"Everybody ought to go to Sunday School, Sunday School, Sunday School. The mothers and the fathers, and the boys and the girls, everybody ought to go to Sunday School."
When you read the words of this old-time chorus, what images come to your mind? A happy mother and father with 1.2 children cheerfully walking up the steps to church? A mother single-handedly struggling to get her children to church on time? A continuing argument with a rebellious teen who declares each week, "Aww, but Church School is bor-r-r-r-ing!"?
No matter what your situation, there is bound to be a time when you, as a parent, come face-to-face with a child's reluctance to go to Church School (or even Liturgy!). For parents, it may start in the early years as you pry the clinging arms of a toddler from around your neck or listen to wails of despair as you hurriedly make your exit from the preschool classroom. Later on, as your child grows, you wonder how to respond when you son or daughter unexpectedly asks, "Can't we just stay home this week?" Church School teachers, too, feel moments of despair and frustration when they sense some children's unwilling attendance in their classes.
So, who's going to "Sunday School"? Everybody! And here are some guidelines for how you can make it happen in your family.
When you first hear the screams, complaints, or questions, keep in mind that the best approach is a light touch. A parent who threatens a reluctant Church School attendee with God's disapproval or anger runs the risk of making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill. A matter-of-fact response will usually solve the problem. For example, a parent might answer, "In our family we always go to Church School and Liturgy. You know one thing I really like about going to the adult study group is getting to see some of my friends. Who is one of your friends in Church School?" Turning a negative complaint into a positive statement is a way to increase your child's enthusiasm.
At some point, with an older child, a firm approach might be needed: "I know you would rather not attend Church School right now, but I think going to Church School is a really good way to keep learning about God and how He wants us to live, so we'll keep going. All of us!"
There are several ways in which parents can work to build a child's enthusiasm for Church School. If your child does not attend the same school as others in his or her class, or has just recently begun attending Church School, plan some get-acquainted times to help your child feel more comfortable in class. Invite another child and his or her family over for an informal dinner or picnic in the park. It might even be helpful to ask your child's teacher over for dessert. Let your child know you are interested in what happens in his or her class. Ask to see you child's Church School work books, take-home sheets, and projects. Take time to talk about them; memorize the Bible verses and prayers together. Before Church School, pray together asking God to help each one in the family enjoy a time of learning and worship at church. Help your child pick out the figures in the icons, and describe the scenes shown.
Parents may feel that sometimes a child may not enjoy Church School due to factors which cannot be changed. Your child may be the only girl in a class of boys, or there may be a lack of variety in the classroom sessions.
In these circumstances, it helps to first acknowledge you child's unhappy feelings. Listen to his or her thoughts about Church School. Then you may be able to suggest several ideas to your child. It may be possible for you to help as a volunteer (chair a special activity, help with record keeping and attendance, bulletin boards, youth library, etc.) in the class. Or you and your child may decide to invite the class to your home for a party. Encourage your child to invite a friend to attend class with him or her. Even while acknowledging to your child that the class may not be the most "fun" group in which he or she has been involved, it's important to focus on the positive rather than the negative factors.
It probably doesn't surprise you to learn that the greatest influence on a child's attitude toward Church School is the attitude and actions of the adults in the child's life. Your decisions as a parent are signals to your child about the importance of Church School. A pattern of consistency in attendance and positive statements about the benefits of Church School will do more to affect your child's participation than anything else.
Parents who demonstrate their own enjoyment of the adult class (or evening study group if your church does not offer an adult class on Sunday; Want to make a really good impression? Start an adult class!) and exhibit a caring attitude toward their child's needs and feelings will be more likely to find a positive response in their children. Check out books and videos from the parish library and encourage your child to do so as well. (If your parish doesn't have an adult and/or youth library, help get one started!) Let your enthusiasm for learning and living God's Word overflow into the lives of your children.
Adapted for Orthodox use from Gospel Lite's Smart Pages, pp. 95-96.
© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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