Teaching kids to sit still has not always been on my priority list. Kids are squirmy. They learn while they are moving. I have wanted to embrace that component of having kids and let them wiggle and move. That said, I also believe it’s absolutely appropriate to help kids learn to sit still so that they can function better in a restaurant, at church, at school or when visiting another adults home that doesn’t want kids to run around all over the place. Yes, we need to let our kids wiggle and move. However, there is a time and a place for kids being taught how to sit.
For some kids, sitting still comes more naturally. For other children (like mine), there is constant movement, and as a parent it is my job to help them learn how to be still for an appropriate amount of time. Learning to just be is actually a very beneficial trait in life, one I’m still trying to learn. How are they ever going to be able to go enjoy the Nutcracker with you if they haven’t learned this? Will you want to take them out to a restaurant? How will they be able to sit and listen to a powerful sermon, listen to Mozart played in a concert hall or thrive in a lecture hall if they haven’t learned this skill? What will traveling on a plane look like? Will you dread it or have peace?
While I believe it is advantageous for the child, I also believe it saves a parents’ sanity while at the doctor’s office, a theatre performance, church or any number of places. Admittedly, I haven’t been as good at teaching this to my kids, so I’m definitely growing in this area as I encourage you. Trust me, being the “Meaningful Mama” doesn’t mean I have all this parenting stuff down. I just pass along to you what I’m learning and working on as I journey through motherhood.
Teaching Kids to Sit Still
As with so many things in parenting, it is important to teach outside of the moment. Just see how I work on teaching my kids to obey through fun games. Yes, I do believe obedience is important. See why here. Working with kids outside the moment, even sometimes through games, helps to alleviate frustration when you are in the thick of things.
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Here are some ways I’ve found to work on teaching kids to sit still:
- Have Them Sit Still – I know this seems super obvious and boring, but it is beneficial. The above picture is my kids learning to sit. They look bored and miserable, right? Some of you might even have a hard time looking at the picture. I kind of do. We want to see kids laughing, running and playing. Trust me, we do plenty of that, and I see lots of smiles. However, it’s OK to let them be bored and be still. It’s good for them. We too often want our children to be comfortable all the time. We try to eliminate anything that challenges them, which does have consequences. I call it substitution parenting. My kids don’t look content in this picture, and you know what?! That is OK. They are growing and learning. We need to be intentional about teaching them to mature at an appropriate rate. It’s our job, as parents, to gently usher them in to becoming adults (eventually). The ability to sit still will help them in school and career opportunities, so why wouldn’t we take the time to teach this skill? When practicing sitting still, we start with a manageable amount of time. I have them sit for 3 minutes when we are first learning. If they talk, get out of their seats are are too squirmy, I start the timer over. Once they can sit for 3, I add on a couple minutes. We practice. We grow in the skill. It’s good. I don’t go overboard when there is nothing because I don’t want to exasperate them, but they can do this.
- Read to Them or Have them Listen to Audio Books – Capture their imagination through stories. A scheduled reading time where they can curl up with you is a great time for teaching them to sit still. Encourage them to not bounce around while they are listening. Cuddle them close to ensure a calmer state. Here’s a great new Christian audio adventure series we discovered for our older kids. We’ve also loved listening to the Chronicles of Narnia or Adventures in Odyssey. Auditory books help work on vocabulary, creative thinking, listening skills, focus and of course, sitting still.
- Quiet Activity Time – Whether it’s sitting to read, do a puzzle, color, write or play a game, kids can learn to sit still while doing a quieter activity. This doesn’t mean they need to be silent, but it is a calmer and yet engaging time.
- Enforce Sitting at Meal Time – Eating together as a family offers many advantages. At lunch, especially, I need to remind myself to take a break and sit down with the kids. Having children be able to sit through a meal time benefits everyone. Kids should ask to get up from the table or be excused. You can do fun family dinner games 0r have established family traditions around food. I also love tools like table talk cards that help generate interesting conversations.
- Make it a Competition – I have three natural squirmers, so a healthy competition is appropriate. I think it’s great to gauge your kids to know if they can keep a competition healthy. If not, you have another teaching opportunity on your hands. We are gamers, so teaching our kids to compete and yet know how to lose gracefully is just part of learning as you grow. The idea is just to have a sitting contest. Who can sit and be without talking or getting up for the longest time? Initially, it might only last seconds. However, it can grow and grow until they’ve become really good at it, and they don’t even know they are practicing a life skill.
- Model It – I’m particularly horrible at this, which may be part of why my kids struggle. I’ve been trying to be better at just being. When we are working on sitting with the kids, I try and sit there too. It’s time to put away the distraction of the phone and just be – taking time to pray or think. It’s healthy. Take your kids outside and lay on an outdoor blanket looking up at the clouds together. No need for conversation, unless you want.
- Hold Them – Let your children curl up on your lap and just hold them during a no squirm time. Scratch their backs. Stroke their hair. Talk and LISTEN. What a beautiful time to learn to sit.
- Prepare Kids – You’ve practiced at home, and now it’s time to prepare kids for public times. Whether going to a funeral, restaurant, hospital or the theatre, make sure to explain to kids what they will expect and what your expectations are for them.
As your kids develop in this skill, praise them. I’m not against rewarding them either. “You did so well sitting during dinner, why don’t we grab some ice cream as dessert?” Yes, I did just say I sometimes reward my kids with food. That said, I do not believe that should expect a reward each time – nor do I always give a reward. Verbal affirmation is always a great way that kids take pride in their accomplishments as they learn and grow in a skill.
I hope these tips for teaching kids to sit still inspire and equip you as you pursue more meaningful parenting. That’s my goal here at Meaningful Mama. I want to come alongside you on this challenging and yet rewarding job we have been given.