Sadly, I’ve heard this statement from more than a few parents over the years. Some even say, “My child hates to go to church.” It can turn Sunday mornings into a miserable experience for parents and children alike. I have had some desperate, frazzled parents arrive at the classroom with a young child who is literally kicking and screaming. What’s a parent to do? Here are five general suggestions that may be helpful. How you apply each may look very different depending on the age of the child—but the basic principles are the same.
- Set aside time alone with your child to discuss his or her negative attitude toward church.
Ask specific questions that aim for the heart of the matter. This may take some time. Gently ask probing questions: Did something specific happen in class? What about the service don’t you like? What would you want changed? Sometimes children and youth are embarrassed to express hidden fears and anxieties. “I hate going” may be, in reality, “I don’t want to have to read aloud in class.” Or, “None of the other kids talk to me.” On the other hand, it could be that the child is expressing a more serious spiritual rebellion. Listen to your child. Know and clarify the real issues before responding and taking action. Acknowledge true feelings, but help your child to reflect on his or her feelings in light of God’s Word. Our feelings and emotions need to come under the authority of Scripture. As parents, we need to be careful in helping our children see this. We must also help them recognize unrealistic expectations.
- Communicate the “non-negotiables” lovingly, yet firmly.
From the time my children were very young they learned that the car wouldn’t go unless everyone had their seatbelts on. It was a non-negotiable rule whether they were 5 years old or 15 years old. Parents need to communicate a similar mindset when it comes to going to the corporate worship service—and, in most cases, Sunday school. (I’ll talk about exceptions to this last one in Part 2 tomorrow.) “You may not like going to church or sitting through the service, but we are your parents and we love you. God loves you, too, and has given us the authority, privilege, and responsibility to instruct you in His ways. One of the important ways we do this is by gathering together on the Lord’s Day to worship with other Christians and sit under the preaching of the Word. We are going to do this as a family—that means you, too.”
Please parents, take the lead in this and don’t relinquish your God-ordained authority! Sadly, I know of families who left wonderful, vibrant, God-exalting churches simply because their children expressed unhappiness with a particular aspect of Sunday school or youth ministry. Yes, there are times when parents may determine that a change in church is necessary, but a child’s dissatisfaction with secondary issues should not be a main consideration.
- Carefully examine your child’s expressed thoughts and feelings and measure these against other reliable perspectives when applicable.
I don’t know about your children, but there were times that my children overacted to a situation, exaggerated or embellished a story, or simply related to me a limited perspective—leaving out some important facts or nuances! All that to say: don’t assume your child has the best perspective in any given situation. “I hate Sunday school because the teacher is SO boring!” Why not sit in and observe a lesson. Maybe the teacher is great but your child is not interested in spiritual things. Maybe the teacher is a little boring…that is a teachable moment, too. What if your child told you that he or she was bored in math class? How might you respond? Just because something is presented in a boring manner, that doesn’t mean your child cannot benefit from what is being taught, or grow in the discipline required in being attentive even when it is hard to do. Your child can also learn to be thankful and supportive of a teacher who is graciously serving the class.
- Address legitimate concerns with the appropriate teachers and leaders.
In my experience, many children and students needlessly experience Sunday morning anxiety due to a simple lack of communication. A classroom incident was not dealt with because a teacher didn’t realize what happened, or responded wrongly. Perhaps a student had a special need that was not communicated to his or her small group leader. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting between parents, student, and teacher can resolve these issues. In regard to the corporate worship service, this can be a little more difficult. However, it may still be appropriate for parents—or even a group of parents—to ask to meet with a pastor, elder, and/or worship leader and humbly suggest ways that children could be made to feel more welcomed in the worship service. Small things, such as the pastor intentionally addressing children and youth at one point in the sermon can be helpful. Allowing children and youth to serve as ushers or to hand out bulletins may help them feel included and valued.
- Look for ways to practically help and encourage your child.
A little creative thinking and planning can go a long way.
- For example, if the issue is that a child is having a hard time sitting through a long worship service, consider a special “Sunday bag” with a Bible, colored pencils, crayons, and even a My Church Notebook to use.
- Help minimize Sunday morning anxiety by having your children pick out clothing Saturday night. Make sure your child has gathered and laid out everything he or she will need. Sometimes it not so much that a child hates going to church as it is the stress of the frantic Sunday morning process of getting out the door.
- If your church posts the “Order of Service” online, read it with your children so they will know what to expect.
- If a child is having a particularly difficult time, offer some incentive, such as a small reward. This can be especially helpful for dealing with a teenager. However, I would suggest that the incentive be something that is “relational” in nature—going out for a special time away with dad or mom.
- Offer to visit and sit in on the classroom if this would be helpful.
Read Part 2 for suggestions 6-10.