On Sunday morning, the family should get up in a timely manner, so that all can be properly prepared to go to Church. Large families sometimes find it difficult to have all the children washed, dressed, and brushed in time without a lot of nagging, arguing, and rushing around frantically trying to attend to last minute details. A little organization can go a long way toward a serene beginning to this holy day. First of all, have each child’s church clothes laid out the night before, already inspected by a parent so that there will be no last minute arguments about inappropriate, mismatched, stained or torn apparel. Children four years old and older can certainly dress themselves. Older siblings can help the younger ones.
Good grooming is important, both from a spiritual and a psychological standpoint. Dress a child in playclothes and he will be prepared to play. This was once a guiding principle behind school dress codes and is a reason that many public schools nowadays are requiring uniforms. Little boys should wear suits to Church, just as the men do (or should). It is not necessary to spend a fortune. A hand-me-down or a thrift shop bargain will suffice as well a new suit to fix the idea in the child’s mind that he is wearing special clothing to a special place where he is expected to act like a man. Not only will the suit serve to instill in him a sense of dignity, but it will also restrict his movements somewhat so that sloppy, casual behavior is rendered far more difficult. Dress shoes go with a suit. Not only do tennis shoes look ridiculous on someone attired properly for Church, but they contradict the message (which should be reinforced constantly) that Church is not a place to play.
Little girls should wear nice dresses and dress shoes. Even from infancy, their heads should be covered. Some people who are misinformed about Orthodox tradition may try to tell you that girls do not need to wear a scarf or hat until they are twelve. Perhaps this has become confused with the age children are usually confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church or they think that the head covering somehow signals to the community that the girl will soon be available for marriage.
Whatever the source of the misconception, it has no basis in Orthodox tradition whatsoever. Girls and women should arrive at Church with their heads covered, stand throughout the service with their heads covered, and leave Church the same way. This is done for spiritual purposes concerning modesty and humility. Therefore, do not be misled into believing that the headcovering needs to be worn only when confessing or communing (another popular myth).
Girls, no matter what age, should NEVER wear pants to Church (or anywhere else, for that matter). It is easy to fall to the mistaken idea that toddlers should be exempt from such a rule. Yes, they are cute and they crawl around on the floor but little girls are not puppies. They will grow up to be women, hopefully women worthy of praise and emulation. It is much better to train a child correctly from a very young age than to impose something suddenly at an arbitrary stage of maturity. The very fact that it is arbitrary and based on personal opinion rather than any teaching of the Church will create feelings of rebellion in the child for which you may have difficulty finding an adequate response. In any case, if your concern is primarily that the weather is cold, have the child wear leggings or tights under her dress.
Boys and girls should be clean and their hair brushed. Even a very small child experiences anticipation and a sense of awe about an event for which they are being so carefully prepared. When a child is allowed to go to Church looking unkempt, dressed in whatever assortment of clothes that came to hand that morning, that child will look and feel like an afterthought – someone who had to be dragged along when the parents wanted to go to Church. No one should expect an “afterthought” to be terribly thrilled about the idea of attending services or to be very cooperative when he gets there. Another important aspect to be considered is that, fair or not, the child will judged by the adults at Church according to his or her appearance and treated accordingly. Warm approval and compliments from adults other than his parents can have a very positive and encouraging effect on a small child. He will not receive any such attention if it does not appear that even his parents think enough of him to do more than toss some wrinkled clothes at him in the morning.
The tone of parental expectations and familial participation can be set during communion prayers before the family even leaves for Church. As at all prayer times in the icon corner, the children should be expected to stand quietly and reverently. Even very small children should be with their parents at this time because even if they do not understand the words of the prayers, they do understand the serious attitude of the parents. This will help to accustom them to particular behavior whenever prayer is being said, thus preparing them to be quiet and attentive in Church. Children who are old enough to read should be allowed to read some of the communion prayers. This will help them to understand that, as they mature, they will be expected to take on some of the responsibilities of adults. Spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally they will respond with enthusiasm to this invitation to become a contributing member of the family Church.