It occurred to me, after my last post, that a follow-up with some practical tips might be helpful for some readers.
Here are some tips for how to have your children in church—and enjoy it!
- Take them. Often. Practice makes perfect, so they say. For children at a particularly hard stage, I recommend attending daily Mass if possibly. It is usually shorter and more sparsely attended than Sunday Mass, and it’s a perfect training ground for little ones who are still learning the basics of self-control.
- Feed them before you go. Children with full tummies who are not thirsty will be better behaved wherever they are, so make sure your children have something to eat before heading off to church. This may mean getting up a half hour earlier on Sunday morning, but believe me, it’s worth it! I also recommend not offering snacks during service, even if your church allows this. Think of it from your child’s perspective. How do they behave at snack time? Is that the way you want them to behave in church?
- Ditto for toys. Many parents are fond of bringing books and toys to keep their children “busy” during service. Those same parents often find themselves baffled and frustrated when their children want to read said books aloud or play noisily with their action figures and ponies. But, why is this surprising? After all, that’s how they would use them anywhere else. Trust that worshipping God will keep your children “busy.” But if they are distracted with other offerings, they may never have the chance to discover this for themselves.
Dress for the occasion. This tip is highly subject to personal opinion, but I find that when my children dress in their “Sunday clothes” and “church shoes” for Mass, they take it as a signal that where they are going is special and that they are expected to behave differently than at home.
- Sit at the front. Children like to feel a part of things. If you can sit near the choir and have a good view of the pulpit, they will be more interested in what is going on and will be far more likely to really watch and listen.
- Talk about Jesus. Remember that your children will not “get” everything that is going on in service without your help—and this includes older children and teens. Teach your children about what they will see and hear. You can go over the readings you will hear the night before or even earlier that morning, so that they will be familiar to your children when they are read by the lector. Also, talk often about God. The better your children know Him, the more prepared they will be to actually participate authentically in the Mass.
- Don’t be afraid to discipline. Addressing misbehavior in the moment is always more effective than waiting until later to deal with it. A brief skip out to the hall and a quick chat with a little one (or an older child) who doesn’t feel compelled to show respect during service usually quells what a thousand frustrated glances cannot.
- Be the barrier. If you have two children who have trouble sitting beside each other without chatting or poking, feel free to plop down between them (or insert an older, reliable sibling who can do this for you).
- Be happy! You remember that old song, “If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.” Smile, and let your children know how much you love celebrating Christ’s love with your church family. Remember that they learn more from our behavior than our words.
Which brings me to my final point…
- Begin the night before. It’s just a bit of extra work to set out food for a quick breakfast, hang clothes at the foot of a bed, and round up coats and shoes by the front door, but it can make all the difference in the world. You will all be happier—and more likely to arrive to church on time and in good fellowship—if you take some time to prepare the night before.