I was sitting behind a young mom at church the other day who was holding a large 2 1/2 year old in her lap for an hour and a half. The little girl in her lap seemed sweet natured but wiggly, giggly, active and talkative--in a normal tone of voice. I admired the mom holding her, but know that she was worn out after the service.
When my children were various ages, we often found ourselves in places--not just church, where they needed to be quiet or sit still--in the car when I was talking to friends, at doctor's offices and church and concerts and restaurants. I found that if I prepared them ahead of time and told them what to expect and how long it would take it helped them immensely to be able to be quieter.
I wanted them to learn that church was a holy place--where out of honor to God, we would use a quiet voice, very gentle actions and that they were such "big" girls and "boys" for being able to sit still to show God honor. Training, training, training all the time before they were in a place where I had expectations of them.
I also traveled with a bag of tricks, to so speak, that was never used for any other occasion. Depending on the age of the child, there would be a boxed juice and little container of cheerios or gold fish or small fruit leather--only to be used at the later part of their patience. Colored pencils when they were older, puzzle books, I spy books, finger toys for babies, as well as soft blankies to comfort. Joel was my car man and he loved, loved drawing and or just holding toy cars. He drew a million jeeps in his growing up years. I had a sketch pad for each one. All were quiet toys to be used when they needed to be quiet or sit still. The food and drink were only used in appropriate places and appropriate times. But I always kept this bag loaded in the car and looked at the dollar store for new stickers or little quiet things to add so there would always be something new.
At Christmas, Clay once ordered each of the kids a Land's end travel bag with their name on it--in different colors for each child. The he spent a couple of months filling each bag with paper airplane books, books on tape with a small cd player, challenges, mysteries, little toys, coloring books and quiz books and all sorts of treasures.
We kept each child's brief case in the car and it gave them hours and hours of pleasure over the years when we were on trips and when they were waiting on us. We never used dvds in the car as we didn't want media to become a habit when there were so many creative things to do. When the family culture is to listen to long books on tape in the car, all learn to improve their listening skills and it feeds their brains with great literature and exciting stories. You can accomplish a lot when you keep books on tape or other creative entertainment for the cd player. Teaching children to listen is all a part of shaping their appetites. If they are used to too much tv or movie entertainment, they will complain when they have to listen to a book or draw or stare out the window and imagine life. It is the moms and dads who build the habits for their children. All kids can learn to give up media if they are provided alternatives and if you hold to your decision. Never in the history of mankind did children have movies in the car till now.
I do not want to create guilt for anyone. We are all free to make the best decisions for our family. ( a strategic Winnie the Pooh saved us through many ear infections at home), In the car, there are so many things to see that offer food for thought and creativity and it is a great place to disciple your children with great conversation and great music. Especially during the junior high and high school ages. We reserve the right to say all ipods off when we want to talk or listen to something as a family. Because it is an expectation, our kids never questioned it.
It also taught our children that there were places to be quiet and to sit still and exercise self-control. We had lots of fun and to this day, they all travel with fun stuff to use on long trips and places where they will have to wait. (on the plane or a long car trip, my older children all download books on tape on their ipods, bring books, journals to write in and snacks.) Fun to see the habit stuck in their own adult lives.
Touch and back scratching can soothe a child that is ready to blow. My mom also taught me a trick when I was a little girl--she would take one of my hands and pull slowly on each finger until she had covered all ten and then she might do it again if needed.
The happiest children are those who are kept engaged by planning on the part of the parent and it trains children to learn to entertain themselves and to listen.