What do you do when your child misbehaves in church?

Some BCC chums and I had a disagreement over this recently sidebarred article, “To Spank or Not To Spank.” And by “disagreement” I mean that we had different interpretations of what the author said versus what she meant to say and blah blah blah–it’s really not that important, despite the number of words I personally devoted to the conversation (which eventually ended in fisticuffs, not that anyone asked), but on reflection I realized that I was reading the article through my own parenting-experience-colored glasses.

I presume that many people read this article’s anecdote about the church nursery worker who spanked a child in her class and thought, “Dude, if someone did that to my kid–HELL to the NO.” I read the anecdote and wondered how the issue was going to be resolved, and when it wasn’t, I felt cheated–because I am the parent of the child who, to old-skool disciplinarians’ minds, could certainly do with a swat on the behind (or two). In fact, considering my daughter’s behavior in church, I would be astonished if several people in my ward did not think this on a regular basis.

If the Primary president had phoned me and said, “Sister J, [your child] was acting up in nursery class and the nursery worker [who would probably remain nameless at this point] swatted her on the behind. We’ve explained to her that this was inappropriate, and it won’t happen again, but we just wanted to let you know, blah blah, insert profuse apologies or whatever here,” I think I would have said, “Oh. Well. Okay. All’s well that ends well, I guess,” and privately think, “OMG, I’m so embarrassed, what on earth did she do this time?” On the other hand, if the Primary president had phoned me and said, “Sister J, [your child] was acting up in nursery class and the nursery worker swatted her on the behind. This isn’t our usual policy, but in her defense, it did shut your daughter up for the rest of the class time,” I would have been much more indignant. “Are you saying that if I can’t discipline my daughter, you’ll do it for me? Four words: HELL to the NO.”

Here’s the thing, though: my daughter isn’t in nursery anymore. She’s eleven years old–on the verge of Young Womanhood–and her behavior in church since she learned how to communicate verbally makes her nursery-age self look like a model child. If you’d like some background on my daughter, you can read about her here. If you don’t have the patience for that, let me just tell you that last Sunday–as in five days ago–she stood up in the middle of the chapel and screamed, “I hate the Book of Mormon!” and then proceeded to proclaim that she understood why the mob killed Joseph Smith. That anecdote doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about my daughter–she’s a complex, beautiful creature, like most of God’s children–but it does tell you everything you need to know about why her behavior at church frustrates and embarrasses me on a weekly basis, and I would do just about anything to find a solution to this problem.

Rest assured that my daughter experiences consequences for her actions. Also rest assured that she is in therapy and, yes, medicated. The kicker is this: she used to act like this everywhere–at home, in the community, at church, at school–especially at school. In fact, it was her continued disruptiveness at school that led to her being enrolled in a private clinical day-treatment program, which she attended for a year and a half. While at the day-treatment program, she became a model student and a much, much easier person to live with. In September she was able to return to a general education environment for the first time in nearly three years.

I can’t tell you how surreal it is to meet with teachers and have them tell me what a sweetheart my daughter is and how they wish they had twenty of her. Her caseworker at school–who knows her history–has told me repeatedly that my husband and I have obviously done an outstanding job of raising her. I always demur, not just out of modesty, but because tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of therapy notwithstanding, I honestly don’t have any freaking clue what we did to effect this mighty change in her. From where I stand, it appears that a switch was flipped inside my daughter, and if I could look into the circuit box of her soul and find the breaker labeled “CHURCH,” all our problems would be solved.

Over the years I’ve had people implicitly and explicitly criticize my parenting based on the quality of my daughter’s behavior in public. My immediate reaction has usually been to think, “Let THEM take her for a week and see how much they know about it then.” But underneath all that parenting bravado has been the sneaking suspicion that they’re right, that I have obviously done something wrong–because parents who do things right don’t have children who do so many wrong things. And yes, this is the real reason I’m reluctant to take credit for being the awesome parent of an awesome child–because if I take the credit, I will also have to take the blame, and seriously, dudes, I can’t handle that.

Several years ago the Ensign printed an interview with President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie. They told a story about one of their sons, who decided at some point that he didn’t want to go to church anymore. (As I recall, he was about ten at the time the story took place.) So they left him at home and went to church without him. As the Hinckleys told the story, the boy got bored being at home all alone and it didn’t take him long to decide that he’d rather go to church instead. No fuss, no muss. I absolutely adore the Hinckleys, so this is no offense to them, but I distinctly remember thinking at the time, “President and Sister Hinckley, that is not a helpful anecdote.”

Number one, my daughter wasn’t old enough then to leave at home alone. Number two, even now that she is old enough to leave at home, and even though I can effectively de-activate all the electronic equipment that would make her stay at home more pleasant than it has any business being, there is no doubt in my mind that my daughter would infinitely prefer being bored at home all alone to being at church. I want to leave her at home, but only because she has made going to church such an unhappy experience for me for so long, I would give just about anything to spend one three-hour block on Sunday in peace, and I don’t even care what kind of message it would send to her or the other children, or how it would affect her eternal salvation. At this point I would even let a nursery worker spank her, if I thought it would help. (But I doubt very much that it would.)

Fortunately or unfortunately, my husband doesn’t share my view on the subject, so she continues to go to church with us, and she continues to act out. Some weeks are better than others–some weeks are much better than others–but there’s no telling when the next profane outburst will strike or how bad it will be.

This is what bugged me about that stupid “To Spank or Not To Spank” article: it is not about spanking at all, but it is merely about the need to provide a “safe and secure” environment for all nursery children, and the most helpful thing it has to say on this count is that if you’re doing your job as a nursery worker properly, you will never need to discipline any of the children in your class. Okay, it doesn’t say this exactly (not any more, at least, than it says it’s okay to spank your nursery children), but in absence of some actual guidelines about what to do when a child misbehaves, I don’t know what else we’re supposed to conclude. And that, my dears, is a conclusion I am just sick and tired of drawing.

What kills me is that my daughter struggles with some of the same issues that I do at church and with some of the same issues that I have emotionally. The main differences between us are 1) I’ve had a lot longer than she has to resign myself to certain facts of life, and 2) she is much more outspoken than I am. She’s not a sociopath; she feels remorse, and she feels guilt. “Why am I like this?” she asks. “I’m afraid I’m just not a very good person,” she says. How many times have I said these exact same things–only I, being me, say them to myself instead of the world at large.

The end of this story has not yet been written, and the point thereof is still undetermined.


  1. Oh my gosh, Rebecca! First, have I mentioned that you’re my favorite blog writer in the entire world?

    And second, I have an 11 year old daughter with Asperger’s who is quite a bit like yours sounds, but I can promise nothing I say about her will be helpful to you. Because my solution has been to switch churches.

    We used to work very hard on finding activities for my daughter to do during sacrament meeting — books she could look at, we’d bring her knitting, notebooks, crayons, etc. We’d talk about how to behave, how yes it was boring as heck but we just have to be quiet and wait it out, and she would agree to do so. But as soon as we walked into the church building she would wilt — I could see the life draining out of her — and by the time we got to the chapel some other personality would have taken her over. And for one reason another she would starting shouting at me (usually during the sacrament) and telling me what a bad mother I was and I would have to take her out of the chapel like a three year old.

    It was deeply embarrassing. Every. Week. And so… um… well, I stopped going to sacrament meeting. I was teaching primary at the time and the stress of doing both was too much. Sunday mornings were still pure torture though. She would start screaming as soon as she woke up and say mean and nasty things to everyone all the way to church.

    I tried President Hinckley’s method. “Sunday mornings are too hard for me,” I told my daughter. “I can’t deal with your behavior and trying to get ready to teach my lesson at the same time. From now on, if you want to come to church with me it’s up to you to get yourself ready. I’m not fighting with you anymore.” Of course she threw her arms around me, thanked me for not making her go to church, and never went to Primary again.

    This year we’re attending a Unitarian Universalist church. The first day she came out of her class with her eyes wide and with awe in her voice she said, “They don’t tell you what you should believe!” Apparently, this was a sticking point for her (whole ‘nuther story about when she was 5 and I told her about Moroni and the golden plates…. The look she gave me! The skepticism! I was weirdly flooded with guilt for lying to my child and trying to put such a wacky story over on her).

    Now Sunday mornings are lovely, she’s happy to go to church, she’s getting involved with some of their environmental activism programs (the environment is her thing), and I’ve seen a whole spiritual side of her open up that I never even knew existed or could exist. Meditation is clearly more meaningful to her than prayer, and social justice more than sin. It’s been amazing to watch.

  2. Hmm, now that I read over it, it’s really NOT helpful. Sorry! I guess what I really meant to say is that I can deeply empathize with your troubles and unfortunately have not found any solutions myself.

  3. Philomytha,

    Actually, I think it is helpful–it raises issues that are difficult, but important to think about. There are a lot of ways in which our current church programs are profoundly disrespectful of children’s needs. For instance, toddlers might act out in nursery because they’re being asked to do unnatural and ridiculous things for THREE HOURS on Sunday, their parents are stressed out trying to make them do these things, and the importance attached to their ability to be “reverent” is completely out of proportion to reality. 11-year-olds are probably starting to notice that we pay lip service to the ideas of personal revelation and personal testimony, but what we want more than anything is for them to arrive at OUR beliefs, not theirs. Of course they are uncomfortable, of course they act out. (I have a kid with PDD, and I’m starting to conclude that part of what makes autism spectrum kids both wonderful and difficult is that they simply refuse to participate in any of the polite nonsense that lubricates social interaction–neither skill or tolerance for hypocrisy of any kind).

    Anyway, I do think it’s important to ask not just how to get children to behave the way we want them to at church, but why we want/need them to behave in these ways.

  4. I dunno, I was a total church nightmare until I was 18. Teachers used to resign in tears any time they were assigned to teach me. I have limited insight here, but I wonder whether being delighted with school behavior would be the right response. We could stand to have a little more drama in church some days. And I wouldn’t spank your kids.

  5. #3 – “11-year-olds are probably starting to notice that we pay lip service to the ideas of personal revelation and personal testimony, but what we want more than anything is for them to arrive at OUR beliefs, not theirs. ”

    I had a really good talk with my daughter where she expressed how grateful she was to be allowed to figure out for herself what she believed. One thing I said that seemed to resonate with her was about how I used to feel guilty for not being able to believe the things I was taught at church. I think she might have been starting down the same path… What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I even BELIEVE the things everyone else KNOWS? So I suspect it’s a great relief for her not to have to believe a certain way, since she can’t.

  6. We should sing “Know This, that Every Soul is Free” more often :)

  7. RJ, wow.

    Last winter I spanked my 10-year-old (!) over a church-related conflict. It was the first time I’d spanked any kid in over a dozen years, and it’s a very good thing the spanking didn’t work, or I’d surely find myself doing a lot more of it.

    Along with asking why some children feel so compelled to “misbehave” in a church setting, we also need to ask why some parents feel so compelled to hurt them in response. There’s a level of shame attached to having an “irreverent” child that I’m not sure I can find words for.

  8. We struggle with four rowdy daughters–though really only two now, as the 13-year-old and the 9-year-old have come to be basically content with the expectations of silence and decorum during sacrament meeting, and it’s only the 5-year-old and 3-year-old who still give us problems. And, of course, in framing it that way–“give us problems”–I’m making their relationship to church practice wholly a matter of social disciplining, which isn’t what it should be. It should be a matter of helping them enter into a community that we identify with, and which we want them to identify with, so as to enjoy the benefits–spiritual, psychological, communal–which membership brings. However, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with such a level of critique, because “membership” always means some degree of disciplining and conformity, and a backing away from thinking about teaching kids how to behave in sacrament meeting as being disrespectful of kids’ needs (which, as Kristine points out, it may very well be) can also potentially undermine the essential and minimal fact of conformity, and thus in some ways perhaps undermine the whole point, and benefit, of membership itself.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I recognize that there is often something genuinely harsh involved in working, through whatever strategy–words, threats, humor, guilt, bribes, punishments, etc.–to get your kids to behave in church. And I definitely think some strategies are wiser and morally superior to others. But overall, I’m not sure I’m entirely unhappy with that lurking harshness, because I think membership is generally–not always, but generally–a good which trumps the costs in achieving it. The same can be said for any sort of education towards a group effort, whether it be working in an auto shop or singing in a choir, after all. (The fact that the latter examples presumably involves the mostly free choices of adults, and the former involves children, may change some of the variables, but I’m not sure it changes the basic calculus.)

    As for the larger question of expecting children to believe a certain way, thank goodness belief is overrated.

  9. Rebecca – I’m sorry about the challenges that you face. I do not face the same struggles, but I worked in the Primary in a ward where there were two children with Autism and one child with Aspberger’s. I know that it was difficult for the parents. However, we had an amazing primary president who counseled with these parents often. She found ways to make primary more suitable for their needs. The entire primary benefitted from her effort.

    #3 – “For instance, toddlers might act out in nursery because they’re being asked to do unnatural and ridiculous things for THREE HOURS on Sunday, their parents are stressed out trying to make them do these things, and the importance attached to their ability to be “reverent” is completely out of proportion to reality.” – I don’t think that we should generalize. Not all toddlers act out all the time. Many of them are acting their age, and they seem to be fine – once they get used to the pattern of Church. They aren’t expected to sit for three hours – only one hour. And usually, parents have activities to keep them occupied during sacrament meeting.
    For the most part, when the nursery has activities that will engage the children they will do fine. Are there challenges? sure. but there are challenges for everyone in every calling… it’s life.

    also – “11-year-olds are probably starting to notice that we pay lip service to the ideas of personal revelation and personal testimony, but what we want more than anything is for them to arrive at OUR beliefs, not theirs.” I guess I take D&C 93:40 very seriously, “But I have commanded you to bring up your achildren in blight and truth.” also, King Benjamin succinctly explains, “And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
    But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14-15).

    It is just as important for me to teach my children the truths of the gospel as it is for me to feed and clothe them. I feel like I’m not trying to force my children to arrive at my beliefs. I’m trying to teach them what I’ve found to be true – just as much as I want them to learn that 2+2=4, I want them to know that Jesus is the Christ. I want them to know the principles and ordinances of the true and everlasting gospel. I’m certainly not paying “lip service” to these ideas. I want them to be happy, eternally happy, and I know that happiness is found when following God’s Plan.

    I think that the point of this blog is how we try to teach these principles – and there is no formulaic answer – we need to follow the Spirit and do what is right for our children and families.

    Thanks for the provocative post.

  10. Thank you. I find your post painfully comforting. My children may be the only people in my ward that behave in strange, outlandish ways, but they are not the only ones in the world.

  11. Julie M. Smith says:

    “in blight and truth”

    Oh, perfect, perfect, perfect! That is exactly what church is: blight and truth mixed together, and we muddle through with our children and each other as best we can.

  12. I don’t know what I would do, but I’m glad you told your story. I know that if/when I witness a child do what yours did/does in sacrament, I’ll make a special effort to show that family compassion (not to be confused with pity). I would also make a special effort to be kind to and cognizant of that child, whether I got only rudeness in return or not. I would make a better effort to be a friend to mom, as I imagine this can feel isolating. I guess some people’s callings in life involve more patience and long-suffering than others’. I’m sure your example is helping someone in your ward. Just this post has helped me. I know, that seems like a whole lot of trouble for you to go through just to teach somebody a lesson. But, maybe we can all go out and make life a little better in our ward families.

  13. Religion would be so much easier if we didn’t regiment it and place a bloated bureaucracy on it. I find it somewhat hypocritical that our leaders tell us that parents should be the ones teaching the children, and then they proceed to insert tons of programming to steal our kids away from us so we cannot succeed (3 hour Sunday block, Youth Nights, Scouting, Stake activities, additional service projects, seminary, etc).

    I’m convinced that most parents do not teach their kids, nor are responsible for them, because they’ve accepted the concept that the Church, like the federal government, is a nanny state. Why should I teach my kids the gospel, when it will be fed to them every school day for 4 years in a way that the Church approves?

    It is time we re-enthrone the family and home as the principle place for teaching children. I have no problem with teaching the parents, so they can then teach their kids. But that is not what we do.

    Church should be the place for two things: partake of the sacrament, and organize needful things for the ward. It needs to be a place to inspire, but how many Sacrament talks that are imposed upon members of the congregation actually are inspiring or uplifting? I personally could find much better places to be for 2.5 hours of the 3 hour block, but attend out of duty and expectation (I am, after all, the high priest group leader).

    Sadly, this makes our Church a difficult experience for the young, and also for many of the adults. Elder Holland has spoken in conference before about the concern that Sacrament talks are not inspiring members, but are leaving them feeling empty (and he’s also warned about spiritual twinkies that go along with this).

    It’s sad, because I’ve seen such uninspiring meetings drive decent and good members of the Church into inactivity, or into other churches.

  14. Antonio Parr says:


    Beautifully said.

  15. xenologue says:

    I don’t have children yet, and my husband, after hearing my mother’s description of me as a child, told me, “You better hope to heck our kids take after you.” I was a pretty good kid by all accounts. (Well, I was a good kid until I joined that crazy Mormon church!) I also don’t work in nursery – I’m in YW and we have 5-6 very well behaved though spunky, beautiful, intelligent young women in our group. So I haven’t had to deal with church outbursts by children or crazy behaviour. I don’t have much experience with children in general so I hesitate to step in and help or get involved for fear I’d do/say the wrong things. I feel bad about that because sometimes I see harried mothers/fathers and I think, well, at least I could sit next to a couple of kids and be an Adult Influence, but I am afraid to look like I’m interfering.

    The one policy I do have is that if a child screams or throws something somewhere in the church during sacrament meeting, I resist the urge to swing my head around to look. I’m sure it must be just part of the humiliation for some parents to have the entire congregation staring back at them. Even if it’s just curiosity it must feel like judgment.

  16. Catania, I don’t disagree with you on the fundamental importance of teaching children truth. I only think we need to be respectful of their spiritual and intellectual development in doing so. I also think we have to leave open the possibility that they will have different beliefs than we do, that we can teach them them the truths we have discerned ONLY if we also teach them the process by which that discernment occurs and leave room for the possibility that the Spirit will teach them in different ways than it has taught us. If we don’t have enough faith in what we say we know to truly let them discover it for themselves, then we probably can’t teach them anything true.

  17. chococatania says:

    Kristine, I totally agree with you on that. I must have misunderstood earlier. In fact, I cannot agree with you more! :)

    Having served in primary for a while, I always thought is was important to remember that we were teaching KIDS!. There is, of course, a time for reverence, but we should also let the children have fun – it comes so naturally to them. They learn so much when they are happy! I also feel, in general, if we – as teachers – would teach STUDENT-ORIENTED lessons, then we’d see less behavioral problems.

    Also – I agree with the fact that we have to help our children recognize that the Spirit speaks to us individually – in ways we understand. I was never (and still am not, for the most part), a “cryer.” Sometimes I thought I had no testimony because I never cried when I bore it. Thankfully, I learned that crying does not necessarily equal testimony.

    We definitely need to break away from some of our ideas on what is “acceptable” in church – and remember the true reason for it: to bring souls unto Christ.

    P.S…sorry if this is considered a “thread-jack…”

  18. Thanks RJ- nicely said.

  19. “The same can be said for any sort of education towards a group effort, whether it be working in an auto shop or singing in a choir, after all.”

    Hey, if spanking would get people to attend choir practice regularly, I’d be totally down with that.

  20. Peter LLC says:

    they proceed to insert tons of programming to steal our kids away from us so we cannot succeed

    the Church, like the federal government, is a nanny state.

    I’ve seen such uninspiring meetings drive decent and good members of the Church into inactivity

    Are you talking about the same organization I attend on Sunday? The one that steals kids, programs failure and destroys any notion of individual responsibility among its members only to kick them to the curb? What mad scientist thought this monster up?

  21. Speaking of threadjacking, what’s with “HELL to the NO”?

    Did the computer somehow insert “to the” in the middle of what otherwise would make perfectly good sense? Or do I need to go take a course in remedial cussing to get caught up to the new ways of saying things?

  22. Peter LLC says:

    Hey, if spanking would get people to attend choir practice regularly, I’d be totally down with that.

    I’d be happy if spanking got the peanut gallery to stop moaning about how awful music is at the ward level.

  23. Kristine said:

    Hey, if spanking would get people to attend choir practice regularly, I’d be totally down with that.

    Does the choir director do the spanking, or is there a designated spanker?

    You might get people to attend, but could they sing? :-)

  24. Wow. This is a great conversation.
    “11-year-olds are probably starting to notice that we pay lip service to the ideas of personal revelation and personal testimony, but what we want more than anything is for them to arrive at OUR beliefs, not theirs.”

    I can see my 8-year-old son beginning to figure this out (to my shame, I guess). We went to visit my parents a couple of weeks ago and drove down to Plymouth Rock. We talked about the pilgrims fleeing religious persecution and how they were told what they had to believe or they were punished. He promptly said “So, that’s what you guys do to us, right?” I had no response. How do we walk that line of letting them choose for themselves (which I know he needs to do) and protecting them from themselves. I mean, this is a boy who has already told his 4-year-old brother that when he grows up he’s going to smoke. I really, really want to let him choose for himself, but I really worry about what choices he’ll make. He is only 8, after all.

  25. chococatania says:

    You know, one of my most favorite moments as a mormon was in ward choir.

    The director was trying to bribe the ward members with brownies and other treats. She begged us choir members to spread the word, “Tell everyone to come to choir, and I’ll make them brownies.”

    Then, this one older gentleman, replied, “Tell everyone if they don’t come to choir I’ll break their legs.”
    (he did wear a pinky-ring, he was always well dressed, and I had just seen the Godfather about 3 days before…)

    Okay…sorry about threadjack 2…but I couldn’t resist. ;)

  26. I am an average parent with average kids. I do not think its that hard to keep average kids (non special needs kids) under control in Sac meeting. This is coming from somebody with 5 kids in 8 years. Sure you will have some moments but you simply need to enact punishments on a regular basis when they get home. You also need to lower your expectations on reverence. There will be a certain amount of noise generated by small kids no matter what. I suggest you distract them with church related books.

    Furthermore I do not think its that hard to get to church on time with kids either. Its just a matter of how early you get up. You can get them to school on time right? Heck I got 4 kids in Halloween costumes and got them to school on time today with a baby in tow.

  27. bbell,

    “you simply need to enact punishments on a regular basis when they get home”

    Nothing like positive associations with church, eh…

  28. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, spoken like a husband!

  29. Steve Evans says:

    and by my comment, I obviously am referring to the stereotype that men don’t know how to properly use apostrophes.

  30. Steve,

    I get the kids ready for both school and church by myself. All 5 of them. Its how our marriage is negotiated. My wife literally gets in the shower and leaves it all to me. It can be done. Our church is at 8:30

  31. Either you’re a fast kid dresser, or your wife is spending too long in the shower.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, see above – I was referring to your misuse of apostrophes, which behavior continues to my immense chagrin.

  33. Well, bbell, I’m glad things are going so well for you. I guess you won’t need to participate in this thread anymore. Congratulations!

  34. Lulubelle says:

    Sorry… a bit of a threadjack here but touching on some of the comments about the 3-hour block not being kid frienly…

    The only way I’ve been able to stay in this church is to keep it in its place. That means I don’t expect my kids to go to Seminary when they are of age (while I won’t stop them from going if they want, I won’t encourage them to go either), I don’t do visiting teaching, I only sometimes make time for my home teachers, and we go to about 10% of our extracurricular church activities. I feel bad for my kids at church. It’s impossible for me to get through 3 hours. I usually take a break in the middle of the 3 hour black and go get a frozen yogurt and come back. There are huge concerns about reverance in primary in our ward. Hello? How boring can they make primary? One solid hour of singing songs and I’d be bouncing off the walls, too. My oldest daughter hates primary and there are Sundays where she’ll BEG me to come get her out of it after the first hour and I do. Church is important to me but, really, I can’t say it’s an enjoyable (and usually not so spiritual) experience. We just got back from a visit at my parents’ house and their ward was noisier than a Raider’s football game.

  35. Our children were a handful at Church when they were younger. A kind older couple used to tell us how much they enjoyed watching us struggle and interact with our extremely active children sitting (well, maybe not always sitting, but standing, or crawlings, or lying down at various moments) on the bench (well maybe not always on the bench). It was a comfort to us when they said our children reminded them of theirs, and that such hyperactivity at Church was a sure sign of intelligence, curiosity and (they said with a wink) great future service in the Church. Now that our children our grown, I often pass that wisdom along to other young families I see who are struggling, barely keeping it together with their children at Church.

  36. StillConfused says:

    When my children were younger, they were being a bit disruptive in church so I got up and walked out and left them in there. They were so confused that they straightened up immediately. I didn’t have a problem again after that. But my children don’t have those kinds of severe behavioral disorders.

    My brother has a daughter like the Op’s and logic and reasoning don’t work with her because she is not capable of “knowing better.” My brother used to spank her – and that worked (albeit temporarily) but his ex wife pressed charges so he is not allowed to do that anymore. Since I did not have children “like that” I cannot really judge his parenting skills. But I will admit that his daughter is permanently banned from my home. That may seem harsh, but reality is that I can’t handle children that can’t be disciplined through logic and reasoning.

  37. I don’t know about anyone else, but punishing my kids three hours after the fact is completely ineffective. That, and I hope someday for them to actually like church.

  38. Mark B. (21),

    I figured it indicated HELLNO.

    Back on topic: We’ve had to, er, train Primary personnel regarding one of my children. Some would come to us after several challenging Sundays, but lately we’ve taken to giving advance notice that this isn’t going to be their easiest class ever.

    Just a month ago we had a really rough Sunday, particularly just prior to and during (9 am) Sacrament Meeting. For some children, an emotional flare up seems to run on Energizer batteries: it keeps going and going and going and….

    We’ve just completed a round of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) with an amazing fellow at a clinic in the area. The program focuses first on interactions that are very rewarding to the child, then adds obedience training. Where many other things have failed us, this program has been very helpful in all arenas of life, including at church.

    We’ve noticed an anecdotal improvement in family life in general when we read scriptures each night.

    Finally, paper, crayons, a post-sacrament piece of gum or something, and a parent sitting between them are all our children usually need during Sacrament Meeting to keep themselves quiet. Bonus: they quite regularly comment on things said by the speakers; they are listening!

  39. darn, the HTML didn’t work.

    The “NO” was supposed to be a superscript.

  40. Peter LLC says:

    I can’t handle children that can’t be disciplined through logic and reasoning.

    Ah, but you don’t have to–just drop them off at the Nanny State.

  41. Logic and resoning? LOGIC and REASONING? Ah yes, logic and resoning work so well toddlers. And with primary-age kids- because if my kids are nothing else, they are logical and reasonable.

  42. This post reminds me of primary class i had. One boy had recently been adopted (he was 7) from Haiti. he didn’t speak English and was unused to everything. He did stay in class but tended to prefer to sit on the floor. I didn’t have a problem with that. The bishopric member’s son preferred sitting in his chair and undressing and sometimes yelling. I did have a problem with that. I figured my lessons would be negligible and we’d focus on love for a while…until a “helpful” highpriest from the classroom next door overheard and came in our class…he gave me quite a bit of advice.


    My children are frightfully normal. I have this strange sense that children are children and you can OSC them into learning reverence, or you can let them grow up a bit. We do take them out when they are nosy and don’t let them play….. What if you have a great plan for most children but one of your children is unique… great post.

  43. I wish someone would stand up in our SM and yell “I hate the Book of Mormon!” It’d wake us up, at least. Our SMs are sooooo boring. The closest our ward’s ever got to that was the mentally ill lady who sometimes sits in the back and mutters stuff under her breath.

    My parenting techniques usually involve a lot of deal-making. “I’ll let you stay home from church today, but you have to go to every YM activity for the rest of the month.”

  44. “have this strange sense that children are children and you can OSC them into learning reverence, or you can let them grow up a bit.”

    Bingo!! Kids start being able to perform the kinds of behaviors we expect of them in Sacrament Meeting sometime between ages 5 and 8 (generally, depending on temperament). The timeline can probably be bumped up by some months, with YEARS of effort, bribes, punishments, etc., but most of the stuff we do to “teach” them reverence before the age that it comes naturally to them is mostly to impress the other adults around us.

  45. you can OSC them into learning reverence

    What does that mean? Threaten them with readings of Ender’s Game, perhaps?

    I agree with the 5 to 8 range as generally being the age when culture of reverence becomes “available” to young bodies and minds, as it were. I’m not sure that means there’s little point to attempted acculturation before that point. (Not that anyone is necessarily claiming that.)

  46. The OSC thing is a reference to a Vigor article (scroll down to “Does Civilization Begin in Sacrament Meeting?”) that Orson Scott Card wrote.

  47. Russell, the OSC reference is to this Meridian article


  48. My heart goes out to all of you with very strong-willed children and children with special needs. I’m sure that you are doing better than you think you are. I bet that any parent would have challenges with some of these children.

    First of all, there are a lot of good primary teachers out there, but I’m firmly convinced that we loose some children because all to often there is too little effective teaching in Primary. Almost every week teachers fail to show up and the presidency must quickly find a sub. While I enjoy teaching children I feel bad when I am asked to sub at the last minute, because I don’t have time to prepare a good lesson. I like to have time to pray and ponder the concepts I wish to teach.

    When I see some lessons in sharing time I get the feeling that very little thought or preparation was put into it. The church has lots of resources available to assist teachers in making their lessons interesting, but I don’t know how often they get used. In every lesson there needs to be involvement from the children. They need to do something with their hands. You can’t just expect children to listen to you for extending periods of time. Honestly, I’m surprised that children do as well as they do with some of the substandard teaching they get.

  49. #13 Rameumptom: I fully agree that parents need to be responsible for teaching their children. However, I disagree that the Church’s programs interfere with that teaching as you seem to say. Perhaps that has been your experience, and I can respect that, but it definitely has not been my experience.

    Instead, I have seen the Church’s programs be a hugh support to what I am trying to do as a father.

    In my opinion, it isn’t a matter of the church doing too much, but rather a matter of us as parents often doing too little to teach our children.

  50. make that “huge” support…

  51. That OSC article is a little unrealistic for me when my kids were toddlers. I had three kids under the age of 4 and my husband was inactive. I left the chapel a lot with my youngest, and my oldest two always followed.

    I think his rhetoric is also a bit over the top.

  52. #47: Completely agree with you. I’ve been in primary for 5 years now—two in the nursery, and three teaching the Valiant girls. My goal has always been to make it a place they *want* to go. I put a lot of effort into making the lessons something they’ll enjoy participating in.

  53. A few tricks my wife and I picked up from 18 months of teaching CTR4 and CTR5 (including a few kids considered “difficult”). This is probably most applicable for 3-7 year olds (with some adjustments based on age).

    1. We always took 10 minutes at the beginning of class and went around the room and let each kid tell us something about their week or something they were looking forward to in the near future. We made sure that every child got a turn, that we remembered stuff from week to week and sometimes had follow up questions and we included both teachers in the go-round-the-room and report. This was not a follow-up on last week’s lesson. It was strictly to build trust and get to know each other.

    2. We streamlined the lesson to 20-25 minutes, with a focus on storytelling, the use of scriptures (but keep it short and paraphrase where needed — the key is to reinforce that what we’re talking about in the lesson is found in the scriptures) and activities where you can solicit an answer from each member of the class and they can use their imagination and examples from their home and school life — allow some humor to be used. For example, a good activity is “Create a scenario that is either good or not good behavior related to the subject of the lesson and let the rest of the class give that a thumbs up or thumbs down.”

    Activities and games are fine but don’t overload on them and keep them simple.

    3. End the lesson with a strong story or anecdote followed by your testimony and then have the closing prayer 10 minutes before the end of the class period. When bearing your testimony keep it short and free of complex Mormon syntax and vocabulary and transition quickly to the closing prayer.

    4. End 10 minutes early, but have a plan for those last 10 minutes — this can be a game you create or one suggested by the children (within reason). It can sometimes be one that relates to the lesson (including those that manual suggest that help recap) but it’s best to mix it up week-to-week. Coloring something is fine too, but children tire of doing that week after week and some get frustrated if they don’t have time to finish.

    5. Only break the no-treats rule 3-4 times a year, and if you’re going to break it, bring something good. This way you get the benefits of appearing magnanimous and indulging them (which does help in the building of a friendship with them) without creating the expectation that there should always be a treat.

    6. Listen and be able to prove that you have listened.

  54. Latter-day Guy says:

    22, “I’d be happy if spanking got the peanut gallery to stop moaning about how awful music is at the ward level.”

    Uh… I know a way to change that: make the music less awful at the ward level. In every ward I’ve ever lived/served in, most of it is dreck––well-intentioned, deeply sincere dreck. Now, the great thing is that it can be fixed, but step one in that process is to stop pretending that Ward Choir is part of the test of mortality, one of life’s crosses to suffer with patience.


  55. I’ve been in nursery for a year now, and I’ve never spanked anyone, though I’ve thought about it once or twice. I have, however, held a child close to me in basically a hug/vice grip until said child could pull it together. I don’t know how a parent would feel about that, and I haven’t made a habit of asking.

    Of a much more controversial note, on more than one occasion I’ve taken a kid to the bathroom (located in the nursery) myself rather than take the kid to his or her parents so that they can do the job. I know I should go find the parents, but when the kid is in right in front of me, hand over crotch, dancing the pee-jig, I’m simply not going to waste five minutes trying to figure out which Sunday school class the parents are in. And then I just don’t tell the parents later, so as to avoid difficult conversations.

    Now that I think of it, though, if I got a parent angry enough at me for this, I could probably get myself excused from all callings for quite some time.

  56. Rebecca, I love your writing. Thanks for the post. I think you are heroic as a mother. As a fairly lame primary teacher myself, I try to just show up and genuinely show some affection and interest in the children.

    When my children were babies/toddlers, I did not expect them to sit through church. Which was a good thing, because if I had expected it, I would have been disappointed. Once the sacrament was over, if we couldn’t stay in the chapel with them, I would take them home and put them to bed (it was usually naptime). My husband would keep the older children in church. Once they were nursery age, we would usually stay for the entire block, but not if our meeting time was from 1 to 4 and they hadn’t had a nap and were tired. I have no criticism for church leaders or workers over this. It is not possible to have a schedule that works for everyone. Parents need to do what’s best for their own children.

  57. Thanks Ben for that helpful explanation.

    But HELL raised to the No power is still new to me. I guess I better sign up for that remedial cussing class.

    Damn, I thought I knew how.

  58. Mark, I wouldn’t bother. “Hell to the No” is a really stupid expression.

  59. Antonio Parr says:

    53: re: Music

    My family attended a funeral at an evangelical church. The music was exceptionally nice — melodic and accompanied by instruments other than an organ — and my teen-age son commented on how much he preferred the music at this other church than the music at our church. His comment was, in effect, that our typical Sunday music sounds like funeral music (even though we are not attending a funeral), and that this other church’s music was really nice (even though it ~was~ a funeral).

    I think that he may be on to something. Beautiful music can be a great distraction for young children, and the more perfunctory approach to music found in most LDS wards doesn’t seem to be of much help to parents trying to control their young’uns.

  60. I got a call from another mother who seemed to imply that one of my sons is going to grow up to be a sexual pervert/predator. Still trying to figure out how to handle that without saying something extremely rude.

  61. And once, as YW President (much younger and less experienced than I am now), I told my counselor about the behavior her daughter exhibited at camp. I thought she would want to know since her daughter is otherwise so well-behaved. I don’t think she did because she hardly talked to me after that and didn’t seem to like me much. I’ve learned that we just need to ignore the rare outbursts from other people’s kids.

  62. Also the not-so-rare outbursts, probably.

  63. Rebecca,

    Your daughter seems intelligent enough that perhaps you can reach an intelligent agreement with her. Tell her that you would appreciate her attendance and reverence, and in return offer something of value to her. It could be taking her out to lunch, letting her have an increase in allowance, etc. As long as she holds up her part of the bargain, you hold up your part.

    Perhaps she isn’t ready to understand turning her will over to God, even if it sometimes seems boring or cramped. But she may be willing to consider such a business deal. She gets something she wants in exchange for you getting something you want. Perhaps the testimony will come at a later time.

  64. Antonio Parr says:

    Question: Do any of you have Sacrament Meeting last? I have seen a dramatic increase in “misbehavior” when the kids are told to sit still at the end of a 3 hour block (as opposed to holidng it together for the first hour of a 3 hour block).

    (I put quotes around “misbehavior” because I am not convinced that young children acting like children is anything other than age-appropriate behavior.)

  65. Rameumptom,
    Of course (as a generalization) Rebecca’s daughter isn’t ready to understand turning her will over to God—she’s 11 years old. I’m not convinced that I’m ready to do so, and I’m significantly older than 11.

    I suspect the issue isn’t one of horse trading; if it were that simple, every parent with sufficient resources would have angelic kids (at least in public).

    My wife and I taught a primary class for a couple years with boys, some of whom were, well, they weren’t troublemakers, but they were also 10 and 11, were pushing their boundaries for various age-related and other reasons. We never made them into angels, but that wasn’t, ultimately, our goal. Instead we tried to engage them, teach them, help them feel the Spirit, and, most importantly, help them feel church was a good place to be. They all had amazing families, and were very smart, but they were all individuals who had their own needs, desires, interests, problems, etc. All the business deals in the world wouldn’t have helped, but honest interest and love seemed to do good things.

  66. Actually, I think if we all had a little (or a lot) more compassion on those kids/families with “problem” children it would make some of the problems disappear.
    I think we would probably have a lot more success in helping those kids who have harder time gaining a testimony if we decided to encourage their inquisitiveness, rather than making them feel guilty for not having a testimony yet. If we really know the gospel is true, then we shouldn’t be afraid to let them find out for themselves. And if they begin to question at an alarmingly young age, then maybe we should feel more grateful than shocked that they are so insightful and wary of hypocrisy.
    I still haven’t figured out how to implement this in my life, though, so maybe I have no right to talk.

  67. We have sacrament meeting at the end of the 3 hours. It’s pretty awful, in my opinion.

  68. Hi! Can I jump on this blog? I’ve been reading the archives for a while, and really enjoyed this post.

    I feel pretty sad at how many commentors seem to dislike attending church so much. I must be really lucky in the branches/wards I’ve attended (as an adult). Sure, there are some boring talks and boring weeks, but I really do feel uplifted and I learn something almost every Sunday that I hadn’t thought of before. One counselor in a branch presidency challenged us to ask for guidance or an answer on a specific question everytime we came to church, and let the Lord answer it. That has helped me a lot, not only to pay better attention, but to actually listen to what these people are saying that might have something to do with me…

    Anyway, the comment in the OP that really touched me was this: ““Why am I like this?” she asks. “I’m afraid I’m just not a very good person,” she says.”

    I have been feeling this way myself for a while, and it’s comforting to be reminded that it’s part of the human condition. When other people express this feeling I can jump right in and defend their “goodness”, and that helps me remember that I have my own “goodness”.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  69. Enna,

    Is it not ironic that many on this list are perilously close to an addiction to every post and comment on BCC, yet are left unsatisfied in meeting? How does this blog differ from the ward speakers? I can speculate on several reasons:

    1) Adequate preparation of the speakers and commentators
    2) Time needed to type enforces “reflect before speaking” rule
    3) Safety of anonymity
    4) Tolerance for constructive disagreement
    5) More educated demographic???

    Clearly boredom is not the cause, it is an effect. What is missing of the above 5 (or add your own) in wards today that fails to engage the members?

  70. #46 – The OSC thing is a reference to a Vigor article (scroll down to “Does Civilization Begin in Sacrament Meeting?”) that Orson Scott Card wrote.

    Eegads! That article was CONSTANTLY on my mind at every Sacrament Meeting, every time I took my 5 and 8 year olds out after the 8 year old made a big scene during the sacrament and I was there alone with them. I knew that every person in that room knew what an awful mother I was, having a gotten a child all the way to baptism age without being able to sit quietly to even until the end of the sacrament! And I also knew they knew I was horrible mother because my daughter was talking in a loud voice in front of everyone about just how horrible a mother I was. And OSC made it very clear that if you’re only a decent parent your kids will behave properly within a few years, NOT 8 (or 11, where we are now, but she’s still closer to 8 emotionally). I would take my kids out of the chapel, make them sit in the primary room with the intercom on and snarl at them if they moved or spoke, while mentally abusing myself for being such a failure.

    Dang, church was awesome. LOVED Sundays.

  71. @33:

    Amazing. Someone purports to have figured out a way to get kids to (more or less) behave in Church (in a bloggernacle thread about kids misbehaving in Church), and he’s basically told to hit the road.

    Is the purpose of this thread to figure out how to make kids have a good experience at Church? Or is the purpose of the thread to complain about the Church leadership for inflicting the three-hour block on us?

  72. Steve Evans says:

    JimD, so long as we’re able to provide you a venue to complain about others directly, the bloggernacle has served its purpose.

  73. Well, speaking as the post’s author, I can tell you that the only purpose I had in writing this was to talk about my own frustrations over my own situation. In other words, it was an entirely narcissistic exercise. But I posted it anyway, knowing that some people would be able to relate to it, others would give well-meaning-but-ultimately-not-useful advice, and others would use it as a jumping-off point to complain about the three-hour block (or some other thing they didn’t like).

    My only regret is that I didn’t title the post “What do you do when you child misbehaves in church despite your best efforts to get them to behave?” (In my defense, at least I didn’t put the word “spank” in the title.)

    I myself am less concerned with the three-hour block and the child-friendliness of church than I am with this general implication that if we’re doing our job(s) correctly, we will avoid most difficult situations, and therefore there’s no need to talk about what to do in the event of a difficult situation. We also have difficulty admitting that some problems can’t be solved and to a certain extent just have to be suffered through. By “we,” of course, I mean “me.”

    Rebecca J

  74. Rebecca J, I loved this post. And I agree with so much of it. Especially that if someone spanked my child but then were told not to and were never going to do it again, I’d move past it pretty quickly, but if they defended it I’d have a big problem with it. Also that the original article seemed to imply that if you just engage kids appropriately their behavior will always be good and you’ll never have to discipline them (don’t I wish — they obviously don’t know my kids). And this line:

    “And yes, this is the real reason I’m reluctant to take credit for being the awesome parent of an awesome child–because if I take the credit, I will also have to take the blame, and seriously, dudes, I can’t handle that.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m hoping that by the time my ASD kid is 11 we’ll be past the outbursts in church, but I’m glad to know that if we’re not there’s someone else out there who’s been through it and will understand what I’m going through. Thanks.

  75. Enna (#67),
    To clarify, I really enjoy going to church, but I don’t always enjoy bringing my children to church. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this.
    Some of my kids are inexplicably angelic, but others just have an extremely difficult time sitting through anything, church or otherwise. It is boring for them, and I can understand why they feel that way. Because I am responsible for them, their troubles are my troubles.

  76. Stephanie says:

    Um, is it so awful to admit that sometimes I would like someone else to spank my kid? It would probably scare the hell out of them and save me hours of patient positive parenting.

    bbell #30 – that’s the arrangment my husband and I worked out! It all fell apart when he got called into the Bishopric (for Sundays anyway, I already do the rest of the week myself. Sunday was supposed to be my day of rest). It took six months before I realized I was no longer raging mad while driving to church. Yes, the solution to getting 5 kids (under 9 for me) to church on time is getting up really, really early. And it sucks.

  77. Ben P’s superscripting ftw!

    JimD: bbell’s example, although admirable, has zero value for someone in RJ’s shoes.

  78. Thanks wM …I was referencing that OSC article. It came out when my twins were little…I laughed. It just wasn’t applicable. I agree with some of the principles (ie reverence is good) but not that there is only one way to go about it and there will be success.

    I love that for the first time in 5 years…huh that’s not long before my twins were born, I have a husband to help us get to church.

    Rebecca just keep in mind that Jesus when he visited the little children? he had angels to help

  79. When I first read the post, I did not think that what I really wanted to say would be responsive to the topic at hand. However, after reading the responses, I feel energized to just go ahead…

    With respect to mis-behavior in our Sacrament Meetings, what are children under 8 years of age doing in Sacrament Meeting in the first place? I believe that this custom is entirely unnecessary. The nursery/Jr Sunday School should be extended especially for the Sacrament Meeting time. [Parents should rotate the responsibility.]

    From the pulpit, we teach that Sacrament Meeting is the most sacred meeting of the church, outside of the temple.

    I realize that most LDS parents would not take kindly to such a policy… believing that the best (only) way for a child to learn to be reverent is with the family sitting together. I do not believe this.

    First of all, I believe that Sacrament Meetings are times to BE reverence, not to LEARN to be reverent. Secondly, I believe that a young child would look forward to the time when hr/she can attend Sacrament Meeting with the “older people”. I just cannot believe that a young child is in any way put at a reverence/behavior disadvantage if they are unable to attend Sacrament Meeting until they are 8 years old.


  80. Peter LLC says:

    53: Uh… I know a way to change that: make the music less awful at the ward level. In every ward I’ve ever lived/served in, most of it is dreck––well-intentioned, deeply sincere dreck. Now, the great thing is that it can be fixed, but step one in that process is to stop pretending that Ward Choir is part of the test of mortality, one of life’s crosses to suffer with patience.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much the moaning from the peanut gallery I was talking about. Step one is actually for people with talent to participate.

  81. (Thanks for fixing my comment, admins!)

  82. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Step one is actually for people with talent to participate.”

    Most US wards have plenty of talent. Seriously. (I assume many wards around the world have plenty of talent as well, but my experience with international wards is very limited.) In the few wards in which I have seen the music really work (neighboring wards or wards I visited; I’ve never had the pleasure to live in one, but it is nice to live at least near them and have the opportunity to pick leaders’ brains) the difference had much more to do with attitude. The music folk had sufficient support from ward leadership, which enabled them to inspire participants to take it seriously. Skills can be taught; dedication/inspiration are much harder to come by. Ward music just isn’t a priority in most places. And that’s fine! There are certainly more important things to worry about, but the status quo is not inevitable… but that’s a whole other blog post. :-)

  83. I just read the OSC. Makes complete sense to me. It advocates teaching children to behave in church when they are younger rather than waiting till they are older. It also outlines the many common mistakes (kid acts up, parents take them to foyer to run around…..why wouldn’t they act up so they can have recess?). I would heartily agree that OSC’s methods probably would only work on 95% of kids and so there would always be 5% that it wouldn’t work on. But I still feel that I have almost NEVER seen other parents actually try to use this style of method of teaching behavior. It is quite similar to what I have done, but I have never had another parent besides my own parents suggest it to me. I can only conclude that it is rarely used, and certainly rarely used in 18 month old children.
    So, while I sympathize with parents whose older children misbehave in church and make them feel like failures, I think that our society’s parenting style in general is contribute to our children learning poor behavior for a long time before serious attempts are made to change it.
    I believe that we underestimate our 18 month old children. I also believe that the only thing that got me through my last two year old was the knowledge that if I did it right when she was two then it would pay off down the road. So nothing got in the way of me being consistant. No meant no.
    I honestly don’t hear that from other parents…..the idea that taking the time to discipline them properly at a very young age will pay off down the road.
    Discipline is extremely difficult. I had to make it a priority.
    I do not right this post to make other parents feel bad and criticize them. I am criticizing our society for not helping parents understand how to parent.
    Thank you to those who referenced OSC’s article. I have one more child and I don’t want to shortchange him in the discipline dept. He is 18 months. As a speech (or other) delayed child it can accidentally start to skew my expectations for him (I’ve been through that before). I realize that sometimes children cannot always learn something until they are ready. However, what usually the case is that children can’t learn something unless they are given the opportunity to learn it….unless someone teaches them. What do we teach our toddlers? Do we teach them to behave in church or do we teach them how to not behave?

  84. jks,

    “I have almost NEVER seen other parents actually try to use this style of method of teaching behavior.”

    Possibly they are afraid their children might one day write a book about them…

  85. Funny thing is my kids are perfectly able to behave, sit quietly and listen in a UU service… Because when our congregation has an all-ages service, they make sure there is content that is interesting to children. Stories, stories acted out, some kind of action to take (going up to the front to pour water or light a candle). When there are going to be children present, they plan accordingly.

    When was the last time you saw anything in a Sacrament Meeting that included children as its intended audience?

  86. I’ve never been particularly fond of OSC, but this article just leaves me in stitches, it’s so inadvertently funny. It’s a perfect example of the truism that every parent styles himself (in his case, I use the pronoun advisedly!) an expert. I’m fairly skeptical of even the actual experts’ rhetoric and recommendations. But at least the best ones attempt to base their recommendations on some kind of systematic study of the evidence. This guy? It worked for his four kids–and he engages in the required hyperbolic rhetoric about Evil Youth Today and the End of Civilization, along with some self-satisfied judgments of his Christian neighbors–so it must be true. Someone needs to acquaint him with the basic concept of sample size, along with a review of why behaviorism, especially pop behaviorism, is actually fairly inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Then, in the classic manner of LDS discourse, we’ve got some unsupported generalizations about gender roles (no help to those of us attending church without our husbands!) and the required gooey glaze which we Mormons give our most sadistic behavior toward children:

    Oh, I know you’re so sad. Poor baby, you’re so frustrated. Be still, my sweet child, so we can go back inside and be happy.” And so on, and so on. Your voice must be loving and musical.

    Parents everywhere, I beg of you, by all means use OSC’s method if you wish and it works for you. But please, in the name of all that is decent and holy, do not address a human being in these tones. Just don’t.

  87. #85 – Too true! A friend of mine with several children informed me that the way to potty train a child at two years old was to make them sit on the toilet until they went. You just don’t let them get up, even if they cry. I wanted to ask her if she holds them down or does she find some way to tie them to the toilet, because that’s what it would have taken to make my kids sit there at two.

    But it worked for her three compliant girls so it must work for everybody.

  88. Dan, interesting take. I definitely use blogs like this one to “enhance” my gospel studying. For me, a big on is what I perceive as a lack of tolerance for disagreement. Just because of the set up, someone “preaching” to you (and that someone preaching their opinions as often as doctrine) makes it easy for me to disagree with something they say, have no outlet to express it or have a meaningful conversation, and so just tune out the rest of the talk…

    Anyway, Karen, I think what you are saying is a different struggle all together… getting the spirit (which can make up for inadequate speakers) *with* kids present. I feel you pain, and I don’t have children so I don’t have this experience week after week (only when I feel in for parents speaking or playing the piano or whatever). Anyway, watching others, I know it is a challenge, and I hope that if we ever end up in the same ward, you’d ask me to help if your kids are being unruly :) You certainly should have the opportunity to feel the spirit!

  89. I am glad OSC is not only a novelist, an expert on military strategy for the war on terror, and a savant on world and national political affairs in general, but also a child rearing authority. I wonder what OSC’s assessment would be of the child rearing skills of Elder and Sister Bednar given the publicly admitted less than reverent behavior of their children in family home evenings?

  90. OSC is also a world expert on television, ice cream, toilet paper, and everything else he’s ever thought about for a minute.

  91. #33 – I’m catching up on the comments, but I might not add anything of my own, given that, like bbell, I can’t provide anything but advice on what worked for someone with extremely active, strong-willed but generally well-behaved kids. Since those insights aren’t wanted, I think I’ll just be reading the comments.

  92. It’s ok, Ray–we can still send you a gold star.

  93. Just realized I should have started my last comment with a sincere, heartfelt statement of appreciation for the post. It was wonderful and deeply thought-provoking, Rebecca. I shouldn’t have let my frustration over #33 keep me from saying that first – and I probably shouldn’t have let that frustration induce my previous comment. I’m sorry, Rebecca.

  94. #91 – No comment. I will regret anything more than this if I respond honestly.

  95. I’m just teasing you, Ray. Should have added a :)

  96. Also, I don’t think that insights from people whose kids generally behave (mine do, as it happens–my objections are theoretical more than practical) are unwanted; they’re just meeting some resistance, which is fine. I think what people object to about OSCs piece (and, to a lesser extent bbell’s remarks) is the suggestion that “it worked for me; if it’s not working for you, you’re doing something wrong.”

  97. Kristine, you are exactly right. I might also add that my friend gets tired of many of her in-laws telling her she’s too mean and strict (there is a country/cultural difference) and then told that is is so “lucky” that her children are naturally so well-behaved. I see OSC’s piece more of a “it worked for me and it was actually really hard difficult work with thought behind it and it totally paid off. We thought the pay off was worth it so we put in the effort” It reminds me of the baby going to sleep wars. There are the parents who take two hours to put their kids to bed and there are the parents who just put their kids to bed. Its about priorities. I thought that my child learning to go to sleep by herself/himself was worth it so I let my baby cry. It was work but I did it young so my kids have always gone to bed and stayed in bed (because yes, when they switched from cribs to beds I had to make the effort to train some of them all over again). Other parents never made the same effort as me so if they complain that their children don’t go to bed easily or whatever, I realize that they didn’t make it a priority earlier the way I did.
    Yeah, I am not willing to take on all the blame when things go wrong but I insist on taking the credit sometimes when MY efforts have paid off because sometimes they have meant a long road.
    I do have children with learning disabilities so I know that I can’t take the blame for some things but I see plenty for me to take credit for when improvements are made with ALL of my children.

  98. I tried to let my firstborn cry it out at 10 months. He climbed out of his crib and broke his collarbone.

    Sometimes it’s temperament more than parental priorities. Really, it’s amazing anyone survives, kids or parents. We should all be gentle.

  99. Antonio Parr says:

    I tried (unsuccessfully) to convince my wife that if our youngest acts up, then I should just take her home, thus teaching her that there are consequences for our action.

    This happened once, and my wife came home early to catch said child in front of the television, and me reading the New York Times Sunday edition looking too content for my own good.

    Ever since then, I have been limited to brief walks in the foyer . . .

  100. Antonio Parr says:

    “our action” = “her actions”.

    Freud strikes again.

  101. Other parents never made the same effort as me so if they complain that their children don’t go to bed easily or whatever, I realize that they didn’t make it a priority earlier the way I did.

    In general, I don’t think we have any way of knowing what other parents have tried, what they’ve been through, what they’ve made a priority. If a child is undisciplined in some way, it’s entirely possible the parents have simply never disciplined her. It’s equally possible they’ve gone out of their minds trying absolutely everything they can think of to discipline her, and nothing has worked.

    One of my closest lifelong friends had a very difficult second child. He was so hyperactive that he gave her serious visible bruises around her ribs while he was still in utero. By the time he was eight months old, she had already performed the Heimlich maneuver once and taken him to the emergency room twice for falls (fearless, he would crawl on top of the highest thing he could get to). When I knew him in early elementary school he was flinging himself around the house and over all the furniture and screaming wildly. He was not a bad kid, I hasten to add–there wasn’t a malicious bone in his body. He was just full, full of energy, in stark contrast to her sweet, calm, mild-mannered older son. Needless to say, the disciplinary methods that had been more than adequate for Child A didn’t even touch Child B.

    It wasn’t that she didn’t make discipline a priority with her second child. It was that discipline was a whole new, much, much more difficult ball game.

  102. I think temperament is a HUGE factor. I would never have let my babies cry it out (admittedly, having them go to bed and stay there was a lower priority to me than having them feel safe at night) and now I have two kids who sleep great even though one is autistic and one has an anxiety disorder. My disciplinarian in-laws who let their babies cry it out now have to lock them in their rooms at night to keep them there. Is this because they made it less of a priority than I did? Or because my methods were better? Or because they didn’t start young enough?

    I don’t think so. It’s because of who their kids are.

  103. “I thought that my child learning to go to sleep by herself/himself was worth it so I let my baby cry.”

    Debates about discipline of children at young ages are not limited to this generation.

    When my in-laws had their children in the middle of the last century (yes I am that old–of course my wife is still 18, and has been for many, many years) their doctor told them that their infant should only be fed their bottles (breast feeding was discouraged at that time) at certain precise intervals during the night, and that if the baby wanted to be fed before the scheduled time, they should let the baby cry himself/herself back to sleep, or cry until the appointed time.

    According to my in-laws, they did follow that doctor’s precise advice, for exactly one night. They just did not have the heart to continue, and after that, they fed their babies whenever the babies wanted to be fed.

    I concur with jks that all children are different, as are all parents. I do not believe there is a one-size fits all solution. But it is good to hear of multiple approaches.

    Sometimes the best approach to helping children learn to sleep is to let them cry themselves to sleep. Sometimes other approaches work better.

    For us, what worked with one would not necessarily work with another. One infant would only go to sleep if we put on a recording of the Messiah (really; maybe that is because we had played that music frequently while my wife was expecting that child).

  104. MoTab with Ormandy would put ANYONE to sleep :)

  105. StillConfused says:

    I will admit that there has been more than one occasion when I have gone up to someone’s misbehaving child and said “That is not the appropriate way to act in Church.” I said it matter of factly and not in the annoying “primary voice.” THe kids seemed very surprised by me doing that and usually straightened up. I think there is something to be said for not wanting to be looked down on by non-parent-adults. (In the south, it is customary for whatever adult is handy to tell a child to knock it off, whether that is the parent of the child or not.) I have also had success with giving a child the “what is wrong with you look.” Again, children seem sensitive to how they are viewed by non-parent-adults.

  106. Mommie Dearest says:

    I have always kinda liked OSC. But my endorsement may not mean very much, given what I chose for my screen name.

    My kids are all young adults now. I took them to church by myself since dh is not a member. We diligently went every week, but other than that I was mostly laissez-faire about discipline. Somehow they managed to learn to be quiet enough in church. I have forgotten much of what went down during those years; I look back on the whole endeavor through a blessed fog. I mostly remember trying to make them feel loved and positive about being at church, while keeping the disruption of the meeting to a minimum. They are not active as young adults, but other than that they give me very little reason to worry about them.

    I observe some family members with well-trained young children and I wonder if we would have benefitted from a smidge more of military-ish discipline. (Should I have been a meaner mom?) Sometimes you really do just have to make your kids do things that they don’t want to do. Like every day. One thing I did was to make a sort of individual study of each of them and figure out what worked and what didn’t just for that kid. One of them was such a contrarian, that I had to choose very carefully what battles I was going to fight with her. I got a lot of advice for her over the years. I took some of it, too.

    Another thing I learned, and am still learning, is the futility of too much comparison with other people’s children. Neal A. Maxwell called this “needless comparisons.” We really ought to stop doing that so much with each other’s children.

  107. “We really ought to stop doing that so much with each other’s children.”
    And each other.

  108. Temperament is one factor, I suggesting it falls within the bigger factor of personality. Yet, the older I get the more (now 54) it seems to me that there are those in leadership positions who want their “flocks” to be of the same mold, all being obedient and faithful and so on.
    Yet, we are all individuals whether young or old. And the youth surely deserve leaders who will take the time to focus on each rather than taking the standard approach…
    I realize in this hey day we call life these days that’s a lot to ask for but don’t our youth deserve it?

  109. #105 – “I will admit that there has been more than one occasion when I have gone up to someone’s misbehaving child and said “That is not the appropriate way to act in Church.” I said it matter of factly and not in the annoying “primary voice.” THe kids seemed very surprised by me doing that and usually straightened up. I think there is something to be said for not wanting to be looked down on by non-parent-adults.”

    I know that pisses some parents off, but I LOVE it! If you’re telling your kids constantly that their behavior needs to change, but no one else seems to be bothered about it, why should they believe you? Once I was trying to check books out at the library and my kids started wrestling with each other behind me (an ongoing problem) and I didn’t see it. One of the librarians came by and said something to the effect of “Don’t you know how to behave in the library?” My kids were stunned, the librarian looked very embarrassed when she saw that I was right there (but really, who should have been embarrassed, her or me?), and I was grateful that they learned that it’s not just their nitpicky mother who is bothered by that behavior.

    Most people don’t want to infringe on parents’ responsibilities, but I think it takes a broader range of expectations than just parents’ to instill a respect for community norms. Which is undoubtedly why I’m the neighborhood mean mom…

  110. When my oldest was 3, one Sunday he insisted on going to Sacrament with me. Because we had health issues at home, my husband and I took turns going to church–usually it was me, because I had a calling. Since my son made the choice to go I let him, although he was an outspoken kid and I anticipated a rough ride. I was determined not to leave the chapel until the Sacrament was passed; he was equally determined to be free and in motion. He started jumping up and down on the pews shouting, “This is a bad place! I don’t want to be here!” The grand finale came when he stood up in the pew in alarm, looked around wide-eyed, and said, in a shockingly loud voice, “Did you hear that? We’ve got to get out of here! It’s a monster from the id*!”

    I have no advice to offer on the problem of how to help children be more comfortable in church, except to say that sometimes, it seems to be best to just to relax and let the moment live itself out, whether the drama involves your own kid’s behavior or others’ kids’. As children acquire broader language to express what they’re feeling they often drop the old “I hate you/it/everybody!” stuff on their own.

    *See the sci-Freud movie Forbidden Planet. Monsters from the id are a family joke, but my son was too young to get it and perhaps shouldn’t have been exposed to the movie at such a tender age.

  111. I should clarify. Sometimes well-behaved children are well-behaved because their parents taught them to behave that way. Sometimes badly behaved children are badly behaved despite everything their parents have done.
    Sometimes we are talking about the same parents and same child.
    Anyway, both are true. I just wanted both sides acknowledged.

  112. Since we are continuing an interesting discussion that has little or nothing to do with Rebecca’s very interesting post, and since I’m still up and kinda bored, I would also like to defend OSC and others who have suggested strategies for getting children to behave. I enloy OSC’s writing in spite of the sort of over-the-top know-it-all flavor it often has. He wasn’t really writing about parents of special-needs children.

    I think many of us have a tendency to be excessively defensive about our parenting. Without judging anyone specifically, I do think it is possible to say, as I observe people around me, that many people would benefit from more knowledge and skill in parenting, especially in the areas of limit-setting and understanding age-appropriate expectations. I also know from experience that some children are much, much, MUCH harder to parent than others. Especially with difficult children, more knowledge and skill in parenting would seem like a desirable goal. So I like to read/hear what other people find has worked for them, as well as what people who know a lot about child development suggest.

    If someone seems judgemental, then yes they shouldn’t do that. But do we really have to allow ourselves to get all worked up about it? How about when some mean old lady makes a stern comment about us from the pew behind us we just blow it off and continue to try to meet our child’s needs? Poor mean old lady. She’s probably got a migraine.

  113. So, E, you hypothesize that OSC had a migraine? ;)

  114. Ha ha!

  115. “I wish someone would stand up in our SM and yell ‘I hate the Book of Mormon!’ “

    We had a testimony meeting where a guy stood up and talked about seeing a break dancing squirrel when he was in jail. For me the most entertaining part was watching the bishopric squirm as they tried to figure out how long to let the guy go on!!! A year or so later the same guy came and sang a song for his testimony. Pretty tame compared to the first experience but does kind of bring variety to the meeting.

    With regard to children misbehaving, some of our family’s favorite stories are of children misbeahaving in church. During one primary program, a little firey red-headed girl barked into the microphone like a dog. During another primary program, my son performed Wiseman Built His House in a Four Tops dance style. Another time my daughter projectile vomited all over the bench–not a behavior issue but still a great story.

    Children are children and will learn line upon line. The cranky lady behind you needs to just take a chill. I would be more concerned with helping the children recognize the spirit when they feel it.

  116. Ron Madson says:

    Stocks, “the belt” and “no soup for you..” How to get others/children to “love church”…

    This made me think of Thoreau’s commentary in his essay “Cape Code” and I quote:

    “In 1665 the court passed a law to inflict corporal punishments on all persons who resided in the towns of this government, who denied the scriptures. THink of a man being whipped on a spring morning, till he was constrained to confess that the Scriptures were true! It was also voted by the town that all persons who should stand out of the meeting-house during the time of divine service should be set in stocks. It behooved such a town to see that sitting in the meeting-house was nothing akin to sitting in the stocks, lest he penalty of obedience to the law might be greater then that of obedience.”

  117. #105, nicely done, but i would change it to that is not *an* appropriate way to behave, rather than that is not *the* appropriate way to behave.

    i had a visiting teacher tell me once that she had raised 7 children and had had 36 foster children and had never seen two worse behaved children than my oldest two. she could have been right, but she never had those two.

  118. Stephanie says:

    Wow, marta, that’s harsh. Was she really saying it as harsh as it sounds, or was it more of a “I’ve never seen kids with as much energy as yours?”

    I had a few more thoughts related to this thread after church today. First, we actually got there early today (for the first time ever, I think), and my kids were very well behaved during Sacrament meeting. I wonder if there is something about being in the seats early and getting settled (as opposed to running in during the opening hymn) that sets the stage for them to be reverent.

    Second, I think that if my overriding goal is really to have children behave perfectly during Sacrament meeting, I could likely accomplish it (beat the kids to a pulp when we get home if they misbehave, squish them against the side of the pew like another parent I know, etc.) But, my overriding goal is to have church be an overall pleasant experience for our family. They will remember next-to-nothing about these years but feelings, so I want their feelings about church to be positive.

    Third, my siblings and I (as teens) would sleep through Sacrament meeting. That seems to be a pretty good strategy for keeping kids quiet. :)

  119. Ron Madson says:

    #118, well said,

    Heaven or Hell? “Heaven for the climate, hell for society…” Twain. If Heaven really is “warbled hymns and forced hallelujahs” then I pause to consider whose Heaven do I want for eternity?
    A poem I have kept from one of my english lit. classes:

    Nothing in Heaven functions as it ought;
    Peter’s bifocals, blindly sat on, crack;
    His gates lurch wide with the cackle of a cock;
    Not with a hush of gold as Milton had thought;
    Gangs of the slaughtered innocents keep huffing
    The nimbus off the Venerable Bede
    Like that of a dandelion gone to seed;
    The beatific choir keep breaking up, coughing.
    But Hell, sweet Hell hath no freewheeling part:
    None takes his own sweet time, nor quickens pace.
    Ask anyone, “How come you here, poor heart?”
    And he will slot a quarter through his face—
    There’ll be an instant click—a tear will start
    Imprinted with an abstract of his case.
    —From Breaking and Entering, by X. J. Kennedy,

  120. Marta,
    I betcha a dollar she was lying.

  121. mmiles, i could use a dollar. were you in the ward when my youngest was seen, within arm’s length of my husband and my mother, twirling both socks like propellers in an interpretive dance in front of the sacrament table? he was closer to 6 than 2. husband and i sat apart for years because he made no effort to enforce any sort of rules.

  122. Stephanie, the visiting teacher was a sweetheart and i love her still, but it was not meant kindly.

  123. StillConfused says:

    “husband and i sat apart for years because he made no effort to enforce any sort of rules.” Does this mean that he did not enforce your rules? My ex used to make rules and then expect me to enforce them. I say, you are welcome to whatever rules you want, so long as you are the one who enforces them. In the case of your son, why did you not enforce rules that you felt were important?

  124. basic sorts of rules, like not running around, not talking out loud (both son and husband) not standing on pew…

    we are not talking about a toddler, either, husband was allowing school aged, baptized child to run riot. i could not convince him with dad allowing anything. passive, aggressive much? maybe.

    still married to him. doesn’t attend church any more. neither does son. both happier. it’s all good.

  125. i really never expected my kids to be still (they have never been sit-still-able and neither have i – the oldest was climbing atop the dining room table, up to which he pushed a chair for access at 6 months and atop the upright piano at 8 months), but i did make them keep their movements below the top of the back of the pew and i did make them be quiet. nothing above a whisper.

    one does what one can.

  126. StillConfused says:

    I guess I don’t see what about the husband prevented YOU from enforcing proper behavior of your child.

  127. i guess you don’t. my option, which i took for years, was to sit apart from my uncooperative husband, so that my rules and expectations were the only ones the boy had to deal with. it worked great.

  128. Mommie Dearest says:

    I understood immediately why marta wouldn’t sit with her husband. On the rare occasion mine would show up to sacrament meeting, he would engage the children in whispering chat, draw funny pictures for their amusement, and fall asleep, sometimes to the point of snoring. In other words, he could undo years of my careful training in a short few minutes. I decided to live with the silver lining of the cloud, and didn’t encourage him to attend with us.

    @ Rebecca: My apologies for perpetuating the threadjack. If the Lord is who I think him to be, you have his gratitude for persisting in doing all that you do for your difficult child, including taking her to church. I’ll think twice forevermore before being critical of any child misbehaving.

  129. Mommie Dearest says:

    er—or a misbehaving child’s parents.

    (I shouldn’t do this on my way out the door)

  130. Stephanie says:

    but i did make them keep their movements below the top of the back of the pew and i did make them be quiet. nothing above a whisper

    That’s reverent to me with my boys, too.

  131. I’m coming to this really late, but I felt like I had an important contribution to make this time.

    Shouldn’t it be “NO to the HELL”? This makes far more sense. “No” is being increased to the “Hell” power.

  132. Anon, you’re absolutely right. That makes much more sense. Yes to the Hell.

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