Getting the Kids to Sit Still in Gurdwaras

“Stand still and don’t move your chunni around/fidget OR GOD WON'T LIKE YOU!”

Every time I have been to gurdwara, there is always one thing I notice that never fails to leave my memory. The kids are running around amok, causing chaos in their wake. Part of me thinks “These are just kiddos, let them be” and another part of me tries to blame the parents for not actually paying attention to their kiddos during services. The kids will take money from the golak or they will just run between everyone during services or talk loudly. One time when I was a kid, Bhai Sahib Ji stopped in the middle of Anand Sahib to chew two kids out who would not stop talking. Being a kid myself, I remember feeling shocked that a Bhai Sahib actually cared enough to stop a service and straighten these unruly kids out.

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Looking back and even now, I do not blame children for running amuck and bringing chaos everywhere they go. Think about it. The modern Punjabi gurdwara usually does not conduct services in English and English translations are usually not provided. Kids are told to bow to the Guru without actually understanding why we do that, then they are told to sit still and keep their mouths shut while the Granthi Ji drones on in a language they do not understand. Kids are then told to “stand still and don’t move your chunni around/fidget or God won’t like you” (I was actually told this once at a youth camp I attended when I was 8) during Ardas. The only respite for children in the gurdwara finally comes when it is Langar time and at that point, the kids are pretty darn exhausted from sitting around and doing nothing for about 4 hours and watching their parents speak to other aunties and uncles in a language that makes not a lick of sense.  No wonder kids fidget and run around during gurdwara!! When we as adults fail to explain why we do things the way that we do them in a gurdwara or do not engage our children in the process, quite frankly, the entire affair feels ritualistic in the eyes of a child.

Speaking about in the eyes of a child, I remember when I was younger, I had no idea what was going on in the gurdwara or why I had to follow all the rules the adults were talking about. Why we all had to bow at certain times or fold my hands and sit as still as a stone during services or cover our heads inside the gurdwara but not outside the gurdwara as a girl or why we take off our shoes inside the gurdwara. I was very confused and thought that gurdwara was just a place where I had to go to listen to people speaking in a language I couldn’t relate to and a way of life I couldn’t understand in the slightest.

There is a solution to this epidemic impacting our gurdwaras. Below are some ideas I grew up with my parents implemented to keep my sister and I occupied during gurdwara. 

Disclaimer: I am not a parent myself, nor do I claim any right to tell you what you should or should not do in raising your children. These are just some ideas and things my parents did when my sister and I were growing up. Whether or not they work is up to you to try. You know your children best, I am just some young person who writes on SikhNet from time to time. 

  1. Keep the kids engaged: Get your kids to pass out napkins during Prashad time or get them involved in Chauri Sahib seva, even if they just sit in your lap. Growing up, my parents would have the Granthi Ji set aside a small Chaur Sahib so that when my sister or I wanted to be a part of the seva, we could just go up respectfully and do the seva. Another aspect of engagement could be to use your iPad/iPhone/Android tablet or cellphone to pull up the specific shabad the Granthi Ji is discussing or singing and have the kids follow along there.  Some other ideas include starting a coloring program for the little kids so they have a sense of accomplishment and something to bring home! Who doesn’t enjoy coloring? Or even get them to watch some SikhNet stories online!

  2. Encourage kids to ask lots of questions: When I was a kid, my dad and mom both encouraged us to ask tons of questions in English to them and they would try to answer them to the best of their ability. I have many memories of tugging on my dad’s shirt and asking “what on Earth is Bhai Ji even saying right now?” My parents would also sit in the very front of the gurdwara so it always felt like I was in the “action zone” which made it easier for me to ask tons of questions. I used to ask myself every time I entered a gurdwara at a young age “Why is everyone bowing to some book and why do they do it all the time? It looks like such a silly ritual.” I now know better that the book everyone is bowing down to isn’t just a book, it is our eternal Guru! I only know that because I was allowed to ask questions and not simply told I have to do this and that without any reason.

  3. Sitting totally still is not a requirement: Recently, I asked my dad how he kept my sister and I from running around the entire gurdwara and he spilt the beans. He said “I had you sitting in my lap. Once you sat in my lap, you did not want to go anywhere.” He also said that he had my sister and I “switch sides” to sit with my mom and then sit with him every 15 minutes so we didn’t feel glued to the floor. He also gave us long breaks at the top of the hour where he would take my sister and I to the langar hall where he would let us blow off some steam before sitting down again. 

  4. Explain in English what is going on: This is probably the most important pointer. Everytime I went to gurdwara and even to this day, my parents still explain what is happening during services when I get lost or don’t understand what is happening. It is one of the reasons why I eventually learned to love going to the gurdwara. By having someone explain to me what was happening during services in a language that I understood, it made it easier for me to follow along and slowly begin to appreciate being in gurdwara. 

If you have any more suggestions that you think would help other parents out or people who just want the kids to slow down and stop wreaking havoc, feel free to drop a comment below!

Bhul Chuk Maaf Ji

~Maigh Kaur Jammu 

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