7 tips for family worship with babies and toddlers

7 tips for family worship with babies and toddlers

Reading Time: 9 minutes

This post is part of the series Family Worship

Other posts in this series:

  1. Family Worship: 3 Important Lessons I Have Learned
  2. 7 tips for family worship with babies and toddlers (Current)

In our last post, we went into great detail discussing why family worship is the most important daily activity we can do with our families.

However, let us be very clear from the get-go: family worship is not going to look identical with all families.

I grew up in a Christian household where we did not have daily family worship. Neither did my husband. So with our own family, we are learning through trial and error and hearing what has worked for others.

The purpose of family worship

The ultimate goal with family worship is to demonstrate a deep and practical love for the Lord that will inspire them to live a life dedicated to Him. It is not to break our children into obedient but bored robots who will flee the Lord as soon as they are free from our parental authority.

We want our children to not only be witnesses to our genuine acts of worship, but to become willing and cheerful participants themselves. As a mother, my heart fills with great joy when our oldest son excitedly exclaims: “Mommy, is it worship time? Yay! It is worship time!”

It is also important for parents to realize that family worship will change depending upon the ages of your children. We need to be flexible and understand that things do change, sometimes on a daily basis, as our children grow, and as our family dynamics change (more children are added to the home, a grandparent moves in, etc.).

Here are seven tips for having family worship with babies and toddlers that I am learning in my fledgling journey. May it also help you!

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1. Consider the needs of the baby (and older children)

Let’s be honest: babies are tricky. Whether this is your first child or if you have older children, babies are unpredictable.

You will need to decide if you would like to have the baby participate (for example, sitting on your lap), present but otherwise occupied (with a bottle, snack or toy), or if you will hold worship during times the baby is napping.

You may even find yourself doing all three on different days depending upon the mood of your baby!

Remember: a crying or fussing baby is distracting to you and can be distressing for any older children you may have. Worship is intended to be a time of peace and calm. We are modeling and teaching our children reverence and relationship with the Lord. It should not be presented as a chore or an inconvenience or a time of chaos or frustration.

So always consider the needs of your baby and older children. It is okay to make adjustments to your plans. Sometimes it might be wise to delay worship until after the baby has calmed down, been fed or changed, or even laid down for a nap.

2. Keep worship brief

When it comes to toddlers, the shorter time spent in worship the better.

This works out amazingly well if you are very busy and struggling to implement family worship because all you need is 3-5 minutes a day. At this age, it is not about how long you can keep your little ones still but about the quality of the time spent together.

A simple worship format

If you are short on time or find it difficult to calm your kids down for worship, I recommend starting with a simple format. The only resource you will need is something to read. Choose a children’s Bible or Bible lesson that is age appropriate for your child(ren).

Not sure what to start with? I highly recommend the GraceLink lessons. They provide colorful lessons for ages newborn to 2, 3-4, and 5-9.

If you would like to use a children’s Bible, I use The Beginner’s Bible from Zondervan with my own kids and our Beginners Sabbath School class at church. For older toddlers nearing preschool age, I have found My Bible Friends by Etta B. Degering to be a perfect fit.

Now that you have your Bible or lesson chosen, here is the simple worship format:

  • Begin with a simple “worship” song. Use the same song each night to help your child recognize that it is now worship time. This could be “Jesus Loves Me” or “Jesus Loves the Little Children” or another favorite.
  • Read your lesson or Bible story. Use a calming yet dynamic voice to keep the child(ren)’s attention.
  • Close with a short prayer of just one or two sentences.

An extended worship format

While each child and family is unique, we discovered that an extended format works best with our active boys (who are currently ages 3.5, 2, and 9-months):

  • Begin with a special “worship” song. Keep it simple and use the same one until the children can sing along with you. My oldest loves to sing Worship Bell (see below) while ringing bells.
  • Tell or read a short Bible story. We use an age-appropriate children’s Bible, storybooks with colorful pictures, and sometimes animals toys.
  • Model and encourage the child(ren) to kneel, bow their heads, fold their hands, and close their eyes for prayer. (Do not force it if the child is wiggly.) Then have one parent say a short prayer (one or two sentences). Here is the song we use both at home and in our cradleroll class. In just four months, it has helped my oldest show reverence during prayer time.
  • End with another short song. We like to sing the first verse of Jesus Loves Me or a song that connects to the story like Animals, Animals, Jesus Made the Animals for days when we read about Creation or the Flood. Or With Baby in the Family, Happy Happy Home for stories about families (Abraham and Sarah, Baby Moses, Baby Jesus, etc.).

Some songs we enjoy

Worship bell so sweet
Calling us to meet
With our best friend Jesus.
Come and worship here!
Jesus will be near,
Smiling when He sees us.

For opening daily worship time

Sabbath is a happy day!
Happy day! Happy day!
Sabbath is a happy day!
I love every Sabbath.

For opening Friday evening worship

I will bend my knees,
I will bow my head,
I will fold my hands
I will close my eyes.
And very, very quiet be
While the prayer is said.

For closing in prayer

Depending upon the day, you may find that your children are very attentive and you can add an extra song or even a second story. At this age, though, resist the temptation to draw your worship time out.

Don’t drone on and on

It is crucial to avoid long-winded prayers! Some adults have the tendency to go on and on and on in lengthy prayers. Do not do this during family worship with very young children or you run the risk of tainting the entire experience and sabotaging your efforts to instill a love for worship and relationship with the Lord.

Occasionally, you might even find you have to cut worship time even shorter, and this might frustrate you or seem counterintuitive but remember: you are guiding very young children. They may be overly tired, teething, have a dirty diaper, or any number of things could be influencing their current behaviors.

Instead of scolding and possibly creating negative connections to family worship, be mindful of your circumstances and your children’s needs.

3. Repetition is your friend

As adults, we tend to gravitate to new and exciting things, but young children — especially toddlers — thrive on repetition. Do not be afraid to read or tell the same Bible story day after day! As they learn the story, encourage your child(ren) to help you tell it.

Repetition is how little minds learn and help our children retain what we are teaching them. Keep singing the same song until your toddler knows the words and sings along with you. Once he or she knows a song or two, ask them which worship song they would like to sing to Jesus.

Gradually, as your children get older and their attention span grows, you can expand to new stories and/or slightly longer stories. Take it slowly.

4. Encourage participation

You want your children to not only enjoy family worship, but to become active participants. At this age, participation may look like ringing a bell to signal the start of worship time, singing along to the songs, saying “Amen” at the end of the prayer, and answering simple questions during the story.

The type of questions I ask our boys include:

  • pointing out a specific animal, person, or item from the illustration accompanying the story in the children’s Bible or storybook,
  • asking them if they can make specific sounds (at this age, toddlers love making animal sounds),
  • and having them join me in doing a certain hand motion (like mimicking hammering for Noah building an ark).

5. Experiment

Some toddlers are very content to sit quietly while being read to. Other children need movement and trying to force them to sit quietly may end up a massive struggle that sucks the joy and peace from family worship. 

Try giving them a bell to ring at the beginning and end of worship time or have them help you act out the story with toys. You might also want to consider giving an active child the role of “helper” and give them fun tasks:

  • round the family up for worship
  • gather the books and instruments for worship
  • hand you the children’s Bible at the right time
  • choose the next song
  • put any books or instruments away after worship

Nervous or clingy children may benefit from introducing a special worship time buddy (aka a plush animal toy) they can hold during family worship.

Or perhaps you need to change the time of day that you have family worship. Maybe it works best for your family after breakfast. Or perhaps it goes much smoother when it is incorporated as part of the bedtime routine.

What it looks like in real life

We do this in cradleroll often. We’ll sing Shall we go for a walk today? and make one circle around the class room. Then we’ll stop at the animal corner and each child can pick one “animal buddy” to hold during story time. Sometimes they can pick from all the animals, and other times I limit them to just the sheep.

Our classroom has a ton of sheep, which is great when telling stories like David as a shepherd boy. At the end of story time, I sometimes have the children close their eyes and then toss the sheep all around the room. Then I’ll exclaim: “Oh, no! The sheep have wandered off! We need to gather all the sheep and put them safely in the sheep pen!” Then the kids have a fun time gathering up all of the sheep. 

Experiment with what works for your children and your family.

6. Always be encouraging

No matter what is going on during your day, protect the sanctity of your family worship time and commit yourself to always be encouraging.

Smile as much as you possibly can, use happy infliction in your tone of voice, and always encourage your toddler(s). Minimize negative behaviors with a calm word of correction and really emphasize — over emphasize if you need to — good behaviors. Toddlers rely on positive reinforcement.

I always make a point of saying “Thank you!” whenever my oldest does something helpful, like hand me the children’s Bible or helps his younger brother ring the worship bell. After the prayer, I acknowledge when he says “Amen!” Those little words of affirmation are important to your children’s development and to create a special, positive connection with family worship.

Dealing with challenges

Unfortunately, there will be hard days. You may experience a meltdown or temper tantrum. Your little one might fuss and complain about the story. Your toddler may suddenly wander off in the middle of prayer. I know it can be hard but stay calm and resist the urge to scold or yell.

Try to gently redirect them back to worship. Encourage them with gentle words like “It is worship time! Come sit by Mommy.” or “We are praying to Jesus now.” Then model the behavior yourself that you would like them to copy. Perhaps the child needs some cuddle time and would do better after a hug or on your lap. If nothing seems to work, it is ok to end worship early that day.

7. Be consistent yet flexible

Most advice out there when it comes to establishing a daily family worship routine encourages you to select a specific time and place each day for worship. While this is great advice, sometimes it is not easily implemented in modern life — especially when unpredictable babies and toddlers.

When you are first starting out on your family worship journey, do not let little setbacks discourage you. This may sound radical to some, but I have learned for my family that having consistent family worship is more important than the “where” or “when”.

The toddler has a blow-out right as you are sitting down for family worship? Plop him or her in the bathtub and have family worship there.

The baby crying and fussy? Move family worship to the parents’ room and everyone cuddle together on the pillows.

Visited a loved one or friend in the hospital? Got stuck in traffic on the way home? Know your kids will be fast asleep by the time you get home? Have family worship right there in your car on the road.

Be a living example

In fact, by choosing to worship the Lord in these less than ideal circumstances, we are actually demonstrating to our children that worship is an important part of our lives as Christians.

Of course, I am not saying do not try to have a consistent “when” and “where” for family worship. By all means, do. Pick the time of day that best suits your family:

  • mornings before or after breakfast,
  • evenings before or after dinner,
  • right before bedtime.

This type of consistency will become important as your children grow older, but remember that right now you are working with unpredictable babies and/or toddlers. It is perfectly fine if you have to adjust your plans, sometimes at the last minute.

Be flexible! How your family worship looks will change depending upon the ages of your children and their needs. Click To Tweet

Do you have family worship? What does your family worship look like? What are your struggles? Your advice? Share in the comments below!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

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