encouragement,  Fellowship,  Motherhood

Comfort for Those Tending to the Lord’s Littlest Sheep, Part 2


by Keri Wolfmueller

Understanding Age Appropriate Behavior

Greetings!  If you are just now joining us, please see Comfort for Those Tending to the Lord’s Littlest Sheep, Part 1.

Surprisingly, one of the most valid arguments against having children in church is sometimes brought to us from educators or pediatricians. These men and women have invested years into studying how children learn, how to best instruct them, how to care for them, and keep them healthy. (Please note the use of the word sometimes, this is not an absolute to these vocations.)

The argument goes something like this, “It is not appropriate to expect young children to sit through an hour long, or longer, church service.  Developmentally they are not capable of this type of behavior. They do not have the attention span, nor the capability of keeping their bodies still. It is therefore unfair, maybe even inappropriate, to make them attend church.”  Accordingly, the standard assessment is that a child’s attention span is 3-5 minutes in length per year of life.  For example, a two year old has a 6-10 minute attention span, which includes the ability to sit still.

Hmmm…This is troubling.  There is truth in those words.  I have witnessed my own children’s abilities and, true enough, they cannot focus that long.  Let’s face it, there is a reason Dora the Explorer only follows the map and arrives at her destination in fifteen short minutes!

What to do!?  What to do? What to do?! Let’s say I buy into this argument, but yet I know the Lord’s Word, how do I fit these seemingly contradictory beliefs together?

To continue, here are many other behaviors we should expect to see from our kids, even at church:

Movement: wiggling, crawling, cruising, walking, running, more wiggling, hopping, jumping

Vocalizing: crying, cooing, babbling, echoing, my favorite- their screaming voice (5-9 months), speaking, singing, yelling, shrieking

Hand and Eye Coordination:  reaching, touching, grasping, pointing, manipulating objects, throwing, stacking, coloring, helping

And the list goes on….

The developmental stages our kids move through are fascinating, and amazing, and a miracle! Every parent should delight to witness their child moving along this path.

Back to the question.  Understanding age appropriate behavior, should we be taking our little ones to church?

YES, still yes!

We absolutely have the Lord’s Word which is very clear, and was discussed in the previous article.  We should also have an understanding of what is appropriate to expect from children at their given age.  We bring these two understandings together in our parenting, and specifically our discipline.

Here is what I propose and it’s a rather simple idea, although sometimes complicated to implement: We distinguish between positive age appropriate behavior and negative age appropriate behavior and apply the proper response.

When our children are displaying positive behavior, which still may be noisy or distracting, we use this opportunity for instruction. We may still need to take them out of the sanctuary, we may still miss half the service, but they are not “in trouble.”  This is not the time for spankings, time outs, or other harsh consequences.  This is the time for instruction, for training, for helping them.  For example, if a 9-month-old is practicing their screaming voice, we take them out and work with them on being quiet.  Or if your 18-month-old can’t help but calling out with great delight all the things they recognize – “light, dada, book, baby, etc…” we might practice whispering.  Or, if you little one is up and down and all around, consider letting them move (just don’t them escape the pew…they will then want to play chase).

Please do not misunderstand.  Some age appropriate behavior has consequences.  For example, it is “age appropriate” for a two-year-old to lash out and hit someone when they do not get their way.  This may be normal, but it certainly is not okay.  For this kind of negative behavior, there should absolutely be consequences followed by instruction.

This distinction is vital.  In fact, in some ways, it is how we apply Law and Gospel to parenting. Ask yourself this question, “If my child was displaying this behavior anywhere else besides the quietness of the sanctuary, would I be okay with it?”  Then they are probably displaying a positive age appropriate behavior.  Or, if you think to yourself “there is no way, any place, any time, they would get away with such behavior!” Then you are dealing with a negative behavior.

There are times, unfortunately, when it is not black and white.  There are times when our frustration or embarrassment muddy the picture; the pressure of someone looking over our shoulder. Parenting is hard, so we pray constantly and ask for the Lord’s help and wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

One final thing, for your comfort.  Thankfully, we are working through this in the Church. One of the greatest treasures we have in figuring out this parenting bit is our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Those that sit beside us in the pew, that kneel with us before the Lord’s altar, that are raising their children day by day, struggle by struggle, joy by joy alongside us.  I have learned some of the most amazing parenting tricks and strategies, and have witnessed great love, compassion, and forgiveness from watching and talking to other parents in the Lord’s Church.  Let us then help each other, pray for each other, and encourage one another.

Respectfully and in Christian Joy,

Keri Wolfmueller


Please return to read:

Part 3 – Tricks of the Trade and Quiet Activities for Young Children
Part 4 – Sometimes We Need Law, Sometimes We Need Gospel

Photo Credit to Einat. Creative Commons license.


  • Heather

    Thanks for your article! It’s so important to have our young kids in church.
    There are a lot of reasons that I dislike Children’s Church (taking the children out for Sunday School before the sermon, sometimes for the whole rest of the service, sometimes not).
    -It never teaches them how to sit. My kids have been in church from the time they were babies until now, teenagers. Toddler age is challenging, but it’s a phase. You work with them where they are, you teach them right way to behave in church, and they eventually get it. Now my husband would say my kids behave better than I do. ;)
    -Some of them who leave and don’t come back after the sermon NEVER see the sacrament. How strange is that! And how sad.
    -The Divine Service is for everyone. Even if they can’t understand it. Even if they don’t know they are being blessed and forgiven by His Word, it’s still for them.
    -And I think it’s good for our older parishioners to be supportive and helpful to the younger. Having kids in the Divine Service helps the older remember those days when they had to do it, and it gives them an opportunity to help our younger families. We go to a congregation where most of the people are older, and my kids are very blessed by them.

  • Betty M

    Thanks! Kari,
    I am gona be a grand mother soon and it has been nearly forty years since a little on straddled my lap on a Sun AM. We are going to be very much involved in this child’s development as the mother has a career and our son is a farmer/rancher and can really use this second income so we are going to be very involved in day to day activity of this little one. I need a refresher course in childhood development even though after thirty years away from being a SS teacher I am back at it as the younger women are working outside the home. So much has changed since I raised my family HOWEVER, I still hear kids squealing in church and hear bangs that make me jump, Pastor just talks louder and we crane our ears a little more forward. Yes kids need to be there for a million reasons. The false notion that our kids must be entertained at all costs spills over to “what’s in it for me” adult thinking. We all struggled though needing to be quiet and it certainly did not ruin us for life and neither will it ruin the next generation!
    Great post!
    Betty M

  • Jennifer

    I thought this might be a good place to ask for some ideas. I have a very active 13-month-old in the pew with me on Sunday mornings. He has just mastered the art of walking, so he desires to explore. He won’t sit still very long at all and I have tried a variety of things to keep him engaged in the pew, unfortunately, not a lot is working. So I ask you ladies if you can help me with some ideas as to how to keep him busy IN the pew. I am doing some Pinterest-ing for ideas on busy bags and such; however, a lot of things I find are geared towards older toddlers (2-3+). I should also mention he is a screamer. If he doesn’t get his way (aka out of the pew), he immediately screams bloody murder. Thanks for any input ladies! :)

  • Laura

    Jennifer, I feel for you! I was there not long ago with our first. He is now almost 3 and has a new baby sister.

    If you’re a first time mom like I was, I will let you know it DOES get better!! The early toddler period is the hardest. I honestly kept him busy with snacks, and my husband and I each sat on one side of the pew to keep him in.

    I also took quiet toys like cloth books along. In the inevitable event of screaming I took him out, but he had to stand facing the corner for maybe a minute, so it wasn’t fun. Hope that helps! It seems like an eternity, but this too shall pass!

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