First of all, good behaviour in our children is not something instantaneous, and it requires much practice. The following are tips from a matushka (priest’s wife) named Anna:
1. Have high expectations. They can do it. If you assume bad behavior, you’ll probably get it.
2. Don’t bring food into church. Nursing babies excepted. I haven’t had a child yet faint from not eating for 2 hours. The older ones keep the communion fast.
3. Pick up the younger ones and slowly (and unobtrusively) walk around the periphery of the church or the narthex pointing out the figures in the icons, moving to the next when the novelty of the current one has worn out. Point out the various features in the church and the action.
4. Don’t stand in the very back. Wouldn’t you be bored if all you could see were people’s legs or backsides? (This assumes a church with no pews.)
5. If a child fusses, take them out. No one else can hear what is going on. But don’t make going out fun. Settle them down in a way appropriate to age and then bring them right back in. Stress “it’s important for us to be in church right now.” You might go out thirty times when you first try this, but it decreases markedly over a short period of time.
6. Go to church. If you limit your time in church to a Liturgy every few weeks, your children forget how to behave from one time to the next. This is obviously a generalization, but in my experience children who are in church very seldom tend to have the worst behavior. The parents’ excuse is usually, “I don’t come to church very often because they act out.” This is reversing cause and effect.
7. I have allowed small “church books” (about icons, saints, the church building, the services) in church and allow the child to look at them quietly, sometimes pointing out the parallels between the pictures and what we’re actually doing. Once the books become projectiles, they disappear. No returns. I have had no success with anything else because when they have “toys” they play.
Each family has to tailor things like this to their own situation. And no matter what, I’m going to be in a wrestling match getting my four-year-old to church on Saturday morning after having been to 10 services in the previous week!
God bless you for bringing your children to church! “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them,” said our Lord.