When Your Child Resists Going to Church

by Dr. Mom®

Christian parents are responsible for helping their children begin a lifelong faith journey and gain a saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. Regular church attendance helps children grasp the central concepts of Christianity, participate in familiar worship rituals, and feel part of a faith community. When children resist going to church, parents may cajole, demand, threaten to withhold privileges, or use other coercive methods. The resulting power struggles and unpleasant Sunday morning hassles only erode the parent-child relationship and may do more harm than good in promoting a child’s spiritual growth.

The following strategies can help ensure that family worship and regular church attendance become an important and comforting part of your child’s life and a vital means of strengthening her relationship with the Divine:

• Be a good example.   Spiritual beliefs and practices are transmitted most effectively as a routine part of daily life. That’s why it’s said that faith creeds are “caught” more than “taught.” When you attend church consistently and make living your faith a priority in your life, your example goes a long way in shaping your child’s spiritual habits. Your own family’s daily faith rituals–such as saying grace before meals, scheduling family worship time, and reciting bedtime prayers–establish a vital link between church and home and create an atmosphere of anticipation about reverent Sunday worship.

• Begin your child’s spiritual education at a young age.   Developing an attitude of trust in God actually begins when a baby learns to trust in the dependability of her parents’ love, care and protection. Thus, a young child’s early concept of God largely is conveyed through quality interactions with the nurturing adults in her life, including benevolent Sunday school teachers, who reflect God’s love and help young children learn to associate God’s name with love, care and trustworthiness. By helping your child develop an early positive image of God, you make it more likely that she will want to learn more about God through church participation and to have a close relationship with God.

• Make Sunday worship a positive, family-centered time.   Children are more likely to resist getting ready or going to church if Sunday mornings are fraught with family tension, rushing, admonitions, or power struggles over what a child must wear. Resolve to maintain a relaxed, positive attitude on Sunday mornings by pre-planning your breakfast menu and clothing decisions and minimizing conflict. Consider attending a later service or getting up earlier to leave ample preparation time. After church, do something fun as a family or share a special meal together. Make it a game for children to recall three things from the sermon or Sunday school lesson. Participate as a family in fun, church-sponsored activities, such as parties, plays, music performances, picnics, suppers, or summer camps.

• Consider the most appropriate Sunday morning experience for your child.   Young children–who love to imitate adults and have a strong social need to be part of what the important adults in their lives consider valuable—may want to sit with you for part or all of the worship service. On the other hand, a church service targeted to an adult audience can be boring for children who have difficulty sitting still or paying attention. If a mid-morning service coincides with snack time, plan to arrive a few minutes early and offer your child a healthy, easy to eat, non-messy snack just before the service starts. While some young children will be able to sit quietly by busying themselves with coloring or reading, others will prefer to attend Sunday school during the worship hour. Or, your church may offer a children’s sermon early in the service, after which children are escorted to their Sunday school classes. This arrangement allows children to participate in worshipping as a family before they become disruptive or bored.

• Look for a family-friendly church, with enriching children’s programs.   When a church has a dynamic children’s program, kids ask to go to church, instead of being dragged there. Look for a children’s Sunday school experience that provides quality adult relationships, an age-appropriate learning environment, structure and predictability, creative activities, and the opportunity for a young child to use all her senses in the educational process. When her Sunday school experience is enjoyable, your child is more likely to remember what she has learned and to develop a positive attitude about church and the Christian life. If you attend a church in your neighborhood, or one that has families with children the same ages as yours, your child is likely to find friends who share similar values and beliefs.

• Don’t engage in power struggles with older children over church attendance.   While you can’t make your older child attend church when she refuses, you can explain why worshipping together is important to you and attempt to make Sunday’s as pleasant and hassle-free as possible. Explain that you made public vows at your child’s Infant Dedication or Baptism to do all you can to help her mature in the Christian faith. Gently remind your child that because you want what’s best for her, you also require her to attend school, brush and floss, eat vegetables, bathe, complete her homework, and do her chores. If necessary, ask whether she would be willing to compromise with you by attending services every other week. Since teens like to sleep in on weekends and socialize with their peers, offer to attend a late morning service and encourage her to invite a friend. Then, go out to eat afterwards, or stop at the mall on your way home. Choose a church with a vibrant Youth Group, as teens who participate in service projects, retreats, and mission trips with their peers often become more excited about their faith and their church attendance.

Copyright ©  2011  Marianne Neifert, MD, MTS     May be duplicated if authorship is cited.     www.dr-mom.com