Keeping Your Children in Mass – A How To Guide From Birth to Age 5

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983552_familyI’ve found that helping your children to be “good” in Mass is usually dependent on three things.   First, it is dependent upon frequency.   Second, it is dependent upon consistency.  And third, it is dependent on your home being a domestic church.

I am well familiar with some seasons being easier than others, but children learn best how to behave in church by being there, in the sanctuary, EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.   And better yet, try to attend daily Mass on a regular basis, too.  There was a time where my husband was able to attend daily Mass most days of the week and that was when my oldest learned how to behave in church.   Since then, our daily Mass attendance has been sporadic at best, but it is excellent for the children since they can usually see more of what’s going on.  In addition to that, there is just something about the extra graces provided by attending an extra Mass with the kids by yourself.  I’m filled with joy every time we go; even if it’s a struggle the whole time ;).

Consistency is also a key.   We used to let our oldest crawl and walk all around the pew.   That totally did not work.   She is 5 and still has trouble facing forward and not being a little monkey!    With our next, we got a little wiser and I decided that she was going to be a lap-baby until she was at least 2 years old.   If we are in church, she is on somebody’s lap.  Period.  If she struggled, we squeezed her thigh and told her, “no, we sit quietly in church.”  If she resisted again, we told her “no” and squeezed her again.   The next time, we took her out, disciplined her and then went right back in.   There were a few times we went out more than once (or twice or three times), but under no circumstances did we let her run around in the vestibule, go to the cry room, or take her for a walk.  It didn’t take long before she sat as quietly as you can expect from a small child.   On the plus side, it also meant that we never had to take out a screaming child who had fallen and gotten hurt again J.

Lastly, if you have a domestic church, it makes it much easier to teach respect for God and prayer time in ALL settings, not just during Mass.  Our children are required to be respectful and participate as much as they are able while we are saying grace, doing a family rosary, and even reading the Bible.  We also teach respect for Holy items in church such as Bible’s never being thrown or put on the floor or not wearing Rosaries as jewelry.   When they are instructed from birth about these objects and behaviors it almost becomes a part of who they are and how they behave and it makes attending Mass an extension of the Church.

As a practical manner, here is how we cope with and address issues with children during Mass

Birth

  • They attend Mass and are usually held or put in a sling.   If they are asleep in a carrier, we have done that on occasion, as well.
  • A soft (quiet) toy to grasp is also helpful.

Age 1

  • Still on the lap!
  • Remember a pre-church snack!    I try to feed them before we leave, although we now have crackers in the van for the ride over (and back) since we attend the late Mass each week now.  This is especially important when the child is not nursing as much or when you’ve decided they are old enough that they no longer need to be nursed during Mass (about 15-18 months in our home).
  • A religious beanie baby or stuffed toy.   We used to bring a book or other quiet toy, but it became annoying when they dropped it at the quietest point of the Mass J.

Age 2

  • Off the lap as they are able to sit quietly.  So far, mine still prefer to be on a lap most of the time.
  • A small notebook & pencil, a ring of holy cards, or small beanie baby or other stuffed toy.

Age 3

  • Off the lap.   Facing front.
  • A small notebook & pencil, a ring of holy cards, or small beanie baby or other stuffed toy.

Age 4.

  • Off the lap.   Following the motions as desired or sitting in the pew.
  • Participate in giving Peace and saying the Our Father.
  • A small notebook & pencil or a ring of holy cards.

Age 5

  • Following the motions of Mass – standing, sitting, kneeling.
  • Participating in the Peace and Our Father.

We have also made some listening pages for our 4-5 year olds to use during Mass that helps them follow along, yet have something to keep their hands busy.   There is a different one for each liturgical season and I have made them for both the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Latin Masses since we attend each depending on our mood and schedule.   You can find them on my blog today — Catholic Mass Listening Pages — Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin Mass.

How do you keep your little ones in the sanctuary during Mass?

Copyright 2013 Jen Steed

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20 Comments

    • I highly doubt she meant that she squeezed them hard. Just a little reminder and an attention grabber that their behavior is not going to be tolerated. Very good advice!

    • Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on

      Well, if you choose not to do that, perhaps you have a tool you use for discipline that would be appropriate for Mass? I’m sure that someone else who doesn’t use physical discipline would love to hear it!

      • We give gentle reminders, and redirect, but if that doesn’t work we take the child out to sit in a non interesting place until they have calmed enough and are ready to go back in. A few times, when my youngest has had a hard time, one of the adults will take her and sit in the car until she’s ready to go back in. in both instances, no playing, we just sit, it is much more interesting to be inside where the action is!

  1. Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings on

    This issue is so real for me right now! We go to Mass every week, and we struggle mightily every week with our three little children. I would never try to take them to a daily Mass by myself, as it would just be too disruptive to the other parishioners. I think you have some great suggestions here about how to help children focus their attention, and I like the idea of having certain behaviors expected as children get older and are able to more fully participate in Mass. When it comes down to it, though, I think the most helpful thing for us has just been patience. As they get older, they will be more and more able to control their behavior (and for longer and longer periods of time). We make our expectations clear and then do our best to help our children meet those expectations…but we frequently have to take them out so that they don’t disrupt the people around us. Honestly, patience is something I’m a little short on sometimes when I’m on my third trip out of the sanctuary…but I know our family will eventually be able to all sit through an entire Mass together. (Probably not this week!) Thanks for your post!

    • Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on

      This is my kids favorite right now as well. My 5 year old draws everything she sees in church and my 2 y/o scribbles because big sister does :).

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is a well-written article! After 8 kids, we’ve used all of these steps and believe in keeping the kids in church. Consistency and Frequency are key. It also helps that our home is a domestic church….I hadn’t thought about that one. 🙂
    If the children ever needed to be taken outside, we make it as unpleasant as possible.

    • Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on

      Shelly,

      You are a PRO! I’m glad to know that we are on the right track (for our family, anyway) — number 3 will be arriving any time now :).

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. enjoyed this article and pleasantly found my practices to be in line with yours (even though my “strict actions and high expectations” but me on the periphery as a parent of young children!) my current dilemma is that i’ve caught myself bribing my two older one (4.5 and 2.5 years old) with a food treat after mass if they are good (4.5 year old must follow along respectfully, 2.5 year old must cooperate and sit quietly) any suggestions to make their behavior consistent and for a better reason (i have tried to explain respect for God’s home, Jesus is watching you, etc. etc.) thanks so much!!

    • Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on

      We have struggled with the same thing. My husband is not a fan of using food as any sort of motivation (probably due to my upbringing and horrid eating habits), so we’ve quit doing that one for that reason :).

      I guess for lack of anything better, we’ve just made consequences for disobedience (which is what acting up in church is when you boil it down). Disobedience, at home or in church, is a violation of the 10 commandments and isn’t what Jesus wants from them. If they are disobedient in church, the same type of consequences apply, whether that is sitting alone or taking away a privilege or whatever you happen to use at home.

      I find that not punishing the rest of the family (i.e. if a treat/special thing IS already planned), just them, works well when they are old enough to know/understand the action vs. consequences in advance.

      Our 5 year old gets it. Our 2-1/2 year old? Not so much :). Having her watch everyone ELSE enjoy their treat for a little while before she gets to join does seem to make enough of an impact, though.

      Anyone else want to chime in?

  4. It troubles me that you advocate physical punishment in Mass. We teach our kids not to ‘squeeze’ or hit and hold ourselves to the same standards. Consitent expectations and occassionally taking a small child out (they hate to be excluded!) have worked well for us.

    • I read that as an “attention getting” squeeze, not a “intentionally causing discomfort” squeeze. Am I correct? Since you’re in a place where you are trying to model quiet, you need to get their attention nonverbally if you can.
      I also do not use physical punishment, but I will tap shoulders, etc., to get kids’ attention. When you have very kinetic, tactile children who respond to motion and contact more than to verbal instructions, sometimes I find it more helpful to touch in order to show.

      • Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on

        Generally, yes, it’s an attention-getting squeeze. It doesn’t help matters to make them screech in Mass while trying to get them to be quiet, whether you use physical discipline or not :).

  5. Just stumbled on this, thanks! I think you are right about consistency and frequency. I just ordered the Mass book puzzle someone suggested. I hope that helps! I have a very strong willed and hyperactive boy plus two more all three and under … I had a priest tell me yesterday after Mass, “you must have a lot of energy” I’m pretty sure that means we got an F:)

    • Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on

      We just had our first boy — I can’t wait to see how that changes the dynamics! Let me know how you like the puzzle book — I’ve added it to my wish list, too :).

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