Family Devotions are Miserable


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  • dmccall3

    Our family devotions are what we call ‘Bible Time’ and they happen each night as part of my son’s bedtime routine. My DS just turned 3 and has been a lot more testing lately. Bible Time is just miserable for me and hard for my husband. My DS actually likes it.

    The problem is that during this time my DS won’t sit still. He wants to swing his legs around, play with his clothes, roll back and forth on the bed, etc. So the time is spent with constant corrections, threats of time outs, and sometimes time outs. It’s so broken up and so… I don’t know… Unpleasant… That I dislike it completely.

    So my questions are these:

    1. Is it reasonable to expect a 3 year old boy to sit completely still for a 10 minute Bible reading and Scripture memorization?

    2. What would you do to get him to take this time more seriously and stop it from being such a battleground?

    3. Isn’t saying to a child “You keep doing X wrong”, “I can’t stop you from doing X” “Daddy told you to do X but you keep doing it” “You’re not sitting still” “Get your finger out of your nose” “Stop moving your legs” (and especially a lot of that at one time) just criticizing? I’d hate for someone to all day long tell me what all I do wrong like that… I guess I want us to encourage him but I feel like we do way more criticizing and I’m not sure how to teach and discipline in an encouraging way.

    Sorry that number 3 was a doozy – haha. I hope you ladies can help!




    Three seems young to me.  Embarassed  My youngest was always in the same room when we did family studies (including Bible), but I did not expect her to sit attentively until she turned five.  I was surprised how many memory verses she had picked up from the previous years of just casually listening in.  I have always read a children’s Bible to her and she did listen to those on my lap attentively when she was three, but the stories were short…..2-3 minutes tops.



    Our 3 and 4 year old will color during Bible time, our 2 yr old is starting to color during this time as well……this is the website we use for coloring sheets

    We also sit at the table to do our study.  If we sat on the couch or something they (our 4 1/2 yr, 3 yr and 2yr) would wiggle too much.  I really think that our older boys pay better attention at the table too.



    I asked a very similar question 6-12 months ago. My three year old will be turning four in just a few short weeks. Our time together isn’t long, but even when it’s only ten minutes, it is VERY hard for this child to sit still. He knows what is expected of him, “to sit still and be quiet”, but he really doesn’t seem capable of it. BUT! He’s much better than he was even six months ago.

    He does better if he has something in his hands to “fiddle” with. He also does a little better when my husband tries to engage him with questions periodically. A little better.

    I’d say to just persist. His attention will develop, I think. I know EXACTLY what you mean about hating the battle and the time being taken up with discipline. Even now, our guy gets sent out of the room fairly often for totally goofing off and disregarding his Daddy’s requests to sit still.

    But it IS getting better. Keep at it–it’s worth it.


    Just thought I would add that I didn’t allow my daughter, at three, to be disruptive during Bible time. That would be unacceptable to me. She usually would work puzzles or look through her own books on the floor. What I meant by “not making he sit attentively” was that I didn’t make her sit on the couch with the other children and give me her undivided attention. :0)



    Our children started doing  a lot better when we began doing family worship at the table after dinner rather than trying to do it in the living room (or anywhere comfortable or where they wouldn’t usually have to sit up). I do think 10 minutes total is a reasonable goal at this age. We don’t let our kids do anything during family worship but during homeschool I do let them do things with their hands so that could be one idea. Some people (like me) just concentrate better when they can move in some way. At 3 I would read stories that they can understand, whether from a real bible or a kids’ bible. One of the biggest things that helped our kids learn to sit still for other things is keeping them with us in church. Family worship seems like nothing compared to that.


    I have mentioned on other posts that we expect far too little from our children and this is definitely an area this happens.  When my husband and I were first married and looking for a church, we visited one where we enjoyed the doctrine/fellowship, etc, but noticed the kids didn’t get up and go to “children’s church.”  I wasn’t happy about it and expected to be very bothered by them, but after the service I realized I hadn’t even really heard any of them!  Through that church, and our home church now, all the children sit through the service(which is about 2 or 2.5 hours long).  I never thought mine could either, but it’s amazing how much they can do with proper training.  We just include every age(almost 7 and under), each evening and train during that time.  We have also found around the table is better than the couch.  It’s only about 15-20 minutes, but it carries over into Sundays when it’s done consistently. 

    We expect ours to sit through well by the age of three.  We take them out for discipline if they are squirming too much or talking, and bring them right back in.  We don’t have a nursery, so if my youngest(18 months) is being too babbly or squirmy, I go to the next room where I can still hear and have him sit on my lap as long as possible.  (Some days just don’t go well at all, if baby is tired and fussy, so I will just go upstairs, or farther away)  We don’t do toys/books/coloring during church because it’s very distracting to them and me, the little ones usually are making animal sounds, or pointing out words they know and it doesn’t help them much in our family.  I’ve seen others do fine with it.  There are several families that do even better than mine, our pastor’s son is 3.5 and has sat well with his hands folded since he was about 2.  I’m still learning how to train them best, but my point is that it absolutely can be done, and isn’t expecting too much. 

    As far as being critical, I think if you are positive the rest of the day in discipline, then 10 minutes of lots of “don’t do this, etc” is okay.  You can also just say it differently, like “We sit still, see how mommy isn’t wiggling?”  We also find folding the hands helps tremendously. 

    If you were to go to church years ago, it was normal for entire families to sit together for the whole service, the pastor’s family usually was required to sit in the front row!  So it’s only the recent trend of children’s church/sunday school, etc. that has us even thinking it’s not normal for children to sit well behaved during a service.  Those are just my thoughts from my experiences where I was proved very wrong about children’s abilities.  I’m amazed how often my children are really listening even though it appears they aren’t:)

    Best wishes in your training, be diligent and you will see fruit!  Adrienne


    I would suggest snuggling up and reading a Bible Storybook together in the evenings and practicing sitting still at a separate time. That way you are working on both things you want to accomplish – Bible time and sitting still.

    I’m not sure what kind of Bible you are reading from, but he might sit still better if there are pictures and if he could sit in the lap of whoever is reading the Bible. My son loved the Picture Bible (cartoon-stip style)  when he was little and I don’t recall lots of movement or struggles while reading to him. I think bedtime may not be the best time to try to get him to sit in a very formal way. Some kids get really hyper when they are tired and even if he’s not hyper, he’s still just 3 and is ready to sleep!

    As far as Scripture Memory, if you sing the verses they might be easier for him to attend to. We have used the Scripture Memory cds and found them very helpful. For his age I recommed Songs for Saplings.

    You can download printables to go with each verse on this blog.

    And another thought – Does he behave like this all the time when he is hearing a book read aloud? If so, he may be one of those kids who listens best when moving. I’m an adult and I still listen best while moving, even if it’s just my hand moving to take notes.



    Hi everyone!

    You have all been sooo helpful!! Thank you!

    I will add some info based on some of your comments and questions.

    Does he sit for a regular book? Well…… I can read to him book after book after book. He loves being read to. But he does wiggle and move around. I just really don’t care. I know he’s listening because I can stop mid-sentence and he’ll complete the sentence or he’ll tell me what the book is about when I’m done or I’ll find him playing out part of a book later on his own. He is looking at the book too. I can’t sit still during things either (which is why I take notes during sermons) so I don’t mind. My DH is in charge of Bible time though and he does mind. He wants all limbs completely still with no movement or “playing” at all. My DS has memorized Numbers 6:24-25 plus the first 6 commandments (with a little help on a few) so I know he’s listening. And he loves the time itself. We read the ESV Bible to him instead of a chikdren’s Bible.

    I will say this too though because someone brought it up and I was going to ask this as a seperate topic… He is very “wild” at night. Just after dinner which is just before bedtime routine starts is when he seems to go bezerk. He runs around and just gets more active than he is all day. So! Getting his PJ’s on is a struggle. Brushing his teeth is a struggle. Getting him to bed is a struggle. Then Bibke Time is a struggle. Once lights are out and he stops moving he is usually asleep in a matter of minutes (like 5).

    Any more wonderful advice for me? 🙂

    TIA Again!!


    PS – I appreciate you all so much!

    Rachel White

    Does he nap, Dana? If he’s not napping, he would be overly tired come bedtime. A nap in the early part of the day noon or 1pm) would probably help that.



    Hi Dana,

    Sorry that your Bible time isn’t going so well. =(  You’ve gotten some good ideas here already, but I thought I’d chime in as well.

    Yes, I think that it is good goal to expect a 3 year old to sit still for a family Bible story time, and it is possible!  It might be kind of miserable to begin with, but it is a good and reasonable goal to work towards.

    However, it is possible that 10 minutes may be too long to begin with.  Maybe try splitting your Scripture memory and Bible Story time into two different times of the day rather than all in one chunk.  We do our Scripture memory and hymns at the breakfast table in the morning, and then our Bible story time at bedtime.  This breaks it into smaller chunks, but still allows Papa to be involved during the times of day that he is at home.  

    I don’t know what kind of book that you are using for your Bible Stories, but it may be helpful to use a Bible Story book that has pictures if you aren’t already – given that this is your oldest who is 3 and not a younger child tagging along with olders.  We first started a Bible story time when our oldest was around 2, and used The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes (I think that was the title) – anyhow it had a realistic looking (not cartoony) picture on one side of the page, and a 1-2 paragraph story on the other side.   The stories were short and sweet (under 5 minutes to read) and there was something for her to look at while we read.   I didn’t LOVE it, but it served our purposes well as we were establishing the habit.  From there we graduated to a different Bible story picture book with longer stories, and now to the Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos (no pictures), and probably closer to 10 minutes to read the story, followed by a chapter from a literature selection. (We do expect ds 2-1/2 to sit quietly for the Bible story time, he is allowed to get up and play quietly on the floor or else goes to bed while we read the chapter book to our oldest who is 5-1/2.)  So that may be helpful for you to consider.  Start with really small chunks, and work up to something longer.

    As mentioned, changing the location may be helpful too – the kitchen table right at the end of meal time or the couch may work better than the bed if he finds it too easy to wiggle and play around there.

    I know what you mean about not wanting to be constantly nagging about his behavior either.  What we did when we started training our ds (now 2-1/2, and the middle child in our family) to sit quietly with us for Bible story time when he was around 18m was that one of us (whoever wasn’t reading) would hold him firmly in our lap and not let him down even if he got wiggly and whiny before we were done (again, we are talking for about 5 minutes here).  If his whining and fussing got too loud, we might stop the reading and ask him once to settle down, wait a minute, and then keep going.  (Sometimes he just wouldn’t, in which case he was just put directly to bed without anymore play or fun.)    It took awhile…months…but now you would be amazed how long he can sit quietly and listen – simply by holding him to the expectation that he would do so  – and that WE were in control of when we were done, not him.  (Incidentally, they both do well in a full church service now also.)

    Anyhow, I’m rambling a bit – just a few of the things that we’ve found helpful as we’ve working on this with our little ones. =)


    Lesley Letson

    ahh, that time of day is rough for us as well….here is our experience – maybe some of it will be helpful. Our older son sat very still and listened to our Bible time, sang along with the hymns and sat still during prayer from the time he could sit up straight! We never had problems with him during that time. Well, our twins are another story! They are 3.5 now and still struggle with this – I have found that it helps them a lot if they can sit in our laps while we read/sing/pray – this is what we do in church and don’t have trouble then (if we let them sit in their beds however, you will think you are watching a wrestling match – they think the beds double as trampolines then). Another thing to think about is that we work on being quiet before we work on being still (this is true for during the worship service as well – we keep ours with us). It seems to be a natural progression – if we try to work on quiet AND still at the same time it is too much, but focusing on one at a time seems to be easier on us all. We do remind them that we are reading God’s Word and we need to treat it with respect. We do correct them, but we also try to show them grace as they learn, because it is a slow process – we want them to love and look forward to this time, not dread it. Now, it still isn’t always peachy and we still have days that we are thinking “argh!! is it really worth trying” – but we do keep at it. Before we know it it will seem so long ago that they were this crazy – it is much worse when you are in the midst of it though 🙂


    I totally understand your predicament, because we have been going through somewhat the same issue with our son, who just turned four but is a bit young for his age.  We only started a regular “Bible” time about six months ago, and it has been a learn-as-you-go experience.  At first we would just stop reading and put him to bed if he couldn’t concentrate and got too active, because we didn’t want to turn it into a negative or obligatory-feeling experience.  But we realized that that was not the way to go about it; so now, we make sure that he’s cuddled into the couch with me, after reading his own books, with a blanket over our laps and a quiet picture book of his own to look at.  We try not to read for *too* long…I’d say though our time is about the length of yours.  He usually does fine, and I’ve noticed him perking up his ears a little bit more than before.  At least he sits still now though, and is building good patterns.  Good luck!


    Thank you everyone for your comments! We tried a few different things tonight and it went a lot better although, of course, it’s a work-in-process. We are visiting grandparents right now so we couldn’t make many changes but I hope to make more when we get home. We are really trying to make the entire time from dinner to bed a low-key one now so we don’t have to “bring him back down” from the hyperness – taking some preventitive measures. 🙂

    I appreciate all of your advice a ton! If there is more, keep it comng! I’m taking notes! 🙂


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