Getting kids to behave in church

kids in church Getting kids to behave in churchLately I’ve been getting an increasing number of emails from moms asking for tips or advice on getting kids to behave in church.

I’ll just come out and say it: I got nothin’.

Getting my four-year-old boy and two-year-old and 18-month-old girls to sit quietly through a Mass is not high on the list of things I’m good at. And I’m guessing it won’t get any easier when the new baby gets here in a few weeks. They all have very intense personalities (keep in mind we’re talking about children who share genes with Yaya) and none of them are naturally quiet or docile. We’re also currently facing an uphill battle because my husband and I only started attending church a couple years ago, and for a long time we left the kids with my mom many Sundays so that we could devote our full attention to the beauty and power of the Mass. We’ve only recently begun going every week as a family, so it’s not something the kids have been doing since birth.

I’ve read all sorts of good tips about quiet church toys and the power of “church shoes,” and implementing those suggestions has helped a little bit. But what I’ve learned is this:

There are no easy answers.

This truth finally crystallized for me the other day when I was asking my good friend Elizabeth Esther for advice. I was expecting a laundry list of tips about what toys to bring or what order to have everyone sit in the pew, and she caught me off guard with a simple question:

“What are you doing during the week to help them work on it?” she asked.

Uhh…what? She went on to explain that the way she grew up, Sunday service was the very center of life. Because it was seen as the most important activity and the focal point of every family’s week, mothers would practice with their children at home to help them be better prepared to make it through the services on Sunday. Elizabeth, who has five young children (including one-year-old twins!) told me about the improvements she’d seen with her own kids after having them practice quiet time on mats at home on weekdays.

Our conversation made me realize that the problem was not that I hadn’t found the right book to bring or discovered some magical church-only discipline technique; the problem was rooted in the fact that I didn’t see the Mass as the center of my week. If I were to have the privilege of a recurring appointment with the Queen of England and had issues with the kids’ behavior during those meetings, you’d better believe that I’d be working at home to help them learn age-appropriate self control for next time. So why am I not as motivated to deal with the problems that occur at Mass, a weekly appointment far more important than with any earthly royalty? Why am I not willing to devote any more effort into it than the hour or so spent actually sitting in the pews? That, I realized, is the question I need to be asking.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well: Do you have any success stories, suggestions or other wisdom to share about getting kids to behave in church? (Also, in researching this post I found this article which had a lot of good, practical advice on the subject.)

photo by Doepp Jakab

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70 Responses to “Getting kids to behave in church”
  1. Oli says:

    Hi Jennifer!

    I have no kids yet, but I was that child, and someone did ask my mum to get me specially silent shoes for the incredibly noisy wooden floor at my grandma’s church…

    I guess I have all this waiting for me, because there are no delightfully quiet children amongst my siblings or cousins!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have a 2 year old and she’s been getting better and better! Our Church has a “baby room” where you can still hear and see the Mass, however my daughter thinks it’s a big play date. We NEVER go in there. We sit off to the side and when she acts up we do not make leaving Mass enjoyable (ie. running in the foyer, etc.) We usually bring a snack (pretzles or animal crackers) that’s easy to pick up if one drops….that usually gets us 20 minutes or so. Also, going to mass during the week is also great for her.

    Just a little side note: Before I had children I would get so irritated with people and their “crazy children”. Someone once told me that it fell in the category of being pro-life! Aren’t children beautiful in all phases? We should embrace them and the fact that thier parents bring them to Mass. Now when I see a family with a child (or lots of children) who is a little more active at Mass I make a point to smile or say something nice to them after Mass.

  3. jane says:

    Sit in the front row.They can see everything. I know it sounds crazy but it worked for us. Sometimes.

    Don’t sweat it though because they will eventually get the idea. Once the older ones calm down the younger ones follow suit.

    • liz says:

      I agree in sitting front row. I have a five three and one year old and when ever my husband getsthis grand idea to sit front row .the kids seem to be magically transformed.the sit. without pushing pinching giggling it’s amazing it freaks me out each time the thought. Of sitting. So everyone can see and hear my kids missbehave but they never do. If we sit in the back row all it seems I ever do is whisping trying to get the kids to behave or giving them something to sit still.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have 8 children my husband and I followed a set of rules that we both enforced and getting them to behave was never an issue really.
    1 Dress for church not a picnic
    2 Absolutely no food or drink unless it is for baby and by that I mean under 1 year of age.
    3 Get there early enough to get them settled
    4 Make sure they know the consequences of bad behavior after church i.e. if they misbehave no tv and follow thru
    5 Praise their good behavior and that of children around you who are behaving properly in church
    6 Teach them to use the missal
    7 Know that they are watching you so don’t forget to behave yourself
    8 My husband and I always sit next to each other with the youngest next to us. The silent message there is we are united and they will not come between us.(we sit next to each other at the dinner table as well)
    Consistency is the key and following thru on the consequences of bad behavior

  5. MamaOlive says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading off and on for awhile…
    I have 6 children, ages 1 to 10, and they usually do well in church. I second the advice of your friend – practice. We have times every day for Bible reading, and we use that time to sit still and listen. If I think they need extra work I will have the children practice sitting down while I cook dinner.
    In our experience, taking toys, pencil and paper, or whatever, usually makes things worse, as they are constantly dropping things or fighting over who gets what. We do encourage our oldest to bring her own Bible and paper/pen to take notes (not sure if that would apply to Mass), but otherwise, no “stuff.”
    The other thing is to not give them options. If someone is acting up, we may take them out back for a minute to straighten things out, but we never reward the behavior by putting them in the nursery to play.
    And the third thing (should be first, I guess, with a large family) is to have a seating plan. We currently have the three oldest in front of us, the 2 yr old between my husband and I (so whoever isn’t holding the baby can watch her) and the 4 yr old beside me. This way everyone is within reach, and the two boys are separated.
    Hope this helps.

  6. Kristina says:

    At one point, I had four kids under 4, and I found a few things to be helpful and almost counter intuitive. One, was to sit close enough to the front so that they could actually see what was going on! That was really hard at first b/c I felt like I was on stage BUT, as Mass went on and I was able to point out what was going on AND make a big deal out of the consecration saying, “Did you hear the bells, Jesus is here…right now!!” That would really get their attention with wide eyes. The other was to go at least once during the week so I could practice with them without being so much of a distraction. And of course, bringing colorful saints/Mass books so they can kind of follow along helps, too. Although, my oldest is 11 now, I have a 19 month old who constantly wiggles but that’s just the nature of the age so I don’t worry about it so much like I did a few years ago. Just do your best and know that even if you can’t concentrate on the Mass, you’re still receiving all the graces and your imprinting on their little minds what’s most important in the world!

  7. Tres Angelas says:

    Sorry, no tips (our girls are just naturally, miraculously quiet — usually), but I’ll tell you an amusing story.

    For the first several years of our marriage, my wife and I attended Spanish-language masses almost exclusively. The first time we took our older daughter to mass (she was about one), my wife handed her off to a family friend with whom we were sharing a pew. Well, she hander to another friend, who handed her to another — each one cooing at her along the way — until she wound up several rows back being entertained by a pair of teenage girls (whose parents we knew).

    Long story short: the girls have appreciated the social aspect of going to mass from a very early age! And their Spanish is much better than it otherwise might be.

    On a more serious note, we’ve also had the kids in Catholic schools since the time we were first able to afford it. Needless to say, religion (and mass) are a central part of the curriculum — one of several benefits of Catholic education. (Another example: celebrating Christmas at Christmas.)

    It’s a bite out of the budget, but we’ve never regretted the decision for a moment.

  8. MemeGRL says:

    Your post made me laugh in recognition.
    I got nothing here either, except the reassurance that going from birth doesn’t necessarily help either.
    My sister- and brother-in-law were in our church guitar group from teen years on, and when their kids were born, they clearly couldn’t look after them during Mass, and they dropped them off at the grandparents every Sunday morning until it was time to prepare for First Communion. A few years of school does wonders for sitting still and listening skills.
    That’s neither our choice nor, honestly, our option, so we struggle too. We have had the most success with Catholic themed coloring books. Hot Wheels worked until the boys wanted to make car noises with them. We try to go to the children’s Mass so that the congregation is pre-stocked with others with kids who can model for our children, and families who are possibly more disposed to understand. We’ve also had success with the guitar Mass, as their uncle and now cousin are in it and it holds their interest.
    Finally, our beloved aunt used to remind us, quite kindly, that God knew we were there, and He knew we were trying, and He knew our children even better than we did. Thank you for this post, your honesty, and in advance to your other readers who might be better at this than I am and is sharing suggestions!

  9. Sara says:

    I have 6 children, the youngest of whom is 7, and we almost never used the nursery because I felt the family should be together for Mass. Plus, it seems a bit of a shock when the 5 yo is suddenly too old for the nursery and has to start sitting still instead of playing for an hour!

    Sit up front, not in the back, where they can see the action!

    I don’t believe in toys or books for the kids. Maybe, maybe, the youngest one can have a cloth book. But no one else can have it. Toys cause fights. Crayons (heaven help me) are a big no no. One time at the Easter Vigil a nice lady gave my child a box of crayons and paper (that she carries for just such an evil purpose) and we ended up with writing all over the cushions and back of the pew! That’s just asking for trouble!

    As much as possible, do not allow the children to sit next to each other. With 3 kids and 2 adults, you’re in good shape. Beyond that you must seat them strategically so that the ones together won’t fight or play. No one is ever allowed to play quietly with the baby (which is the way they always want to entertain themselves) because it teaches them to play.

    However, I don’t mind if they move around in their seats, sit on the floor, read hymnals or whatever, as long as they are quiet and not rambunctious.

    A truly naughty child got taken out and HELD the entire time. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that naughtiness means they get to run around in the narthex and not go to Mass. I always stood and listened and held that child firmly. Spankings were rare, but sometimes necessary. If they want freedom to move, it must be in the Mass, and they have to be quiet.

    I’m sure quiet time on a mat would be a great idea, but I learned about that rather late in the game, and I think we did pretty well.

  10. the Joneses says:

    My children aren’t as young as yours (7, 6, and 2), but I’ve been wrestling with this problem since their very young years. Especially since my husband is almost always up front serving at the altar or doing music.

    I just did a post on this subject: http://thebookbeast.blogspot.com/2009/01/liking-church.html. I’m trying to change my focus from Sitting Quietly In Church to Worshiping In Church. I think that might be easier with kids who can read and understand some of what’s being said, but it’s also good to start while they’re young and save yourself years of frustration!

    – SJ

  11. Shelly W says:

    Wow, your friend gave you some AWESOME advice! Thanks for sharing it.

    I don’t have any stellar advice, but I do have some observations. I really don’t like it when parents of young children bring other books or crayons and coloring books into church for them to work on. Somehow I think it seeps into their minds that it’s o.k. to think about other things when they are in church. I did allow my kids to doodle on some paper when they were very little, but as soon as they were able (kindergarten?) I helped them follow along in the bulletin by showing them where we were in the service. I pointed to each word as we sang from the hymnal. I helped engage them in worship as much as I could.

    Here’s the interesting thing (to me anyway)–my husband and I never required our kids to take notes in church, but they all started doing that on their own. Today they all sit in church with a notebook on their lap, taking notes on the sermon. It warms my heart, I gotta say.

    Anyway, church is church. It’s not the library. It’s not art class. It’s a time to focus on God and worship. I believe that even small kids can get that.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I reverted to Catholicism when my son was four–perhaps the worst age to attempt to introduce the concept of being quiet at mass. He is now nearly ten and he sits through mass and participates about as well as you can expect from a ten-year-old. My advice is not to stress too much over it. Sometimes you have to take the children out. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they throw fits. Oh, well. They’re kids. I think practicing at home is a wonderful idea, but we shouldn’t let good behavior at mass become an end in itself. Essentially, mass is not very interesting or accessible to a small child. My goal has always been to make it a calming, loving time, and hope that he will grow into a love of god and mass. We did allow him to bring paper and pencils and crayons for drawing for a couple of years. Then one day without any prompting he announced that he was tired of drawing and that was the end of it.

    As a last note, I think there needs to be some patience and acceptance and self-sacrifice on the part of parents, recognizing that you are going to be distracted during mass and potentially miss a lot of it when you have young children with you. Oh, welll.

  13. Anonymous says:

    No fix. The cry room wasn’t available when I had children. One parish wanted me to leave them accross the railroad tracks with older children while I was in church! I was appauled but they did NOT want crying or interrruption from a noisy or rowdy child in their church! It was Catholic.

  14. Lady Rather says:

    This is interesting because I grew up as pastor kid and my mom did not remember how we behaved…we just did I guess?

    But, now w/ my little ones. I have found there is no magical toy for a 3 year old. Obviously our 1 year old is too young, so he does get magical toys. My husband and I try our best to get her involved w/ the service routines (offering, prayer, communion).

    Then one Sunday came when we felt she was old enough to sit still, and similar to “sleep training” we did “sitting during church quietly training”. There were a few tears, but we held our ground and she is now a great church goer. It is actually pleasant to go to church w/ her. Before this she would be getting up and down, kicking the hymnals, you name it.

  15. el-e-e says:

    Excellent post! Wow, I’ve never thought about it that way, either. Huge “DUH” moment over here! Thanks for the link to “Church Shoes,” too. Really good stuff to think about and this is something I struggle with A LOT.

  16. Carol says:

    I have found teaching them about the Mass has really helped us…we use a miniature Mass kit and some Catechesis of the Good Shepherd type lessons. Also, a video called “The Eucharist for Little Children” has also helped. If nothing else, these things give you stuff to whisper in their ears during Mass which distracts them from wiggly misbehavior.
    Besides that, and sitting in front, and practicing at home, I think with young children you just have to remember they are a work in progress and Mass will be very difficult most days just getting them to behave. We get complements on our kids a lot, and I often want to just tell these people it is a battle, hard work every Sunday….but it is worth it in the long run. Our almost 7 year old now follows along in her little missal for most of the Mass, and the four year old wants to do it too…though he isn’t quite there yet. Now, the almost 3 year old….another story all together!!!

  17. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary says:

    Wow, I’m loving these comments!

    Also, for those of you who missed it, I just updated the post with a link to this article, which I thought had some really solid advice.

  18. Josephene says:

    Hello, Jennifer!

    We have a two-year old, and we sit in the first row. It allows Benjamin to see everything, and when he looks behind, he can observe that everyone else is watching as well.

    Does he make noise? You bet. But then, we sing and pray out loud so shushing him doesn’t make sense to him. The less we “shush” him, the more willing he is to remain calm when we ask him to whisper, with calm, smiley words.

    At important moments, we explain to him what’s going on.

    During the homily, we walk to the back of the church into the ‘lobby’ to give him a break. My husband and I take turns every Sunday to do this.

    When the basket is passed around, we give him a coin to drop in, so he knows his participation is important.

    We point out candles, the Stations of the Cross, etc., when he gets too fidgety to be left alone to crawl along the kneeler or smile quietly at other people.

    When we need to be stern, we simply remind him that we are here for Jesus, that everyone wants to pray to Jesus.

    I disagree with some suggestions about rewarding and punishing children for their behaviour, good or bad. It takes time and it’s best they learn about Good for its own sake, and not for the rewards or punishments involved.

    If you don’t like regular books and toys at Church, try bringing religious books and articles, like a plastic rosary or a children’s book on a saint or the Christmas Story.

    Try to find a mass time when the congregation is mostly children or elderly who love hearing children. We got to the 5pm Saturday mass twice a month and we always get such rave reviews from the other people at the end of the mass, regardless of our son’s behaviour — and that has been a HUGE blessing and encouragement to us.

    I like to think that we giving Benjamin the self-discipline he needs to be the best priest or husband. I can’t expect that this Sunday, or the next, or in the next five years. : )

    You have wonderful children and silence at Church is no sign of goodness or yelling at Church is no sign of badness.

  19. Carly says:

    Great ideas! I’m with Jane and others who suggest sitting at the front of the Church.

    Our two year old is much better behaved, sitting or standing quitely through Mass when we sit at the front.

    He especially loves music so we also make a point of sitting at the front, near the Choir so he can see the people playing their instruments.

    We continue to let him bring a book, a quiet toy or WASHABLE crayons but I find if we’re at the front, he hardly ever even “needs” them.

    Finally, the promise of a good play and run downstairs in the Hall during our Parish’s social time after Mass always helps to encourage the good behaviour. I know it smacks of bribery, but as an only child (so far) I really appreciate the socialization time he gets.

  20. Melissa says:

    We started taking my 3 year old daughter to church with us when she was 3, because we switched from a contemporary church where she was banished to the nursery to a traditional, liturgical church where she is expected to sit with us. The biggest thing I found was to relax a little bit, my attempts to deal with her often made her more disruptive than she already was. She wiggles, she just does, constantly. If it gets too bad, I tell her that if she can’t behave appropriately, I’ll take her out of the service. I’ve only had to do it once because she hated to be left out of anything. The same goes for talking.

    I also found that while some parents bring toys entertain their children, it works better (at least for us)not to bring anything except a snack. She finds many more ways to misbehave with the toys than without. Plus she actually pays attention — at least some of the time (which can lead to a whole other kind of disturbance of the “Did he say Jesus?” belted out as loud as possible variety.) But at least she is learning. Plus she actually knows several parts of the liturgy now and will actually sing with us and say the Lord’s Prayer and a few other bits. Also, it helps us to sit further forward, where she can see a little better. It makes for less “What’s going on?” type questions For me, I’m passionate about children being a part of the service and experiencing the liturgy, because I believe it helps them to slowly begin to understand their faith. I’m willingly to live with less than perfection from my child and other people’s children because of this. Fortunately, I’ve found a church where the Pastor and Congregation feel the same.

    Also, I totally agree that it takes effort during the week. My daughter and I were fortunate to go to a bible study with a preschool program where they had “quiet time” every week for the children (starting at 2 years old!) I was highly skeptical that the teachers would get her to cooperate but they did. That means I was blessed to be able to start this at home with my strong-willed 3 year old wild child with out nearly as many “I fight mom on everything because I can” type battles. I’m not sure how you would go about introducing the concept. But the effects are wonderful.

    All in all my daughter is far from perfect during church but the only stress I feel about taking her to church is about getting us ready to go on Sunday morning. As me again after my son is born this summer…

  21. Paul, just this guy, you know? says:

    A lot of good suggestions here. We do many of them with success. We also bribe our children with M&Ms after mass if they behave.

    I particularly endorse: dress for church, no snacks in mass, and sit parents between kids.

  22. Julie D. says:

    I think practicing is wonderful advice and it will help with more than just mass. Learning to be still and listen for God’s leading will come more naturally to children who have practiced the being still part. Trying to figure that out as an adult after always jumping from one thing to the next is difficult.

    Also, I teach children who have difficulty reading. Many of them simply can’t sit still long enough to read. We have to practice sitting and focusing before we can ever get to the mechanics of reading.

    Best wishes!

  23. SteveG says:

    Our kids (8, 5, 2) usually do very well, but it wasn’t always so. And of the three, only one of them is ‘naturally’ quiet, the other two being very intense.

    Here’s what’s worked for us, though of course each family and child is different and may use some of this, and some of that for their own situation. And of course, I am repeating a lot of what’s already been said.

    1. Sit in the front so they can see that ‘something’ is going on rather than stare at the back of the heads of a sea of people. This takes some getting used to, and actually may be tougher at the outset, but in the long run helps a lot.

    2. Practice at home sitting quietly for 5 minutes, kneeling quietly for 5 minutes, standing quietly for 5 minutes. Not necessarily all at once, not as a punishment, but as a practice.

    The really neat thing about this is that while yes it helps, the equally important thing it does is to serve as a natural, meaningful, non-punitive consequence.

    Despite it being done mostly gently, the boys (the two older) really hate it. That means that when things start to get dicey at church, a gentle whisper in the ear of ‘Do we need to practice church behavior at home?’ will usually be incentive enough to get things back on track.

    It’s worked so well that I don’t think we actually had to practice more than maybe two or three times over the past few years (so far).

    3. Be quick to take the walk of shame to the back of the church in order to calm a rowdy child, but never go to a cry room, or let them down to walk around. They have to know that it’s not play time, and that innappropriate behavior is not a ticket to fun.

    I usually see this as my job. Take the child to the back (even outside on occasion), but always in my arms, and once they calm down, we immediately go back. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

    4. Have reasonable expectations about what is possible for a particular age.

    5. No snacks, food, or drinks in church after 3 years old (and before 3, only something quiet and non messy like cheerios). No one is going to starve or dehydrate in the one hour it takes for mass.

    And any protests of unfairness are met with a simple explanation that older children are expected to do different things, or not do certain things, because they are able to, while littler once are not.

    6. No toys at church, period. These are usually just a huge distraction (for us) and cause more problems than they solve.

    7. No books (other than something like Magnifikid) for anyone over four. Far from being helpful, we’ve always found that the more ‘stuff’ we bring, the more distracted we all become as we are picking up dropped books, mitigating arguments about who’s turn it is, and dealing with passing things around, etc.

    Overall, it’s taken a lot of effort to get to where we are one of the families that gets complimented about how well our kids behave, but effort that’s usually taken place before we ever get there.

    The bottom line is to have a plan, and be proactive about practicing it and setting yourself up for success before you ever step into the church.

  24. Sara says:

    It’s interesting to me, this is one of the places that there’s a distinct difference in practice between Protestants and Catholics. Granted, I think that most Protestants go way too far–shipping kids out not just for nursery but for “junior church” or some such well into grade school age.

    My feeling is that if there’s a nursery available, it’s a great option for kids until about the age of three. My two year old doesn’t sit still for a 45 minute video, let alone for the more typical 1 hr. 15 min protestant service. And I agree with all the people who don’t want toys, food, etc. in the service. Builds bad habits and the expectation that they shouldn’t be paying attention. But about the time that they realize that they’re missing something adn can understand the instruction “you can stay in the service with me, but you have to be quiet.” I start keeping them in. It’s fits in great with a whole host of “I’m a big kid now and I get to do what my older siblings are doing” types of behavior that we’re working on as well. Between the ages of about 9 mos. and 2 though . . . I think that most kids are simply developmentally not ready to produce “church appropriate” behavior. No, they may not need food, but they do need routine. And having the typical Protestant church time be right in the middle of morning nap time . . .

  25. Cindy says:

    I second the advice of your friend Elizabeth. We regularly practice “training times” at home, not only to encourage the children to sit quietly, etc., but also to teach basic skills that benefit from continual reinforcement.

    Hope you don’t mind my posting a link, but we have an article about this topic on our site which some folks might find helpful:

    http://www.valuesdrivenfamily.com/child_training.htm

  26. Fourteen says:

    I literally thank the Lord that my wife and I are blessed with one of the most well behaved 2 year old kids in the world!

    A few things that we've done:
    prayer, a very low sugar diet, & practice "playing mass" at home. Mass is coming together as a family so we include her and teach her about the things that are going on. She lifts her little arms when we say "we lift up our hearts to the Lord, for it is right to give Him thanks and praise"; anytime the words, "In the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit" are spoken, her attention is grabbed and she makes the sign of the cross; she gets involved in giving peace; she places the money in the collection plate; we ask her what father is doing constantly; we explain that during the consecration she should be thanking Jesus for all that we have; we make her kneel when we kneel, and don't allow her to turn around in the pews. Everytime I see her focus slipping, I have to bring her back so to speak.

    It took being consistant, which is the most important thing. It took alot of patience and communication. I agree that children need a routine and they need consistant actions from their parents.The key is to never give in to your child's will…no matter what. I'll also agree that the closer we sit to the front, the easier it is.

    Last, but not least. What we go through in mass as parents is a sacrifice of ourselves for the betterment of our children…offer that sacrifice up for the souls in purgatory. Use that sacrifice to identify with God's ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, for us. These things have made it easier for us as parents when we feel like we got nothing out of mass.

    In Christ…

  27. Carrie says:

    There’s a great book called Parenting in the Pew that you might want to read. I read it when we were preparing to transition our oldest from the nursery to the service. She’s VERY high-strung and I was super-nervous about it, but she’s done quite well. We started bringing her in at 4 1/2 (they get booted out at age 5). She’s able to understand that 1) We go to church to worship God. 2) If she’s talking or doing distracting things, then she’s keeping other people from worshipping God and she’s not worshipping Him herself, and 3) If I have to count her to three “offenses,” she will not be allowed to visit the church’s DVD library right after the service. (The place is like VeggieTale paradise…). HTH!

  28. Elizabeth Foss says:

    Hey Jennifer! I’ve got some thoughts gathered here: http://catholicherald.com/detail.html?sub_id=1773

  29. Wendy says:

    Take them to daily Mass as often as you can. That’s the best practice. The daily Mass people usually are a tight community of grandparently, forgiving, kid loving people.

    Once you know them, you can send an older (maybe 4 or 5 year old) to sit with a “Mass Angel”, one of the regulars who will help them understand the Mass better as you tend to your other children.

    I have 6, but had 4, 4 and under at one point and that helped me so much when I felt like I couldn’t help my older kids pray and understand the Mass because I was chasing toddlers and taking out the baby. The surprise to me was how much the Mass Angels loved it! It was a blessing all around, and it helped me understand the Body of Christ better.

  30. Melanie B says:

    Anonymous wrote “Essentially, mass is not very interesting or accessible to a small child.”

    It seems to me that attitude is not so very helpful. I know that different children have different personalities and abilities; but I have found this not to be the case at all with my daughter. Rather it seems to me that if you think the Mass won’t engage them, then you’re less likely to be trying to help them to engage. Your job as a parent is to help them find points of engagement. Our two year old does find going to Mass interesting and some of it is accessible to her. Of course, big disclaimer, she naturally has a quiet disposition and I think that helps us quite a bit. But there are some things we have done that I believe have made a positive difference.

    One thing that has helped is talking about the mass during the week. Specifically, she has a Mass coloring book that goes through each part with lots of pictures and text that summarizes what happens from moment to moment. I don’t necessarily read it all to her every time, but we do flip through it and talk about the Mass and the prayers and even the priest’s vestments. I point out the pictures of the altar, the tabernacle, the candles, etc. in the book and do the same when we enter the church. Staying after mass or going to the church during the week to take a tour can help as well. We’ve also introduced her to our priest and try to say hello to him most weeks as we leave mass and we pray for him by name every night at bedtime prayers. During times of the Mass when she’s more distracted, I can ask her to watch what Father’s doing.

    Sometimes when we read her picture book about the Mass, I recite some of the Mass prayers and have been quite surprised to find that she knows large chunks of the Gloria and the Creed, she knows how to say “and also with you” etc. A great deal of the Mass repeats itself week after week. Little children can be taught to listen for the familiar and to say the responses by practicing at home. I also like to sing the various Mass parts with her as well: the Gloria, the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). She is very good at picking up the words to songs and I’ve found after a few repetitions that she’s started singing them to herself. Most kids can do this. They know Twinkle, Twinkle, Old MacDonald, etc. by heart. Why not Mass songs?

    Another thing you could do is read the Mass readings with children ahead of time. Maybe even a couple of times. Especially with smaller children I’d think the Responsorial Psalm would work well. That way they can say the response and participate in a small way in the Liturgy of the Word.

    We don’t formally practice sitting still and kneeling for Mass (though I think that’s a great idea); but we do have bedtime prayers and require her to be quiet and sit still during those (as much as a two-year old can.) She can flip through a saints book or a prayer book, but not other books.

    I’ll echo other commenters and say we’ve found sitting up front where she can see everything going on is a big help. Also pointing out what’s going on on the altar. Especially during the consecration making a big deal (in a whisper of course) that Jesus is here. I usually point and say, “Look, Look, There’s Jesus!”

    I’m not a big fan of bringing food and toys to mass. I think they become more of a distraction and it’s better to try to engage them with the mass itself. It seems to me that the kids I see at mass with lots of food and toys are the more distracted and less well behaved than those who don’t have them. Of course that’s correlation not causation; but still, it leads me to wonder if the food and toys are really helping matters as much as parents think.

  31. 'Becca says:

    When you “practice quiet time on mats at home” would that be just practicing being quiet for no apparent reason, or would you connect it with a religious practice such as your daily prayers? I think the latter would be a lot more effective at teaching the kids to be silent for the right reason (not just out of blind obedience) and to listen while they are quiet (rather than come up with ways to fill their minds).

    I only have one child, so I’m not sure how much I can take credit for his church behavior. He’s 4 now and has behaved pretty well in church most of the time all his life, and I have not had to remove him from a service since the incident described in my link, 4 months ago. He’s never wanted to go to Sunday school, and I like having him with me and like the idea of his learning to do what adults do. My policies:

    No food or drink, except for nursing when he was young enough. He did nurse quite a bit in church.

    Loving contact and sitting on my lap as much as he wants. Since weaning, he often whispers, “Hold me and rock me,” during church, and that puts him into the same calm mode that nursing used to.

    No toys except stuffed animals, who are expected to behave appropriately. My son often behaves best when he is showing his animal what to do! :-)

    Encourage participation in liturgy. I say things like, “It’s time to tell God you’re sorry.” before Confession (we are Episcopalians; a prayer of general confession is part of our service) or, “Here comes the story of the Last Supper.”

    Draw his attention to concepts that are at his level. Last time our bishop visited, he told us his personal mental prayer when he receives Communion: “Thank you, God, for loving me. Help me to love and serve others for you.” I nudged my son: “Did you hear that?” Now I remind him of it before church every time.

    Talk about holidays and other special ceremonies in advance and explain the symbols, to make them more meaningful.

  32. Anne Marie says:

    Magnifikid for the grade school set. We have the readings for pre Mass prep, and there are activities for post Mass entertainment. All of the prayers are right there too. My son gets a kick out of paying attention to vestment colors and he likes to get the heads up from the Magnifikid each week.

    Hubby is pretty strict about not letting the cartoons and activities in the Magnifikid become a distraction during the Mass.

  33. caite says:

    the problem was rooted in the fact that I didn’t see the Mass as the center of my week.

    Excellent point, and not just for how ones children may act. It is excellent for determining how I act as well. Am I truly paying attention, am I actually involved in the prayer of the Mass, am I listening to what God is saying to me? Or am I thinking about where I may go for breakfast or something I need to do later in the day?

    I will always remember reading, I believe in a book by Dr. Hahn, how during the Mass, the altar is surrounded by angels. We are as close to heaven as we can ever be on this earth, that for a moment in time, the separation between earth and heaven is suspended.

    And yet, shame on me, I sometimes find my mind wandering…

  34. Elizabeth says:

    *I’m blushing!* I didn’t know that my one simple question would mean so much. :) I love the idea that being pro-life means embracing children at every age–and all different kinds of children. Whenever a child acts up in church, I LOVE IT! Really. It makes me smile. Children add such wonderful color to the service. I love having my kids sit in church with me and although our church provides a little quiet bag with a paper and crayons–I do require my children to sing, pray, stand, sit with everyone else.

    Also, regarding mats: I know some people might have a negative reaction about this (like it’s restrictive or abusive). For me, it’s just an easy way to practice sitting in one spot. There’s no punishment involved–we work our way up from a few minutes to 15 minutes, etc. It’s very gentle. Practice makes progress, right?

    Anyway, I loved reading all the responses, here. And thank you, Jenn.

    :)
    EE

  35. Elizabeth says:

    p.s. just wanted to add: yes, Protestant services are longer (sometimes MUCH longer) than the typical 1 hr. Mass. I grew up in a church that had THREE HOUR morning meetings and TWO HOUR afternoon meetings. Even the best behaved kids needed a coloring book! :) lol.

  36. Sara says:

    I had a friend growing up whose mom would take a child who was misbehaving out to an empty classroom and sit him in a corner. The kids soon learned that it was more fun to sit quietly and play with their toys or people watch than sit in a corner. Also, if someone offers to help, don’t be afraid to accept an extra pair of hands – my Godson is the youngest of five, and I love holding him during Mass so his mom can keep the other kids in line.

  37. Anonymous says:

    My daughters, who are now 13 and 10, were never perfect at Mass. Things got better when we created a “church bag” full of books (about saints, etc.), coloring books, special stuffed animals and crayons that were only ever seen at Mass. I believe that this helped keep them from getting out of hand.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago and I am so glad that I did! Your words always give me something to ponder.

  38. Erika says:

    Awesome article and ideas in the comments! Thanks!

    I see my role not as getting my child to behave at church, but as teaching my child by word and example how to worship with her fellow Christians.

    For example, it’s not: Shhh! Be quiet! You’re bothering everyone! That implies that the goal for silence is to keep from irritating the adults, who are doing the “real” worship. Instead, I say that in worship, there are times for singing, for speaking, for being still, for moving, and for listening. When we’re quiet, it’s easier to hear God, and that’s why we are all quiet sometimes.

    We learn at home–Bible stories, what happens in the liturgy, look at pictures online, practice gestures etc. Then, I make sure we can see, and I am constantly explaining what’s going on and relating it to things we’ve talked about at home. Again, my role is teacher. (In the early church, parents and the liturgy were the educators. Sunday school is an invention of the late 18th century.)

    I would never take my daughter (2 years) out of church to put her in the nursery; however, I’ve decided to put her in the nursery for the beginning and then bring her in for the Lord’s Prayer and communion. (Children receive in my tradition.) I think the shorter time sets her up for more success–she is more likely to be focused and to actually worship when she’s in church. Were she there the whole time, she’d be frustrated and angry by communion–not the right midset.

    As she gets older, I plan to increase the amount of time she spends worshiping by bringing her into the Eucharist earlier and earlier. This is not ideal–I don’t like the idea of her being elsewhere during part of the liturgy. But it’s the best balance I’ve found for my family at this point.

    Thanks again for all these great ideas!

  39. Monica says:

    Hi Jennifer -

    I know that this probably sounds like a crazy idea – but start going to Mass more often. I have 5children – one of which is a newborn – and just before she arrived we started attending daily Mass once a week. The priest says a relatively quick Mass – 30 minutes. For whatever reason – it seems that the smaller ones can manage to sit still this length of time. It seems to be good practice for the longer Sunday Mass. Plus, I can manage the children on my own for 30 minutes as my husband is not usually able to come with me. I really feel that we have obtained untold graces by going to Mass just one extra time during the week, in addition to the children learning to sit still.

    And – the other big thing I do is pray. When I kneel down to pray in church, I specifically ask their Guardian Angels and our Blessed Mother to help keep them focused, quiet, and engaged during Mass. When they start acting up, I often will say a very quick little prayer to their Guardian Angels again – it usually goes something like this: “Oh please, oh please, oh please.” :-)

    Hope this helps.

  40. Annie says:

    At my church there is a family with seven children. I believe the oldest is about 10 and the youngest is less than a month. They sit in the first pew, and amazingly, they are always perfectly silent. (And these are not particularly docile children. They are nuts at coffee hour after mass.) How do they do it?…I have no idea.

  41. Anonymous says:

    This is a hard topic because kids are all so different. First, I think it’s a good idea to realize that what works for one person’s kids may not work for our own.

    A couple of people have commented that snacks are a distraction, and they don’t permit them. That may work well in their family. My kids, though, are picky eaters and they graze all through the day. Mass times at my parish are either too early for them to completely finish breakfast (unless we get them up at 5am, which is also not a good idea) or late enough that they are hungry for lunch. Most Sundays, if I manage to get them dressed properly for church, there is not time for a snack at home. So, for my kids, snacks are a must if I want them to be able to behave all through mass.

    One other thought I want to share is that books and writing materials are not necessarily a distraction, either (though I understand for some kids they may be). Remember that kids learn and think very imaginitively. Is it a distraction for us to look at a stained glass window during mass, or can it help us worship? My daughter actually drew a picture at mass of the baby Jesus inside the sun. She told me she drew it that way because He’s the Light of the world. Now, she’s only done this once, of course, but it made me realize that she may be thinking and imagining a lot that I don’t realize while she draws or looks at a book. Playing is how young kids learn, after all.

    For drawing at mass for very young kids, give Color Wonder markers a try. They were a lifesaver for me. The won’t leave marks on anything else except the Color Wonder paper. The paper is a bit expensive, but if you only use it on Sundays, it can be a special treat, and you won’t have to buy so much of it.

    I also think that nothing works all the time. There will be tantrums, there will be noise and wiggling, there will be fighting, at least sometimes. Relax and it’ll get better as they get older.

    –Elizabeth B.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if this has already been mentioned: If at all possible, attend Mass daily. When my oldest was 16 months, I started bringing him to Mass. When my second was 6 months, I started bringing both. Now my children are 4, 2, and 1 month. When the little one establishes a routine that will allow us to attend daily Mass at 8am, we’ll be right back to it. During the week, we sit towards the back. On Sunday we sit in the front. This has worked wonders.
    -Allie C.

  43. Jenny R. says:

    This post is hitting me at just the right time… I've got two-and-a-half year old twin girls and a baby girl who will be 11 months old tomorrow. I took them to daily Mass this week for the first time–by myself. I do have in-laws in town, and we once went to daily Mass with their grandmother–but she is usually of the "don't say "no"" school of thought, so the big girls were rummaging in her purse, etc. I don't have the heart to complain or "correct" her, so we're embarking on a daily-Mass-alone journey (my husband's work schedule doesn't allow him to join us). I feel more in control when it's just me-and-the-girls, anyway.

    We have been going to Sunday Mass every week since the twins were five days old–so church isn't "new" to them. Thankfully, they're pretty quiet–but can be quite wiggly sometimes (as two-year-olds can). I usually end up standing in the back with the baby on Sundays (we go to Mass at a time that is almost-but-not-quite her morning nap time, so she's usually getting cranky). I did the same with the bigger girls when they were this age, though, so I know it's only temporary!

    Thankfully, daily Mass is at a time that doesn't conflict with anyone's nap, so when we tried it this week, we were all able to stay in the pew the whole time.

    I second (third? fifth?) the suggestion to sit up front. If nothing else, it gets us away from the loudly-chattering old men ushers standing at the back of church!

    We also do no-toys, no-food (though I do nurse the baby if she needs it). We've just recently been adding morning prayer (a Hail, Mary) as a family before my husband leaves for work–I think I'll suggest kneeling (with no toys in the hands) for this quick prayer as "practice".

    One note on kneeling during Mass: my girls are so short and/or the pews are so tall that if they're kneeling, they can't see over the pew. So we enforce sitting-when-we're-all-sitting and standing-on-the-kneeler when we're either standing or kneeling… it allows them to see, and it puts them closer to the height of my kneeling husband!

    There have been some great suggestions… thanks for puttning this question out there!

    Thanks also for the motivation (from lots of commenters) to just do it more often… I'm hoping to add Fridays as regular daily-Mass days for the girls & me. I'll pray for you tomorrow at Mass!

  44. Laura says:

    We’ve found that the best way to get them to catch on is to take the little ones to mass as often as possible, meaning during the week in addition to Sundays. It is often painful and many times humiliating, but they learn to catch on quickly what church is all about. Daily mass is also a good way to learn because it is shorter. It seems to me that the hardest time I’ve had is between the ages of 18months and 2 years. Many a time during this age we’ve had to repeatedly leave the church for some reprimanding.

    Also, whatever rules you set up for church, be consistent. I would tend to let them slide if the homily was really good or I didn’t feel like leaving yet again. I found, however, that this was a mistake.

    We’ve also employed the seating arrangement tactic. It tends to work well for us, too.

    As difficult as it is to bring small children to mass, I have found that most people are very encouraging. I think they are just excited to see so many children at a daily mass! It is only once in a while that someone gives me an icy look.

    God Bless!

  45. Christine the Soccer Mom says:

    Golly, I love this question, but I’ve only got two… I did a lot of the same things here (never, ever go to the “cry room” because it’s totally disruptive and even I can’t pay attention there). My dad said always sit in front, or as close as you can get to it. (You might see Father between heads and shoulders, but little ones are looking at people’s butts. No fun.) When you can, whisper what’s happening. (I did a lot of, “LOOK! Jesus is there … Father is holding him up right now! Can you see Him?”) And, when we could, we tried remembering to read the Scripture ahead of time and even explain it a little (sometimes on the way, using our missals) so that Mass was not the first time they heard it. There is a GREAT resource for Sunday Mass at CatholicMom.com. For little kids who can’t read, there are coloring pages that relate to all Holy Days of Obligation (that includes Sunday), and then as they get old enough to read, there are question sheets – first with multiple choice, then with just blank spaces to answer.

    Another great resource for when they are a little older is MagnifiKid (by Magnificat). It’s a weekly mini-missal with pictures and activities and explanations.

    And that CatholicMom Sunday Mass activity center is found here. Whenever I think my girls aren’t paying enough attention, I pull this site up and make them do the worksheets for a couple of weeks. Just to see if they’re paying attention. ;)

    Of course, begging Guardian Angels certainly helps, too.

  46. lvschant says:

    Hi Jennifer, I have to say that I have always been a bit envious of those folks whose children were naturally quiet and well-behaved. In my own family growing up (6 kids) we were always pretty quiet and not a problem at Mass or wherever we were taken. So it was a huge shock to me that BOTH of my two boys are definitely not naturally quiet or well-behaved. They take after my husband’s side of the family (family motto: he who talks the loudest wins).

    My kids have always attended Mass with us every week. We tried everything, sitting in front, sitting in cry rooms, going to daily Mass during the week to increase frequency, pointing out the parts of the Mass to get them engaged… almost every suggestion that was here…

    The fact is — my kids are naturally noisy. They don’t do anything quietly… It just took time. Now, at ages 8 and 10, they are perfectly well behaved (and have been since about 5 years or so). The oldest is an altar server — absolutely loves it and the younger helps pass out Mass programs each week. They both know all the responses and prayers by heart and do just fine.

    Now, it is very possible that we were just not very good at parenting when they were little and that they would have done better using some other technique. But, I doubt it. We just had to struggle through it and hope that the folks around us would be charitable. It makes me feel a great deal of empathy for those going through a similar situation now when I see them at Mass.

    Good luck and don’t stress too much…

  47. Amber says:

    This is interesting. I don’t really have any answers as I don’t have any kids, but I do live in Mexico, where EVERY Mass is packed with families with numerous children. And these kids never, ever act up in church (except the babies, who can’t help it).

    They don’t have toys, they don’t come in with bags of snacks, they don’t run around the back of the church. They sit and behave themselves, maybe lean up against their parents if they get bored, and sometimes the tiny ones fall asleep.

    I’ve watched them to see what the parents do when the kids get wiggly or start talking, and for the most part, they simply calmly, quietly, yet firmly tell them they cannot act this way. if a very young one starts crying, the parents carry them out until they calm down. That’s it.

    I can only guess that your friend is on to something – they behave in church because they’ve been raised and trained to see Mass as important, both religiously and as a family event, and that you simply don’t act that way in their family. Anyway, good luck.

  48. maggie says:

    Hi…delurking for the first time. Been reading for awhile and I must say I enjoy your writing.

    I don’t have any children but I know that a number of Anglican (Episcopal in the US) churches in Canada has had issues with attracting young parishioners, including children. I’ve heard of small churches where they would LOVE to have children running around in the church, because that to them represents the future and the vitality of the church.

    Our priest has views along the similar vein. So long as their not up behind the altar rail, they can come and go as they please. We often will have intergenerational services where the children play a major role in the service, i.e. reading the lessons, carrying the cross, selecting the hymns.

    there is also a nursery available for mums for nursing/changing etc..

  49. Elizabeth says:

    No time to read all the other comments, but our policy (with kids 8, 6, 5 and 1) is no food, no toys. They have a bag of Bibles/children’s missals and can look at those quietly. We also sit near the front (but in a side chapel, so we don’t feel so ‘exposed’) so they can watch what’s going on — and there’s quite a bit of chat about watching the incense etc.
    When the olders were younger, we used to get them to imitate Father’s gestures — that kept them nicely absorbed.
    We don’t usually do rewards/bribes, but if they’re well behaved they get SWEETS.

  50. Monnie says:

    This very thing occurred to me a couple of weeks ago when talking to a friend of mine. It was quite the revelation! :)

    I don’t have any children yet, but I have an 11-month-old niece (who’s also my goddaughter). My sister never takes her to the cry room either, after figuring out very early on that my niece thought it was so! much! FUN! in there. :)

    It’s great to read these kind of tips and real-life “aha!” moments before I have kids… hopefully I’ll be able to put some of them into action when the time comes! :)

    Btw, I just wondered if you’ve heard about the recent lifting of the excommunications from the SSPX bishops that the Vatican declared… and/or the media storm that has happened since then… and what you think of that.
    Do you consider yourself a conservative Catholic or more mainstream?

    Thanks for your consideration!

  51. Jess says:

    My only rule is to get to Mass early so I can find a pew in the back with a seat on the aisle so if we have to make an exit it is the least disruptive as possible. I’ve only taken both the baby and my toddler to Mass alone twice and I was actually frustrated and annoyed by the time the service was over, NOT the frame of mind I want. :-)

    My husband doesn’t attend so he stays home with the baby and I take Ella with me. She tries so hard to sit still but an hour is a very long time for a 3 year old with a lot of energy. I don’t allow rambunctious or rude behavior or talking from her but I just don’t see how you can get a 3 year old to be reverent and not want to jump on the kneelers and lay down in the pew, etc.

    Even if we were meeting the Queen of England I still don’t think I could get Ella to sit still for an hour! Maybe if I let her wear her sparkle princess dress and “click clack” shoes and a tiara and told her it was a princess tea. Don’t think that will really go over well at Mass though. :-)

    Thankfully, our parish is young and there are lots of families with very young children. The constant rumble of small children is just a part of our Mass.

  52. nicole says:

    I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, but we sit as close to the front as we can and that has made a tremendous difference. Also, figure out what you can tolerate and what is unacceptable and make sure the kids know that. For example, our three year old boy can sit on the floor or with one of us, and he can change places, as long as he is quiet. For us, and our church, noise is more noticeable than movement.

    I’m going to have to think about what we are doing at home to prepare for Mass. I like the thought of making it the center of our week.

  53. Dawn says:

    I definitely find that bringing toys and food is MORE of a distraction. Practicing at home is a great idea. Reviewing proper behavior just before getting out of the car. Rewards/consequences for children old enough to have them delayed until after mass. I’ll have to come back to this post when I have time to read all the answers and links. Thanks!

    Oh, and we’ve started using the nursery more.

  54. Ouiz says:

    Fantastic advice from everyone!

    As a mom of 7 kids (11 down to 1), we’ve got a few rules:

    1. Read the readings before Mass. Their little eyes light up during Mass and they whisper, “Mommy! I’ve HEARD this before!” So sweet…
    2. Dress for Mass
    3. Sit up front
    4. Little ones do NOT, under any circumstance, leave our arms until Mass is over. After a few months of fighting an octopus in the narthex, you will find the battle will suddenly stop… they will have realized that you mean business, and there will be NO getting down until Mass is over. This cuts out all the wiggling on the pew, trying to walk away, getting into trouble in the narthex, etc.
    5. Lots of praise for a job well done!

  55. Charlotte says:

    I agree with Anonymous/Elizabeth B… My children draw on their bulletins during worship. I'm amazed at times by my daughter's drawings & how they relate to what's going on in church. My son is younger and he mostly scribbles, but he asks often where we are in the order of worship and colors next to where we are. Also, children under 9 years old are dismissed for godly play before the sermon. Here is more information about godly play.http://www.faith-at-home.com/godly-play.html I haven't spent much time on that web site, but it looks like it explains godly play pretty well. It's a beautiful, worshipful time for the kids. And I recommend Offering the Gospel to Children by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard. It helped me trust God more with all of this and reminded me that God has a relationship with my kids–that I don't have to make it happen.

  56. Nzie (theRosyGardener) says:

    I sent a link to this post to my mom, but she never feels she has time, and is also trying to get a blog up sometime (keep an eye out for Impri-Mater — I take credit for the title, lol), so I’m going to add in why I and all my seven siblings always behaved at Mass. The article you now linked to and Amber’s comments I think were spot on. Please forgive my presumptiousness as a non-mom — I hope being a very aware big sister will get me a pass in this one!

    There are a few things I think my parents did really well:

    1. Prepare with Expectations. We never practiced specifically for Mass; we were simply expected to behave certain ways in public always (being respectful, not shouting, etc.). Mass was basically special, and high alert. I still remember my parents asking as we drove to Mass every week to loud affirmative answers (we are also not naturally quiet): “Who’s going to sit still?” “Who’s going to say all the prayers?” “Who’s going to sing all the songs?” And then the negatives: “Who’s going to run around?” “Who’s going to play with the book?” and so forth. This also got the younger kids trying to emulate the older kids, who were, of course, behaved.

    2. For around ages 16 mons. through toddlerhood: take the child out of Mass immediately. Mom would always take us out around that age when we wanted to walk, and say something to the effect of, “Now, are you going to behave?” And it was very clear that being in Mass was a privilege. You get right down at eye level (I know this is tricky when expecting, but it’s got to be done) and firmly make your expectations clear. A little bit of fidgeting in the pew isn’t something to get worked up over, but don’t hesitate to act decisively.

    3. Sit in the front and explain what’s going on. This is the best teaching opportunity about faith you have. As parents, or aunts and uncles, or even older siblings, you don’t get to have your ideal worship experience. And I know it can stink to feel like you can’t get everything out of it spiritually that you would if you didn’t have to bring the peanut gallery along, but it’s the right thing to do and it will be worth sticking it out. And little kids should definitely stand on the kneelers until they are tall enough to kneel and still see.

    4. Take into account the kids’ needs. This goes along with the excellent advice about getting to the bathroom right before (and sometimes right after, or during if in emergencies). Make sure they eat breakfast and understand that they can’t eat during Mass (anyone who’s past the bottle can handle this – I don’t remember snacks ever, and toys only for the bottle set as well). If you’ve got a high-energy kid, well, maybe having him or her burn some of that energy off will help him sit still during Mass.

    I think the biggest point among these things that worked really well for my parents is the foundation to them, which is to be a constant teacher. Talk about why the Mass matters to you; talk about why we do the things we do in it. Talk about how special Jesus is, and how exciting it will be when they receive communion, etc. Talk about your expectations during Mass – and if these are significantly different from your expectations when out and about in general, well, kids benefit from consistency, so teach them to be less formal but no less well-behaved in public always. The more consistent you are and the more you follow through, the sooner they’ll understand what your expectations are, and just how cool Mass is. We’re a very lively bunch, but when it comes to Mass or prayers, we knew what was okay, and became really self-enforcing on it (and each other, which wasn’t so great, lol)

    anyway, I’ll stop butting into the Mothers’ club. Good luck, Jen!

  57. CJ says:

    There was an article in Canticle magazine back when I had just two children that I was so grateful for — it quoted an experienced mom who said, “It’s hardest with the first couple of children.” She said that as a family grows, the younger kids learn what’s acceptable from the older kids.

    I had a terrible time with my first two. Some weeks I felt like the only thing I could do was thank God for another lesson in humility. We have five now, aged 12, 9, 6, 3, and 6 weeks, and it is a million times easier to enjoy Mass than it was with two.

    We never take snacks or toys to church these days, but I really needed them in earlier days. I have been blessed with an oldest son who is pretty intense, and it took him a long time to learn to settle down in church — even doing everything I could think of to encourage better behavior. When mothers of larger families give advice on this topic, I think it’s important for us to remember we have an asset that younger mothers don’t: our older children can set the example for the little ones.

    Maybe it would be helpful to sit near a large family with older children…

  58. Renee says:

    Go Sunday and eventually they will get the hang of Mass. The only way they will behave is if the go first.

  59. Stephanie says:

    I don’t have kids yet, but I have read that post about Quiet Toys before. I thought there were some good suggestions, but, you’re right. Like anything else, practical tips only go so far – true change starts with the heart. I applaud the way you and your husband are seeking to make worship more central to your family life. That’s something we’ve been trying to do as well.

    There is a church in my town that uses a slogan (I don’t know if other catholic churches say this or if it’s unique to them): The mass doesn’t end, it must be lived. What a beautiful truth!

  60. Ornithophobe says:

    I have no advice to offer. My sons are now 13 and 14, but in their babyhoods I had some truly mortifying mass moments. There was the time I stood up to sing only to discover my six-month-old had decided to unbutton part of my dress. Or the momentous day my toddler figured out that communion wafers were “food” and announced (to the priest blessing him) in a loud voice, “Hey! I’m hungry, too!”… most awful were the many mornings when a particularly stern faced elder lady at church wrinkled her nose at my older son for reciting along with the priest. (Tim’s autistic, he went through a phase where anything he had committed to memory he wanted to recite with the speaker.) All I can say is, they do outgrow it, all of it. By the time they’re sixish they have a good idea what’s expected of them and how to behave in church. There may be a little boredom, the occasional bit of seat squirming- but hang in there. God’s still working on them. And a warning to the nose-wrinklers: No good comes from making kids feel unwanted in church. Christ bid the little children to come to Him; I figure he expects the occasional squirmer in the bunch.

  61. Lucy says:

    I don’t have time to read all the comments, although from skimming them, I think you’ve gotten some good advice. My comments are probably a repeat. :)

    1. No food or snacks once they’re over three. Before that, we brought something not messy and not sugary (raisins, fish crackers, etc.) and sippies of water. I still bring water, since we’re EO and our service is almost two hours (my kids are now 7, 5 and 3).

    2. No toys, although I do bring paper and pencils and the kids are allowed to draw. They are also allowed to read, although now that my oldest is reading, he’s generally required to read along in the service book for parts of the Liturgy.

    3. Sit near the front. I find it really helps to keep the kids interested in what’s going on. We don’t have pews, so the kids are allowed to wander around a bit, but they must be quiet. We do take shoes off if they become annoying.

    4. Teach the kids the more interactive parts of the service: when to stand, when to kneel, when to make the sign of the cross, how to say the Lord’s Prayer, etc. As they get older especially, this helps them know where they’re at in the service.

    5. I really think what helps our kids is that in general we expect first-time obedience. We talk a lot about controlling our bodies, being respectful of others, etc. I don’t allow the kids to run amok at the grocery store either. What is hard as kids get older is that other parents have different standards of behavior (some allow books and toys, some don’t, some allow the kids to sit away from parents). It’s even hard for the older kids to watch the younger ones be allowed to do things they’re not. But that’s part of getting bigger, I suppose. :)

    And the thing I always try to remind myself after an especially difficult Liturgy is that this, too, shall pass. They do get older and eventually they stop being so wiggly. :)

  62. Catherine says:

    Bribery works for us :) also to explain that we are in God’s house, and while God loves to see them play that sometimes the other grown up people find it hard to concentrate on their own prayers if little people are noisy…just like if someone stood in front of the tv if you were watching your favourite cartoon :)
    Also I try to separate what I expect as good behaviour and what I want for me so that other people will think my kids are great :)
    My dad told me a great story about one of the saints (Therese of Lisieux I think, the story was when my eldest was a toddler and she’s approaching 11 now) who fed her little sister sweets during Mass…… and she’s a saint!!!! :)
    We had a lovely priest who is gone home to God now who used to speak of the mother’s prayer of distraction, offering up the distractions as a bouquet to God…it’s a short time, let’s just run with it :) x

  63. Margaret Mary says:

    Just a couple more ideas:
    1. I know of families who allow a Bible picture book ONLY during the Liturgy of the Word. If the Gospel happens to be a story included in your children’s version, all the better.
    2. Prepare ahead of time! We like to use the Sabbath Scripture Book and Liturgical Calendar from FamilyFormation.net the night before. Some comment earlier extolled the value of reading the Readings ahead of time. These resources really help make them memorable. http://familyformation.net/ForFamiliesAdditionalTeachingTools.asp

  64. old home school nut says:

    There are some children who just can’t be “made” or even “taught” to behave — it has to come with maturation. These kids are what you’re really asking about — and there is no nice, sweet solution. Cry rooms or nursery services are one approach. Super-active parenting, leaving you without the refreshment you should receive from Mass is another (can you say “offer it up” LOL?). Leaving the child home with the other parent is another approach. Yah, that means you can’t attend Mass as a family — you talk about attachments, there’s one — the gauzy focus ideal of attending Mass as a family — so very often it just isn’t real life for a season or two. Whatever you decide, please do not inflict an incorrigible upon the rest of the community — that is NOT a pro-life position toward the rest of the community on YOUR part.

    Disclosure: I had my kids late and only received 2 living children. One of them was “one of those” — he grew out of it, thanks be to God.

  65. Emma says:

    We are Orthodox Christians and my husband is a priest, my dad is a priest and my father-in-law is a priest. Despite the church-y relatives, my children are nightmares in church! We finished Vespers tonight and I wanted to bang my head against a wall! Anyway we will be trying to practice for church this week. I think that our 2.5 year old will get it, but I don’t think the 14 month old will… it’s just too much fun to try to catch dad as he censes the church!

  66. Kathy says:

    And then there was the time that my 3-year-old son said, “Did Father just say to lift up your heart to the Lord?” We nodded, and our dear child loudly announced, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!”

  67. Maureen says:

    When you think about it, Mass should be right up kids’ alley. It’s got lots of repetition, lots of position changes, lots of stories, lots of songs….

    It’s Sesame Street, except holy! :)

    This post has been brought to you by the letters I, H, and S, and by the number 7 as in Sacraments.

  68. green mom for Jesus says:

    Does your church have an Atrium/Good Shepherd program?
    See this link
    http://www.cgsusa.org/
    It’s a beautiful way to introduce and deepen appreciation of the Mass for the young ones.
    Thanks for all your words on this blog -God’s grace is so beautiful!

  69. Liz says:

    One thought is: what do you want your child’s experience of church to say to him. Do you want church to simply be a place he remembers as one where threats of punishment were looming over his head always, or a place where he felt welcomed? I always felt that I needed to be responsive to my child’s needs and limitations. With one we needed to feed her between Sunday School and church when she was under 5 (we were Protestants then). She didn’t make it all the way through church from the time she was a babe in arms until she was 3, but then she sat through consistently and quietly. Up until then she stayed as long as she was able and when she got too fidgety I took her out with a smile. Our oldest sat through even earlier, but always had his special quiet church toys and books, and sometimes Goldfish crackers. They weren’t allowed to crawl under pews, run up the aisles or treat the pews as gymnastics equipment.

    The kids in our church who went to the nursery for the whole services are not practicing Christians as adults. The kids I knew whose parents took them out and punished them are also nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile my two are devout adult Catholics who can sit through even long liturgies with great joy.

    We didn’t allow books, toys, snacks forever. By the time they were 5 or so they had the back of the church bulletin and a pen to either take notes or doodle with.

    Last year I took my grandniece (6 years old) to Mass. She isn’t a regular Mass attender and she’s a really fidgety active kid. I found that a children’s book about the Mass which I could quietly show her so she could see where we were in the liturgy really helped her attention. We had read the book ahead of time and now she could see the Mass in action.

    Each child is different, each family is different, but the goal should be to introduce our kids to the One whom the Mass centers around. He was the one who said, “suffer the little children.” We need to both be considerate of the others around us and sensitive to the needs of our own children. Practicing during the week, reading to them about the Mass, showing them stained glass windows with saints they’ve heard stories about, bringing them to the church during the week and showing them the various statues, windows, tabernacle etc. All of those things help them to find Mass a place that is comfortable rather than miserable.

    I would also say that one of the most wiggly kids I’ve seen outside of Mass is a wonderfully quiet little girl during Mass. Her parents have introduced her to the idea that Jesus is hiding in the Blessed Sacrament. She’s only two and a half, but she already knows that Jesus is actually there at Mass and she behaves as if she believes it.