Middle-aged Mormon Man has two excellent solutions for teaching children to behave and cooperate in Sacrament meeting and Church as a whole. One is focused around a punishment (gasp) and making “going to the hall” less-pleasant than sitting in the meeting. The other promotes a reward for good behavior.

The Table Method

Eventually they would fuss or cry to get carried out of the meeting. But instead of taking them into the foyer, I would find a classroom. … I would leave the light off, but the window would provide enough light to see.

I would give my child a hug, tell him/her the following: “I love you, but you can’t act like that in Sacrament meeting. I want you to sit here until you think you can go back and be quiet and reverent.”

I would then set the child on the table. This would freak them out a little because it was a little higher than a chair, and they were too little to jump off. A veritable cageless cage. (I have [had] one son climb off – I just picked him up and put him back and sternly told him to stay put. Repeatedly.)

Usually the child was crying before we left the chapel, but now thing would really get going. Tears, sobs, screams, etc. My response was always the same: Nothing. No words, eye contact, nothing. I would silently sit on a chair next to the table – but just out of reach, with my head bowed, arms folded.

The child would gradually work out the screams and tears. I waited. I was listening for one specific phrase:

“I want Mommy.” Spoken – not screamed.

I would immediately “wake up”, stand and ask my child, “Do you want to go sit with Mommy?”

“Yes” was always the reply.

“I can’t let you go back unless you can be really good and sit on Mommy’s lap without making noise. Can you do that?”

Sniff – “Yes”

“Good, then we will go back if you promise.”

“I promise.”

“OK, let’s go.” I would give the child a love and take him/her back into the meeting. Upon seeing mom, the child would race to her, climb on her lap, and sit quietly – and sometimes glare at me. If it started up again, all I had to do was reach…

The basic premise is that sitting on mom’s lap is much better than sitting on a table with dad nearby ignoring you. It is effective, but requires some time, and some resolve on the part of the dad. (It is really hard to sit and watch a little one sob and plead for you with arms outstretched.)

It seems too many parents make “being taken out” more pleasant and enjoyable, than remaining in the meeting. The message is clear: “act up and you’ll be rewarded by being allowed to run the halls.” It doesn’t make sense and will probably make other self-control lessons taught at home, harder to convey because of the dual-standard the child perceives  In fact, it may make them feel like Church is a joke, something to be escaped, rather than a place of reverent learning and worship. Read the full post for all the details, including certain requirements that must be in place for it to work.

The Reverence Plate

Triple-M’s 2nd method, targeted at slightly older children who can focus on a reward for more than 60 seconds, is called “The Reverence Plate.” A special plate or plates is purchased or created and given to the child (or children) who were especially good in  Church that day, or accomplished something special. They’re allowed to eat from it at Sunday dinner, but then it goes back in the cupboard and is not used again until the following Sunday, if the requirements are met.

It’s a genius use of simple group psychology in my opinion. The child feels special, because everyone in the family says they are being honored and rewarded for what they’ve done. Older children may not respect it as a reward, but if they’ll play along, the Reverence Plate can be a powerful reward, enhanced by it’s scarcity of once a week, at most. Read the original post for all the details as well as a link to purchase Reverence Plates directly from MMM (not to be confused with Modern Mormon Men).

You might also enjoy/learn from his philosophical post around reverence and children.

What do you think? Any methods you’ve found to effectively teach both appropriate behavior, and respect for Church?