on the capacity to sit still...

>> Monday, May 3, 2010

Most kids today can't sit still. Not through church. Not through meetings. Not while visiting in someone else's home.

Actually, I'm not sure it's so much that they can't sit still as that their parents don't even expect them to. Mommy and Daddy don't think they can, so the level of parental expectation is never set very high. As a result, our society has a whole generation of disrespectful kids running wild, and a whole generation of exhausted, embarrassed parents.

And the syndrome doesn't stop with the little kids either. Just recently I was at meeting where hundreds of people had gathered in a very large and echo-y convention hall. I was doing my best to keep my 6-month old quietly entertained when I realized that the "adults" around us were far louder than him. I could hear normal-voiced conversations being carried on without any shame or sense of respect for the commencement speaker (who was actually pretty good). I wished I could have heard more of the lecture, but it wasn't my kid keeping me from listening - it was all the other people.

When someone in the row in front of me leaned over and quite politely "Sssshh'd" the offending parties, they shrugged their shoulders and said aloud: "Dude! I don't care!"

I probably shouldn't have been shocked. But something inside me still recoiled. THIS is today's young adult generation. Sadly, THESE will be the parents of the next generation. And then we sit back and wonder why our social structure is in its current state of decay.

Some people think I'm crazy for expecting my child to sit quietly through church. After all, he's only 6 months old, right? But I do. If the Hubby and I never set the expectation, it will certainly never be met. And yes, we know it's a long training process to get there, with lots of squirms and wiggles and the occasional "take him out and calm him down and bring him back in" trip to the back of the church.

But here's the thing... We believe that if a child is physically capable of doing something, they should be expected and trained to do it. (We are talking about good things only, of course... :) We know Little Man is capable now of sitting, on his own, for 10-20 minutes at a time. He does it at home all week long.

We also know he is capable of playing very quietly with his favorite toy while sitting for that period of time. That's another thing we encourage him to do all week long.

We know he is capable of sitting through morning and evening family worship with us every day with a minimum of wiggles and shrieks (some days are better than others of course). This isn't necessarily natural, but it's because we've been doing it with him since the second day in the hospital when he was born. So it's part of his normal routine.

We also know that if there is music or activity to engage his interest, he can sit fairly quietly for even a little bit longer.

So if you put all those physical capabilities together, it's not unreasonable for him to sit quietly for a half hour of church - at the age of 6 months. (Before he could sit well by himself, we brought his Bumbo seat to church to get him started on the habit. He'd only last for about 10 minutes, but it's the training that counts.) Of course after 25 or 30 minutes is up, Momma has to get quietly creative! We also sit somewhere in the front two rows, so he can easily see all the action - it makes for a long trip out the back door on uncooperative weekends, but it's worth it.

Last weekend, I noticed a ripple of astonishment in the row behind me when Little Man and I had gotten settled into our pew. Like usual, I had taken a seat at the end of the row (for easy escape if necessary), and set the baby down beside me in his own chair (our church doesn't have pews). I gave him his toy and kept a hand ready in case he lost his balance. For the next 20 minutes or so, he sat there on his own, alternately engaged by playing with his toy and by watching the singing and announcements.

People couldn't believe it. Of course, they don't realize how much intentional training goes into getting him there. We work with him every day at home on little activities that help him learn to sit quietly and engage himself without being a disruption to others. Every day he has loud-wiggly-goofy-play time, and sitting-still-being-quiet-play time. He thinks it's just normal. We know we're helping him practice for places like church and graduations and other meetings when he needs to have the capacity to sit still and honor others.

Even as young as 6 months, we have placed the expectation on him of learning to act courteously in public. No, we aren't naive enough to think that he'll never have a meltdown. But neither are we naive enough to assume that he'll eventually learn to control himself and act responsibly in a public venue without some gentle parental guidance (no matter how much work it costs us to get him there).

But if all it takes is a little extra work on our part to give him the tools to become a respectful and courteous young adult someday - the kind who doesn't shamelessly disrupt meetings and behave rudely at the expense of others - then we think that's an okay price to pay.


© Sarah K. Asaftei, 2009 unless otherwise sourced. Use allowed by express written permission only.


Jennifer,  May 3, 2010 at 7:10 AM  

Great post Sarah....I totally agree with you...we do need to set HIGH expectations for our kids....they are must smarter than we give them credit for!

Anonymous,  May 3, 2010 at 6:55 PM  

Enjoyed your post, Sarah -- I admire that you're training your young son to be a respectful and responsible member of society. Certainly more of this is needed in our world today. But I have to wonder...based on the timing of your Facebook posts yesterday commenting about the "noisy, disruptive people," were you really trying to listen to the speaker during graduation as you're suggesting here, or were you on Facebook?

SKA May 3, 2010 at 7:56 PM  

@Anonymous: excellent question! :) I was actually trying to listen to the speaker, between baby's needs and all the distractions. Facebook updates came after the speaker was finished and it got so noisy that the baby kept getting wigged out from everyone cheering on their friends as the diplomas were handed out. But you make a good point!

Adriana,  May 4, 2010 at 7:32 AM  

thank you Sarah for speaking OUT. Your words have reinforced my belief that kids can and should sit through church service. I am surrounded by new moms and dads who have not been sitting in the sanctuary for months or even years so their young ones can be accommodated in the mother and child room. I was starting to wonder if my expectations are too high of my little one.
it is a lot of work and a constant change in ways to keep you, your spouse and the little one in a peaceful and happy state for the whole hour and half but it is worth it.
I used to get very upset when the baby would fuss and someone would point out that there is a private room I could go to. I would Just smile and say yes thank you, I know.
Our work was paying off when during service our 1 year old daughter being busy with her book or crayons would repeat the preachers words as she would hear them. It even got the attention of the people on the row in front of us. I just wanted to say Did you hear that? she heard every word of that sermon. How can I deprive her of the word spoken and the music sang just because she is "too young to understand". I have never believed that.

Steve,  May 4, 2010 at 7:32 AM  

So very, incredibly, sadly true!!!

Anonymous,  June 7, 2010 at 9:10 PM  

I see a lot of myself in you when I had just one child and he was six months old. It was a lot more cut and dry then. Now that six month old is three and a half. He is respectful, but sitting still without speaking isn't even developmentally appropriate to expect until age 5 or 6. He wiggles. He "whispers" loudly anything he notices going on. Not because he's disrespectful, usually because he's a boy and curious about the things going on around him. All I am trying to say is these things seem so simple with just one child who is still a baby. When that baby is a rambunctious three year old, your level of compassion and empathy for those frazzled parents may change.

SKA June 8, 2010 at 8:14 AM  

Hi Anonymous...
Thanks for sharing your point of view. I'm sure a lot of people agree with you. And if you've read much of my blog I hope you'll have picked up on the fact that while I have strong opinions, I'm also open to changing them if I realized they were misplaced! :)

I'd be tempted to agree with you on the spot - particularly regarding how things change when you have more than one child - except for the fact that I know a number of families who have 3 or 4 children (all under the age of 8) and they have successfully taught their kids to ALL sit respectfully and quietly through church. I'm talking about normal, happy exuberant kids - not the sad, oppressed robotic type. They just know that there are certain times for certain activities and noise levels...

And then there's also the fact that my own parents were successful in setting high expectations for church behavior, and all their kids are now grateful for their efforts and plan to raise our kids with the same principles.

Please don't assume though, that I don't have any compassion or empathy for parents who are struggling with the training process! I know it's a lot of work to get there, and it takes an overwhelming amount of determination. If you notice in the post above, my beef isn't with parents who are seeking to train their kids, it's with college/grad school age young adults who are blatantly defiant about their need to cultivate a little social respect.

I believe that many frazzled parents could be given both relief and encouragement in the journey of training their kids if the people sitting around them would just lean over and ask how they can help, or if mother's of older kids would lend a hand with tips and success secrets to the exhausted younger moms!

Sarah July 18, 2010 at 4:55 PM  

good post, Sarah. I have been trying to work with Nathan on sitting quietly in church. some weeks are better than others. It's definitely easier to work with when you only have the one! Hannah is quite good in church at 3 yrs. old. She can sit quietly and play with felts or color. And I usually have her some cheerios for some point during the service. Once you get the second one in the picture, it does become more difficult to maintain both children-and for me it's usually on my own for most of the service. Since taking away the pacifier AND nathan learning to talk.... we're dealing with a bit more loudness. He's excited about pictures he's looking at and will say the name of what he see's. We're working on whispering or being quiet, but it's definitely difficult! I've gotten several dirty looks (from the same person. And, coincidentally, it's someone who always commented on how well behaved my children were in church-now that there's a bit of noise.... it's a different story?? maybe? HA!) Anyways, all this being said, I wonder what the third child is going to throw into all of this! Hannah needing to go potty, Nathan talking, baby crying. It's bound to be a circus! Ai ai ai! We'll just keep working at it! I love your ideas though! :)

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