldest three, I was just learning these very new to me concepts of actually training children to be happy and obedient (yes, obedient children are generally happier children!) and I was just happy that they weren't hitting and kicking each other, or me.

*Please understand that if you get frustrated to the point of anger, it's time for the training to be over, time to switch gears and find something else to do, preferably something enjoyable to play. Yes, in this case, your child will have won that battle, and yes, this means the next battle will be that much harder, but I'd rather see Mommies and children enjoying each other than angry with each other any day. Anger is so destructive in a parent-child relationship, I know, I've been the angry Mom more times than I would ever care to admit. When a child in training decides to make a fight out of it, try to remember not to take it personally- it's not about you. For the child, it's all about me (himself/herself). They want what they want when they want it and they would fight against anyone who stands in their way. When you're the training Mother, that anyone is you. Stay calm, smile if you can, and say "No".

In the past, I started working on training for sitting for longer periods of time, specifically for the purpose of keeping our children with us throughout church services, at about 12 months old. I may be growing soft, in my old age (hehe), as I have been a little slower with the last two. Chipper is 15 months and I am just now really working with him more seriously, and Twinkler, though she has mostly learned to be quiet, still wiggles a bit more (way more!) than I'd like. She's in remedial training these days... The more consistent I can be at home, the sooner these two will gain that self-control that they will need to be the happy and obedient children we know they can be!

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13 Comments:

Blogger Queen Mommy said...

We have done much the same thing with our kids from the time they were little, little. At first, I would allow them to have snacks and toys in church. Once there were 3 of them, they would argue over who got which toy. At that point, we decided, "No. More. Toys." They each got the same coloring book with the same 4 crayons. Eventually, we were able to wean that. The main thing I wanted them to understand is that it's a lot more fun to sit quietly with mommy and daddy in the sanctuary than to sit in a time out somewhere else. I also have to say that early church is our friend! The girls are usually still a little bit tired, so they tend to be more subdued during that time. Afterward, they get to go have fun in their classes, and we head home. Mine are all older now (8, 6, 6), than your littlest ones, and I commend you on starting early!

January 29, 2010 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

That was helpful, thanks! Have a blessed weekend. Holly

January 29, 2010 at 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an educator, I have to respectfully disagree with your methods. You need to think (and research) what is developmentally appropriate for your children at their ages. Having a 15 month old sit down for 5 minutes to read a book is a great success, asking them to sit there un-entertained at that age is just unfair. As they get older you can begin to expect more and more from them in different situations, but I believe you should always provide a way to keep them engaged like colors and coloring books ect. Also, the thought of making your children sit on the couch and listen to the bible read dryly is a terrible idea and on that note I would even say trying to make you children sit through an adult church service is not even the best idea. The nursery and children’s church are fantastic options. Children learn by being active, doing hands on activities, and being engaged. They can learn about the Lord in a colorful, playful environment that will excite them about his amazing love. Now, if your goal is to satisfy YOUR desire in having your family sit together and appear well behaved and put together all the while not learning from an adult sermon, by all means make them sit still in church. But to expect a small child to learn anything from it would be ridiculous. Why not put them in an environment where they will be excited and able to learn about the Lord? Also, when your children climb up into your lap to be close, and you turn that into forcing them to sit there it will most certainly come across as a punishment to your child, and most likely discourage them from climbing into your lap again soon. As a mother of young children I give my girls exposure to situations where they need to sit still like going out to eat and such, but always do my best to provide them an activity to learn from and be engaged in. Over time, I can fade out those activities as they become more mature and able to “just sit”. Just some of my thoughts. I do not claim to be an expert mother, but have spent years studying child development and would encourage you to do some research as well.

January 29, 2010 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Our children do attend Sunday School classes before the adult service where they are entertained and get plenty of fun and interaction, but I do not think that it is a constant need for them, nor do I think it's healthy for a child to always have that desire to be entertained catered to. An hour a week is not too much to ask, in my opinion, and the opinion of many mothers I know.
Our children learn by being active all day. One of the incredible benefits of homeschooling is that our children do not have to sit in a desk much of their days. They run and jump and sing and play all the day long. To balance that, they also learn to sit for periods of time, and have learned to do it fairly well- though they are not perfect and I do not expect perfection from them. Even I wiggle and stretch my legs in church.
Having (mostly) brief training sessions when our youngest come to sit in my lap has not discouraged them from climbing back up soon, I can honestly tell you that. Our little lap training sessions are not overly negative, they are just a brief time when a child is told "no" and spend a few moments learning that "no" means "no".
I do appreciate your taking the time to comment, however I would have appreciated it more if you had not done so anonymously- I almost deleted the comment, not because I don't want any critical comments to appear here, but because I'd prefer to be able to face the critic.
I've spent years studying child development as well, and have done plenty of research. I just don't happen to agree with much of the psychology side of child development trends.

January 29, 2010 at 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We will respectfully disagree then :-)

P.S. I tried first by commenting under my google account as I do have a google email address, but I couldn't figure it out and do not have a blog or anything so was unable to figure out another way. I'm new to all of the blog stuff but would be glad to provide you with an email address.

January 29, 2010 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Well, this is one of the most respectful and peaceful disagreements I've seen online, thank you for that :-)

As far as not being able to sign in with your google account, I'm not sure why that would be, blogger is run by google...

January 29, 2010 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger *Jess* said...

I agree completely and utterly with Anonymous. Wow. I'm just at a loss for words.

January 29, 2010 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger myletterstoemily said...

i loved this! you are far from an ordinary mom!

read my 'trained by the blanket'. it is very similar, and my kids
tease me about it...but it worked!

also to the educator, my children very successfully mainstreamed into
high schools, in which the other 'children' could not sit still or be
respectful to their teachers. i had teachers, in tears, thank me for
my well behaved children.

blessings and keep up the good work!

January 29, 2010 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Pam, mom, honey, said...

i love this and i think alot of new moms need to read it. this is very close to what we do. we are moving in a 10 days and our dream church would have family sunday school and encourage our little ones to be in church with us. to me there is something not okay with getting to church and dropping your kids at the door of the childrens area and picking them up at the end. i love having them worship with me. we do something similar with fits in stores. my kids have never been caught throwing a on the ground fit (that does not mean they do not get upset) but as soon as i catch them (when they are litle) starting to fall on the ground I hold them righ under one arm slightly off the ground so they can not fall and remind them this is not okay. some have take a few minutes to realize this fact. this does not hurt them and there is no marks or pulled muscles because it is all them pulling. it quickly teaches them that they can not fall. I also rarely by them things at the store. I may buy snacks or something else but it is never given at the store or in the vehicle but i will not encourage the begging child who thinks they need something every time we go to a store.

January 30, 2010 at 5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

January 30, 2010 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Love this post! Well said!

Jennifer

February 1, 2010 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Hee Hee! I'm sure you didn't mean to be so controversial when you wrote this post!! I applaud you for being proactive in habit training your kids. Sitting still and quietly in church is a challenge for small people, that is for sure. For many it needs to be taught. I wish you the best with your methods. They are different from mine, but any method if applied consistently tends to reap rewards. Thank you for sharing.

I for one wish that children came with an instruction manual. That would make life so much easier!!

February 3, 2010 at 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Marla said...

Thank you for writing this. It is an encouragement to me. I need to remember to be as diligent in training my younger children as I was in training their older siblings at this age. It is so easy to get lazy in this, but the end results are so worth it.

I think it is just as beneficial for the children as it is for their parents (and the people around them). Self control is so much easier the earlier it is learned. It comes more "naturally" to children who have always been encouraged to exercise it.

March 18, 2010 at 7:37 AM  

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