Dear Dr. Bill,
Can you advise me about how to deal with my 4-year-old son who won’t sit still in church? He seems to be extra wiggly and on the floor, irritating my husband and me and almost disrupting the service. He does this in other places as well. I’ve tried talking to him about it repeatedly, but he doesn’t listen to me.
I hate to break this to you, but it’s not realistic to expect a 4-year-old to sit still in church. Your son should be in a Sunday School class with kids his own age, where the teachers offer activities and lessons designed for preschoolers.
One of the common mistakes that parents make is to place unrealistic expectations on their kids. At 4 years of age, your son isn’t going to act like a grown-up and sit through a one hour church service, especially if there is nothing in the service geared for kids.
You mentioned that your son displays disruptive behavior in other settings, and that even though you’ve repeatedly talked to him about it, his behavior hasn’t improved. Well, you can talk to him until your blue in the face, but four-year-olds don’t respond to logical discussions about problem behavior. They respond to consequences.
When I work with parents of preschoolers, I have them memorize this little phrase: “act, don’t yak.” The only way to train your son is to set clear limits and then enforce those limits with consequences.
To learn how to effectively use consequences, I’d recommend you read Dr. James Dobson’s book “The New Dare to Discipline.”
Thanks for writing Heather.
If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, just click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.