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Our 18-month old was kicked out of our church's nursery where we send him during worship services & church classes. He's kicked out unless one of us are in there with him, which makes it difficult to attend church with my spouse; we can’t have him into the worship center as he loves to scream and roam around the room, even when we bring toys and food to try to keep him busy. I’m the first to admit that is a wild toddler. He likes to throw toys, touch/push other kids and pull their hair, scream, etc. We do not condone his behavior.

He was kicked out for:

  • pushing kids and throwing toys (sometimes at the kids)
  • trying to push over babies in baby carriers
  • trying to bite other kids and babies (based on his behavior at home, I would guess this one is the least frequent of the issues)

The nursery staff reports that it happens so much that they are having a hard time caring for other kids in the nursery. We have a five year old who does like to "play rough" with him, but we have tried to calm that down because we fear that may be part of what's causing the problem. He does not attend daycare.

Does anyone have advice in these situations? The church nursery coordinator emailed us to officially tell us this information and also told us we were welcome to continue to go to the parenting class we were taking, but again if one of the two of us stayed in the nursery with him during class or found other arrangements for child care. We could listen to sermons at home, but there’s something about being in a community at church vs listening in your own home. And yes, we could hire a baby sitter, but that would get expensive. My parents love watching the kids, but they already have to do it enough that we can’t ask them to do this every week.

Our church pastor in his sermons always apologizes for peoples bad experiences at churches for others that have been turned away from the church from how they were treated in the past. I feel like we’re being treated the same hurtful way, but we do feel for the other kids in the nursery as well. Part of the problem I think is that their nursery space isn’t big enough and they for some reason refuse to hire any more bodies (it’s a large church with a large staff already). Sometimes there are 2 people watching around 10 kids including 3 babies. Ironically, we just had a sermon regarding the “lost sheep”, which is exactly how we feel.

Any advice on dealing with our child or our church?

10 Answers 10

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Since you're talking about church, I take it religious beliefs should be on topic here.

There are two commandments that supersede (and contain) all the others. One of them is

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

If you have not put yourself in the shoes of the other parents, their children, and the nursery staff, that is where you should start. Would you have your own child repeatedly pushed, bitten, have their hair pulled, toys thrown at, etc.? If the answer is "Yes", then you're good to go (continue feeling unduly put upon/excluded.)

He was kicked out for... trying to bite other kids and babies (I honestly doubt this part happens very often as we don't see this much at home)

I don't know how to say this delicately, but you're assuming bad behavior on the part of the nursery staff (misrepresentation/lying?) because you don't see it at home. On the other hand, you don't have a large bunch of babies and toddlers at home every week to see this interaction for yourself. Unless you can see into someone's heart, it's better to assume a fellow congregant is telling "their" truth until you have evidence to the contrary than to do the opposite. It's also a lot less embarrassing when you find out you were wrong.

Would you enjoy volunteering to be responsible for 10-15 kids when one of them pushes over babies in carriers, bites, pulls air, etc., taking up most of your attention Sunday after Sunday? If the answer is "Yes", then, again, you're good to go.

If the answer to either question is "No!", then you need to frame the entire question positively:

How do we solve this problem?

It appears that your child is not ready for relatively unsupervised play with others. That is true of many toddlers of that age, and one-on-one play dates are a good place to start teaching rules of acceptable play (or more precisely parallel play) interactions, not necessarily sharing yet, but the idea of trading when conflict comes up, the no-hitting/pushing/other. It's possible that time outs aren't going to be terribly effective yet, but I would start them anyway. Removing the child from the situation of inappropriate behavior/hurting someone else if gentle corrections are ineffective is completely appropriate (as is getting the parent to come take their child from the nursery if the staff cannot control them). Toddlers react to frustration with anger or crying, since they don't have words to express themselves yet, power to change the situation, or enough impulse control. An emotional vocabulary will help with disappointments as the child gets older, and time outs help with better decision making. Power comes with age and good decision skills.

When the child can play one-on-one without expressing frustration in the form of hitting, etc., then you can return them to group play to see how they do, supervising the first few times.

For teaching time outs, I would like to recommend the book 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan. Read from cover to cover before instituting, please.

About church attendance, it's usually members of the congregation who staff the nursery. They are usually volunteers, in short supply, and also miss the sermon, so they are not asking anything of you that they are not giving themselves. Many parents of the nursery age kids take turns volunteering in the nursery. Doing so might also help provide some perspective on how difficult it is when one child repeatedly makes it difficult for everyone.

So, in dealing with your child, I'd recommend teaching "manners" during one-on-one play, and then moving to larger groups of kids. In dealing with the church, love your neighbor, asking no more of them than you are willing to do yourself.

If you cannot abide by the idea of volunteering in the nursery, then ask the pastoral staff for guidance in helping to solve the nursery staffing problem.

Edited to address new information:

We have a five year old who does like to "play rough" with him, but we have tried to calm that down because we fear that may be part of what's causing the problem.

Although jealousy between siblings is featured in works as old as the Bible (Joseph and his brothers; Esau and Jacob), the actual study of "normal" sibling relationships themselves is relatively scarce, so I will only present behaviors I have seen myself in my family, extended family and my practice.

Many children (especially preschoolers) are jealous of their younger siblings, and since they (usually) can't just march up to them and punch them, they mask their aggression in "rough play".

I suspect this does have quite a bit to do with the toddler's behavior, so you need to work on changing this dynamic at home as well. For this, I would also recommend 1,2,3 Magic as a starting point.

None of this means you have bad kids; it honestly sounds fairly normal for the situation. It's a lot to deal with. You have my sincere sympathy.

An example: my first constantly "accidentally" bumped into the second, knocking them to the floor. In preschool, the first went from angelic to fierce biter immediately after the birth of the second. The second, in turn, was jealous of the first, at seven months crawling over to bite the foot of the first when they were seated on my lap.

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    I'm not sure if this should be common sense, but an uncontrollable child that does all those things should be expected to be supervised by their own parent to prevent these things. It's not so much that you think they are lying, but that you somehow seem surprised the nursery cannot handle your child and expect you to assist. Note that they didn't ban you. They require at least one of you to be there because they cannot handle your child. – Nelson Oct 22 at 2:35
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    "Baby signing" may be a solution to the child being pre-verbal. Being able to communicate before they have the mechanical dexterity to speak can remove a lot of frustration. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 22 at 11:47
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    @MartinBonner - I used to be a proponent of baby signing. I'm not sure anymore. I think it's very useful when the baby is calm, and for (more or less) concrete things: "milk", "more", "up", "Mommy", "Daddy", etc. But toddlers have a hard time with identifying feelings (even adults do). How does a toddler sign "frustrated" or "helpless"? One baby signer so late acquiring verbal skills that the parents stopped signing, making them use their words, and dropped the idea completely for the second child. But it is useful for some things. – anongoodnurse Oct 22 at 13:34
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    "Although jealousy between siblings is featured in works as old as the Bible (Joseph and his brothers; Esau and Jacob)" and, of course, the prototypical Cain and Able... – Chronocidal Oct 22 at 13:36
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    From my experience also, how small children behave at home and in groups can be very different if it is more or less his first experience in larger group. It is not uncommon for them to be quite stressed, especially if there are no parents around. – Gnudiff Oct 22 at 14:19
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Those providing child minding services have a duty of care to all the children in their charge. It is entirely reasonable that any child pushing or pulling the hair of another child be removed from that environment.

Hopefully this phase will not last long. In the mean time, consider that your child needs to learn how to appropriately interact with other children regardless of whether they go to the church nursery or not. You will need to apply your discipline strategy consistently. If there aren't many other times when your child plays with other children you will probably have to remain with him in the church nursery. Six months or even a year of having to sit in the nursery with your child every second week (if you and your partner swap weeks) is not a huge cost; it's an investment into the training and maturity of your child. It will also help the other parents and the nursery volunteers feel valued.

  • I agree with this answer. The church nursery obviously does not have the people or the skills to parent your child, so you will have to do it. I have never heard of a real nursery sending children home because of bad behaviour. – Ivana Oct 29 at 22:13
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There is a great answer here but I would just add my thought. I would go to the church nursery and probably other places like playgroups. Keep an eye on your child, play and stop him every time while saying "don't hit" or "don't throw". After a while, (hopefully) the child will learn what is appropriate behavior. We had to repeat a good amount of time with our until they finally understood. (we didn't do timeout)

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    I'd second this approach: try supervising first. Assuming good faith that the church nursery had really been overwhelmed by the child's actions, supervising is an appropriate way to know what really happens and if there is a deeper underlying problem: 1) if the child still acts rough while even in the parent(s)' supervision, then there's a hard evidence, and the child needs to be disciplined, or 2) if the child doesn't act rough while in the supervision, but acts rough while not in the supervision, then there's another problem which should be taken care off. – Andrew T. Oct 21 at 18:56
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    If you notice, that's exactly what the staff asked them to do. They need to be present until the behaviour is resolved. – Still.Tony Oct 21 at 19:32
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Does the child go to daycare/school during the week? If so, see if they give him free reign and allow the behavior you are trying to correct. I don't think the church is out to get you or anything, but they are likely frustrated if this is the norm on your child's part.

I would set up a meeting with the pastor, talk about everything and see what can be done to help you guys attend while also not putting undue strain on their faculty.

My wife is a Special Education teacher and she is always being asked to attend classes with kids that act out and are harder to teach and control with other children. They don't get her because the kids are special needs, they use her experience. My wife is trained on so many child behavior levels I cannot even list them all. And she is amazing with kids, no matter the attitude. She can identify things much faster and help redirect the child's frustration and such and they absolutely love her. I sit in church without her a lot. She's that good.

The pastor may know of someone in the congregation that can help you understand your child's behavior and help you identify where to go and what to do to help out all parties involved. There is likely something to be done so that you can attend church while your child also participates without throwing toys, pushing, or yelling. You just need to work together and find it. It will take some time, but I don't think they want to kick you to the curb. It may even take you sitting in with the child a few weeks to help them transition if the change is drastic. You are the parent, if anyone can resolve this, it's you. But I wouldn't take their concerns personal, like stated above, they have other children and personnel to protect.

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    Good question regarding daycare/school. We have a five year old who does like to "play rough" with him, but we have tried to calm that down because we fear that may be part of what's causing the problem. He does not attend daycare/school. – thecoolmacdude Oct 21 at 12:51
  • "He does not attend daycare/school." The usual way to resolve this is to let them fight (ideally within their own age group). If you don't let them, and their peers don't correct their behavior, they're unlikely to ever escape this. - You're asking a church "nursery" to do the job of preschool.... – Mazura Oct 22 at 23:57
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I'm sort-of sorry for the answer I'm going to give, but mostly I think it's justified. Discipline your child. He's not behaving like an unruly little monster ONLY in church daycare, I guarantee it; he's doing these things at home, too, and you're obviously letting him get away with it, otherwise he'd know not to do them. I'm not, by any means, saying you're a bad parent - you're probably a great one - but it can be hard to enforce rules on children when they're just being children.

Since you're religious, maybe a Bible quote would help you see my point... 'Spare the rod, spoil the child'

A good thing to keep in mind is that you're not raising children; you're raising adults.

As for a semi-immediate fix, perhaps you should sit your son down & tell him his behavior is unacceptable. Do this again before leaving for church, or in the car on the way. I'm not one for bribing children to behave, since they should do it anyway, but maybe tell him that you're going to ask the sitters/whatever if he behaved, and, if he did, you'll get him ice cream after church. If he behaves, MAKE SURE you get him ice cream; if he doesn't, DO NOT get him ice cream.

Best of luck to you. :)

  • We've unfortunately found ourselves on the other side: our kids being hit. I'm not saying this is the case but we found the parents of the "beaters" very too forgiving, often not doing anything AT ALL. Sometimes parents are blind to their kids mischief or worse think that reprimands are bad. – algiogia Oct 22 at 10:33
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    I think that you're making major assumptions about an 18 month old child here. It's very common for children to behave differently in different environments - my now 6 year old is the model of focus and dedication at school, while at home he's easily distracted and would be considered wild by some. My older child was the best napper at daycare while at home refused to sleep. Assuming home life is related to this is a major jump that's unwarranted; and attempting to handle the behavior well after the fact for an 18 month old is unlikely to work. – Joe Oct 22 at 17:08
  • Recommending physical discipline along the lines of "Spare the rod, spoil the child" for an 18 month old child is absolutely immoral and reprehensible. – Graham Oct 23 at 20:29
  • Note that "spare the rod" does not necessarily require administering pain. Discipline can be done gently and with love. – Wayne Werner Oct 24 at 15:05
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I'm sorry you're dealing with this, both your child acting overly rough and with the church kicking out your child. But you sound like you're handling this really well, so kudos! If I were in your shoes, I'd try to talk to someone (maybe the person who emailed you) and ask what suggestions they have. I know you both don't want to watch your child every service, all service long, but if you alternated would that help? My wife and I each prefer different parts of the service so I might say, "you sit in there with him the first half of the service, and I'll sit in there the second half", or just alternate weeks. I have 2 toddlers, and at one point their naps were incompatible with our whole family worshipping together, so my wife took our youngest to the first service and I took our eldest to the second service. It was several months and neither of us liked it.

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I would find another church with a better staff ratio in the nursery. There isn't much you can do to change your child's behavior in the church nursery - 18 month olds who bite, etc mostly need to be watched closely and redirected to other behavior. Being in a church community is a bit commitment of time and money, and you owe it to yourselves to find a place that feels comfortable for your whole family. The less stress you experience at church as a family, the more often you will attend and the more involved you will become.

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    Maybe the OP just need to learn to say "NO". If nobody tells the he's doing wrong, how is he going to learn? I volunteer in the Family team and my kids attend the nursery. I see this kind of behavior very often and in most cases the parents just pretend not to see, as if it wasn't their problem. I have also seen parents encouraging their kids to do bad things. They know nobody would dare tell them off and take advantage. BTW, church is free. – algiogia Oct 22 at 10:41
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Much of the behavior you describe has a very familiar ring to that of my daughter when she was around that age, and I empathize with how tough it can be. Despite trying many of the techniques that people describe here challenges continued for several years, at around the age of 6 or 7 she was diagnosed as ADHD.

I can't begin to offer any sort diagnosis about your child, or even know if there is one, but it might be helpful to seek out some professional guidance as one of the contributors here also suggested. Although lots of kids do respond to timeouts and techniques like positive reinforcement, for those with even a moderate neurological condition you can essentially be asking your child to do something they are just not capable of doing yet - which is a route to frustration for you and your kid. In the case of ADHD the executive function (the ability or our brain to regulate our emotions) does not develop quite the same way. In simple terms when you have an emotional reaction to something most most people learn to temper their reaction before acting on it, with ADHD it can just get acted on - I'm upset at that kid, so I'll bite him!

All kids are different, some develop a little slower or faster than others. I'm not religious, but my father was Priest, and I was kicked out of Sunday School for bad behavior when I was a kid. Obviously your religion and church are important to you, but maybe you could also consider alternatives, perhaps your partner and you go to separate services while the other looks after the kid, or someone steps outside if he's having a hard time.

I would encourage you do some reading around possible developmental issues, as well as some of the other ideas people suggest here, it's always a good idea to educate yourself. The hardest part of all this is usually the parents ability to adapt their behaviors to best suit the kid.

Best of luck

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Not sure about the quick fixes, this may help in the long-run,

  • Encourage your child when they do things that will make them socially likeable.
  • Don't encourage when they do things that will make them socially unlikable

In day-to-day activities carefully watch him and encourage all the nice things he does and when he does things that will probably make him unlikable, do not encourage it. Not judging here. But it might also be one of the reason. Since children's tantrums and wild behaviours are encouraged just because they are kids, they will become unlikable in their social environment. This sort of encouragement is called as Operant Conditioning. It can also be used to make them socially likeable, by encouraging the socially nice things they do.

Recommended readings: Chapter 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

12 rules for life by Dr Jordan B Peterson

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It doesn't sound like this has anything to do with the church nursery, and everything to do with your own child's behavior.

I’m the first to admit that is a wild toddler. He likes to throw toys, touch/push other kids and pull their hair, scream, etc. We do not condone his behavior.

To put it bluntly, your child needs more discipline at home. At 18 months, no one is going to expect him to mind his manners and hold his pinky out while drinking... but the behavior you describe is NOT normal and goes way beyond acting out on occasion.

My opinions on child-rearing aren't popular these days, but they've worked for a few thousand years. When you catch your child throwing a toy, pop 'em on the hand and tell 'em NO. Same for pulling other kid's hair, etc. Keep it consistent and he will learn to associate those actions with a bad consequence.

EDIT: By the way, my opinion on child-rearing doesn't come from a book or a seminar or even a degree in anything. It comes from 30 years of raising my own kids. My five children aren't perfect, but they've all grown into fine law-abiding adults that I'm proud of. I also have three grandchildren, two of whom are roughly the same age as the OP's child. Children will behave the way you ALLOW them to behave, and that's a fact... whether it's a popular one or not.

  • +1 for "keep it consistent". This takes work, and constant observation, but it's critical. I'd probably also add "keep it (relatively) strict." Loosen up when the child has earned it, but not before. – Tanaya Oct 23 at 17:54
  • Thank you - nice to know I'm not alone. This has gotten 3 down votes already. I'm not exactly advising the OP to beat the demons outta their child... just normal discipline. – Omegacron Oct 23 at 17:59
  • The idea of discipline WITHOUT corporal punishment is a tricky concept in (modern?) American culture, but it's completely normal and very effective in many others. The recent NPR story on Eskimo discipline comes to mind! I'd also not dismiss out-of-hand that the toddler here may have other cognitive differences with his sibling and contemporaries, which should be observed carefully and addressed if necessary. – Tanaya Oct 23 at 18:39

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