I have my children sit with me in church. I do not utilize children's youth programs. I home school my children - I have taken their education into my hands. I follow that same line of thinking when it comes to church. I do not look down on anyone who likes youth programs, and sends their children to them, but I personally don't, and here's why.
Over the years, I have met many wonderful ladies online who also like to have their children sit with them in church. Some of these women are older than me, and some are young mothers, with very young children. Below are some tips that I can give you, which worked for my family. Use what you'd like, and throw out what you don't think will work for your family...
Seven Steps to Teaching Your Children how to Sit Well in Church
1. Your attitude and expectations make a big difference. This is the most important step of the seven. If you expect your children to fail, they just may fulfill your expectations. If you have a stressed attitude, being worried about them not sitting well, they will likely notice it, and respond with ansiness. Relax, take a deep breath, send a prayer to the Lord, sit down, and expect your children to sit nicely in church. Don't stress about it.
2. Have assigned seating arrangements. If you have more than one child, then plan which child is going to sit where in the pew, relative to you. If you have a particular child who has trouble sitting still, then make sure that child is right next to you. If you have a child who bothers your other children, then have that child next to you, on the other side, with you between them and their siblings. If you have an older child who is sitting fairly well in church, then you may be able to use them as a "divider," to separate little ones who may upset each other during services. Have the seating arrangements planned out before church, and quietly point out to each child where you want them to sit when you arrive in the sanctuary.
3. If you home school, then try doing it with ALL of your children together, at the same time. Make sure your other children are working quietly on assignments while you are working with a specific child. Insist that the children sit nicely, and quietly, while you are teaching. This helps to ingrain the good habit of sitting nicely and quietly when someone is speaking. Very young children and babies should sit up with part of home school, and then can be excused for naps.
4. A big mistake that many mothers make, is giving their children coloring books, drawing tablets, and toys to keep their children quiet and occupied during the sermon. If you do this, STOP. This teaches two negative things to your children. 1) That you don't think your child is able to sit nicely and quietly through a sermon, so you don't expect it of them (see step 1, above), and 2) It looks like you don't view the sermon important enough for your child to learn. Even toddlers can pick up on many key points of sermons. I can't tell you how many times I've heard my children tell parts of the sermon back to me, at age 2, with big smiles on their faces. Expect your children to sit quietly and nicely during the sermon, with nothing to do, but listen. Also, teach them to listen nicely - don't let them slump down, or look around the sanctuary. That is rude.
5. Let your children participate in church with you. This step ties in with steps 1 and 4. Expect that your children, no matter how young, are intelligent beings created by God, and are able to absorb and learn, even from a drawn out sermon. Make sure each child stands and sings when the congregation does. Help them learn how to use and follow along in the hymnals, as soon as they are able to read. Before that point, if there is enough hymnals in your pew, let your non-readers have hymnals as well, and let them pretend they are reading the music from it while singing. You can also take this opportunity to make sure your children know how to respect property. Make sure they don't draw on, rip, or ruin the hymnals. Make sure your children pray when the congregation prays, and stands and sits with everyone else. Children are to face forward, and not look at other children or people in the pew behind you. All your children should have their own Bibles. Non-readers can use picture Bibles. Have your children "follow along" in their Bibles during the sermon. Help the younger ones with full Bibles find the text being preached.
6. Each day, have church practice at home, until your children get good at it, and then just have practice a few times a week, or as needed. Line up some kitchen chairs like a pew, and have everyone sit in their assigned pew spots. Start by standing and singing a few hymns, and then move on to listening to a sermon. You can find free sermons to listen to online. Have your children sit nicely, and pay attention. Here is something to try: Have each of your children stand up, and pretend to preach, while you sit there, slouched down, arms crossed, and with a bored expression on your face. Ask your child how you think it makes Pastor feel, when he sees people looking bored when he preaches. Then, have your child pretend to preach again, but this time, sit up, look him in the eye, and smile. Discuss the golden rule with your children, and that just as when we speak, we want people to look interested, we should look interested and engaged when the pastor preaches.
7. While training your young children how to sit nicely in church, you may find that they become disruptive, and will need to be removed from service. When this happens, do NOT take them to a separate room, where they end up playing, and do not take them to the hall and let them run up and down the hall while you socialize. This rewards your child for behavior that they know was no good. Instead, take your child directly to the bathroom, and set them at a time out, staring at the most boring, blank wall in there. When their time out is over, tell them how you expect them to behave in church, then promptly walk them back into church, sit down, and expect your child to behave. It's important not to become angry, impatient, or upset when your child acts up and has to have a bathroom time out. Just be patient and calm, always expecting the best of your child, and it will happen. After a few to several times of having to stare at the bathroom wall when being disruptive in the sanctuary, the child will decide it's better to obey mama, and sit nicely in church.
When having lunch after church, discuss the sermon with your children. You can give rewards for those who can tell parts of the sermon back to you. You can make a game out of it, if you wish. Keep it fun and special. The Lord's Day is the most important day of the week. :-)