The "eternal" question-Children at Mass


#1

I know this is has probably been addressed before, but I’m interested in any new ideas.

We are looking for some advice for taking children to Mass and teaching them to behave. We have 2 ½ year old daughter. We are having a terrible time getting her to behave during Mass. To be honest, we feel like we have not attended Mass in 2 ½ years because one of us is always having to leave to deal with discipline issues which means we have to leave the sanctuary.

She can’t sit still. We expect some of that at her age, but the trying to climb over the pews is unacceptable. We have tried to teach her whisper if she has to speak, she only knows on volume; loud! We motion to her be quiet by placing a finger over our mouth and giving a quiet shhhhhh! She responds by imitating the motion and giving a loud SHHHHHH!

We have tried the following in order to teach her to behave:

  • Removing her from the sanctuary to until she calms down.
  • Bring a book for her to look at or a noiseless toy.
  • Removing her from the sanctuary for “time-out”.
  • Not taking her to Mass at all (my wife and I alternate attendance).
  • Using the “cry room” to attend Mass.
  • Waiting to give consequences at home following Mass.

We have had little or no success with these techniques. We hated not taking her to Mass. We fell that participation at Mass is important to her faith formation. Also, if she does not go, she will never learn to behave there. Removing her from the sanctuary multiple time is tiring and disruptive to those around us. The “time-out” at church technique seems to have backfired. She will ask for a “time-out”; presumably to have an excuse to leave Mass. Delaying the consequence until she gets home does succeed in making her unhappy when she gets home but does nothing to curb behavior at Mass next week. The “cry room” is just filled with disruptive children (some of whom there is no attempt at discipline by the parents). This only encourages her to think this behavior is normal. Plus we can hardly see or hear Mass.

Outside of Mass she is a good kid. So, we are looking for thoughtful suggestions to help us.

Thank you.


#2

Give her another few months. I remember that my parents took turns attending Mass until my younger brothers and sisters were well over three years old. Keeping her home for several weeks or a couple of months will help to reset her behavior when you bring her back. My own daughter didn’t get it until she much older, it depends on the child, I guess.


#3

Some children are very physically active and at that age, their self control is not great. You can really only accept a limited amount of sitting still.

I’ve seen three possible solutions that really work - not all are perhaps moral.

One is that parents harshly discipline children so they stay still. Some churches (not most I think) support this. The children are very well behaved.

Some churches don’t expect kids to sit through church until they are older, so supply a nursery for young kids. Sunday school age kids may not stay for the whole service either.

Some churches allow and expect kids to move around throughout the service rather than stay in the pews. This seems effective for example in some Orthodox churches, where there is no nursery, and the Eucharist service is long. Kids wander around, look at stuff, and participate as they want to. Since all the kids are there, people expect this.

I don’t like solution 1. The others require a certain amount of cooperation on the part of other people. If you can’t get it, I’d say you and your husband alternate. In another 6 months to a year, she will be better at sitting still.


#4

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

I also might add that I’m afraid that all of the discipline is making going to Mass a negative experience for her. The other day she started pre-school located on the church grounds. When we pulled into the parking lot she started saying “I don’t want to go to church no more.”

I’m not sure I understand how her not going to church for a while as suggested by a previous poster will “reset” her behavior.


#5

Have you tried good ol’ fashioned bribery? :smiley: “You get a donut after mass if you behave” works wonders with my wild boys. They even check with me every so often. They lean over and whisper “is this 'having for a donut mommy?” Also, if you do have to take her out make it as boring as possible, going in is a privlige for big kids who can behave.

It will get better. So far for me 3 years and newborn have been the easiest ages for mass attendence.


#6

it is my personal experience and opinion that there is a window anywhere from 18-36 months, in which children simply cannot and will not behave in public, and if you are going to be in any one place longer that 15 minutes–church, the library, museum, anywhere other than McDonalds playland–you have to leave the kid home with somebody or bring reinforcements, to take him out, hold him while he arches his back and screams. If it is feasible to go to Mass in shifts during those months, it is my recommendation. It depends on who is with you to help (you can’t very well take the screamer out and leave an infant or pre-schoolers alone), and what your own nerves can stand, or even if there is someplace to go with him.

I don’t think kids the age have mastered the art of sitting still and shutting up, and I don’t know if we are being fair in requiring it until they are capable (yeah, yah I can just hear parents of teens chuckling).

choose a Mass time closest to the time of day best for your child–not naptime or mealtime–even if it is another language

By all means however do what works best for your family. The people in the pews around you belong to a Church whose fundamental teaching is that married people must accept the children God sends them, and that acceptance extends to the entire Church, so they need to chill and rejoice in the presence of these children.

waiting to give consequences at home is a poor choice, for the simple reason she will not remember for 5 minutes the reason for the punishment, so no learning will happen. The child does these things, at this age, simple out of boredom and incapacity to stay still and quiet. How often do we fidget, wiggle, slump, scratch, yawn or otherwise act bored at Mass? A child cannot be disciplined into doing something he is not yet capable of doing. I might add it is mighty hard to teach kids to stay still in church when the culture is so nonchalant about kids misbehaving in other public places–family restaurants come to mind.


#7

Right now she associates the whole thing with having to sit still, it being boring, negative consequences, etc. If she doesn’t go for a while, she won’t remember all that very well - her memory is still not great about some things (like certain rules, which is part of your problem.) She will be approaching it from a fairly fresh perspective.


#8

My SIL had a similiar problem and she ended up by not taking her 2-year old to Mass until he got a little older. When he was around 3, she told him he was a much bigger boy and expected big boy behavior from him at Mass. Not that the first few times when they resumed taking him to Mass were perfect, but lots better than before. And, he did settle down to doing just the ‘normal’ restlessness of a little kid at Mass.

One other thing she did when they did not take him to Mass was to talk about the Mass with him, get him to understand just what was going on. I think they used coloring books and things like that. She also said that the cry room was really not very effective because she, too, experienced the poor behavior of the other kids and a lack of control by the parents–it rubbed off on my nephew and made things worse.


#9

Are you sure you aren’t expecting too much from your daughter? My two daughters are 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 and they are both expected to attend mass at least once a week and not disrupt it for anyone else. They certainly aren’t perfect and we have had many, many embarrassing moments along the way, but when mass attendance is not optional, I think there are less problems. If you find specific ideas for problems you know you might encounter before you are at mass, it might not bother you as much! My younger daughter cannot stand sitting still! I know that and so she isn’t expected to. But, she is expected to be quiet, to stay within our pew, to not climb all over, if she needs a little more room to roam to let us know and we will take her for a quick walk. My 3 1/2 year old daughter gets bored and grouchy being expected to sit still and behave for over an hour at a time, but sitting somewhere where she can see the priest, explaining to her what is going on at each part of mass, bringing books for a last resort, letting her help hold the missal all help her to enjoy her time at mass. Different things work for different children and I don’t think anyone expects a young child to behave perfectly the whole time.


#10

I’m not sure if I’m asking too much or not. That is part of my question.

I don’t expect her to sit perfectly still. We let her move around some as long as she is quiet. That is the bigger problem.

If I try to whisper in her ear for her to stop doing somthing she shouts “You stop it!” If I’m trying to hold her and she wants down she might shout “stop it Daddy!”

She likes to talk to the other people in the other pews. She is facinated with little babies and likes to loudly point out where they are in church.

If she is frustrated she just screams.

We have tried practicing whispering at home to prepare her for church…but it doesn’t stick.


#11

My parents did not take me or my older brother to Mass until we were 4 or 5 years old. They knew we had short attention spans and tended to be hyperactive, and did not want to take the chance that we would be disruptive. There were two Sunday Masses in our parish, so Mom went to one and Dad to the other. This was in the early 60s, before and during Vatican II and both of them were very traditional and observant.

When we did finally start going to Mass, we were old enough to understand what was expected of us, and there were no problems. My brother and I are now in our late 40s, and we have faithfully attended Mass all our lives.

So the notion that your child will never learn how to behave at Mass unless you insist on taking her every week from birth is, IMHO, not true. She is not strictly obligated to attend Mass until she reaches the age of reason, and just a few months or a year can make a big difference in maturity at her age. If it’s really becoming a problem, let her wait out Sunday Mass for a while until she is a little older and seems able to handle it. It might also be better for you to be able to attend Mass without constant distraction for a while!


#12

ooooh, that would NOT sit well with me! A child (of any age) should NEVER talk back to parents, and that is what she is doing. She is talking back to you. Nip that in the bud RIGHT NOW, or you will have a sassy one on your hands. I’ve seen it first hand with my kids’ classmates as I’ve watched them grow up.

She likes to talk to the other people in the other pews. She is facinated with little babies and likes to loudly

point out where they are in church.

If she is frustrated she just screams.

We have tried practicing whispering at home to prepare her for church…but it doesn’t stick.

By 2 1/2 she should be familiar with the idea is “inside voice” and “outside voice”. At home inside the house, she should use the quieter “inside voice” only, and all shouting, screaming, and yelling should only be allowed outside (“outside voice”). /quote]

You must perfect “The LOOK”. :cool: All three of my boys know “The LOOK”. There must be teeth in your discipline, and waiting to mete it out at home will not work, becasue she simply will not remember why she is getting punished. She will learn nothing.

My boys did not have to be still and could quietly move about, but the key was they had to be QUIET. I once had an older woman sit behind us at mass one Sunday when all 3 were little - probably about 1, 3, and 4. She commented that she had never seen such BUSY, QUIET little boys and congratulated us!
[/quote]


#13

Just throwing some ideas out here and this might sound crazy but if you sat up front, she would have more to look at. I am a short adult and if I don’t sit near the front all I see are the backs of people’s heads. It may be more interesting for her and she wouldn’t be as distracted? Could you also take her to the playground before mass. I know it would take planning but maybe she could burn off some energy before being expected to sit quitely for an hour. As the other posters have said, it does get better as they get older.


#14

I would add to the play ground idea that you include a short (minute or two) time of sitting with her eyes closed (she can put her hands over her eyes if she has trouble keeping them closed) to help with the transition from running and yelling to less movement and quiet. This is what I do with my martial arts students at the end of class and it works wonders so they don’t go home bouncing off the walls.


#15

ooooh, that would NOT sit well with me! A child (of any age) should NEVER talk back to parents, and that is what she is doing. She is talking back to you. Nip that in the bud RIGHT NOW, or you will have a sassy one on your hands. I’ve seen it first hand with my kids’ classmates as I’ve watched them grow up.

I agree and it *is not *tolerated by us either. At home it is easy to deal with, she gets an immediate consequence, usually a “time-out” and the behavior ceases. In church however, an immediate “time-out” is accompanied by the following problems:

  • She is agreeable to the “time-out” (even asking for one sometimes) I think because she wants to get out of the pews
  • One of us retreats to the gathering space for the “time-out” only to find about a dozen other parents with children dealing (or not dealing) with their kids. These distractions make “time-out” problematic.
  • We try taking her outside for “time-out” but end up chasing her and carrying her to her “time-out” spot over and over again.

We have also tried the suggestion about being seated up close so she can see. This helps somewhat until say the homily. Then she gets bored and problems start. She does like it when baptisms are performed after the homily. She stays pretty quiet during those.
She is fond of both of our priests and has called out to them during the liturgy of the Eucharist!

The couple of times I have waited to go home and do a “time-out”, she actually does remember why she is getting punished. She just doesn’t remember it the next week.


#16

I would add to the play ground idea that you include a short (minute or two) time of sitting with her eyes closed (she can put her hands over her eyes if she has trouble keeping them closed) to help with the transition from running and yelling to less movement and quiet. This is what I do with my martial arts students at the end of class and it works wonders so they don’t go home bouncing off the walls.

Hummmm…interesting idea…haven’t tried that one.


#17

That’s a very difficult age to deal with in any environment. I had mixed success with my kids at that age. It ended up that I had to leave one daughter at home until she was a bit older.

Kids’ attention span at that age is just too small to realistically expect all of them to sit through a Mass without wanting to fidget around or do some exploring. You can minimize these by having some activities for them to fall back on that will at least keep them in their seat. Somewhere in a religious-themed childrens’ coloring book we found a picture of a priest giving communion, so we made a bunch of copies and at the beginning of the Homily we would hand her the paper on a clipboard and a small bag of crayons with the tasking to choose the correct color(s) that corresponded to the vestments being worn, and color the picture so it “matched” our priest that day. She was very proud of herself when showing it to Father after Mass.

Even though you do your best, there will just be “those days” you just can’t seem to keep things the way you’d like them. Talk about embarrassing. Our heartbeats came to standstill one Sunday when, as the priest was saying the words “…Lamb of God…” our little one, thinking Father was talking about lamb meat… bellowed is really the best word to describe it… “I WANT SOME OF THAT LAMB RIGHT NOW!!!” Father finished the prayer, then quietly said, “If only every Catholic would feel that way, let us pray.” Needless to say it took a few weeks of not bringing her to kind of “reset” her behavior.

You might consider bringing them once a month instead of every week at that age. That way it’s a bit more special to them to go and be with you. Don’t get discouraged is the important thing. Sitting all around you are parents who went through the same struggle and understand it is not easy. And certainly God understands the foundation you are trying to build.


#18

:rotfl: At least the priest took it well - and he has a good point. :rotfl:

I like the coloring idea - that’s really clever. :thumbsup:


#19

I feel for you! Grace is 19 months and man, oh, man. Mass is not a joyous experience most of the time! She actually managed to climb over the pew Friday night when I had both kids by myself and fell right on her head – fortunately she is ok. But she didn’t learn - she still tried to climb over on Sunday.

Jack wasn’t quite as boisterous as she is, but I do recall Mass being difficult for about a year with him. We tried most of the things you’ve done and many that have been suggested, but what worked in the end for him was making Mass more interesting than being taken out. If he wasn’t being quiet and fairly still, we would take him out of the sanctuary and hold him. He wasn’t allowed to get down and we didn’t talk to him. (This wasn’t easy, btw, kids are strong when they don’t want to be held!) When he was in the sanctuary, he could look at a book or color. He eventually figured out it was more fun to sit and do those things than be held outside of the sanctuary. This has not, however, had any effect on Grace. So, your mileage my vary. Just something else to try.


#20

Love this idea! We attended a small church when our kids were that age. The church provided little ‘activity bags’ with coloring pages and a Bible/Christian story book. Those bags came in very handy especially if we forgot our own supplies! We also found that sitting near the front was essential to help them stay focused. Maybe if she had a Bible storybook that she could ‘read’ during the homily.

Also we need to remember that very often children that young were not brought to Mass in the past. If you need to alternate Masses for a few more months, that does not in any way mean that you not good parents!


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