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Jesus loves the little children

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But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

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Recently, I found myself in the midst of an interesting, yet sensitive, conversation among friends.  It was with a group of Catholic Army wives, whom I love dearly and we were discussing a few of their individual feelings of disappointment over the recent decision of the parish priest on post (which my family does not often attend, but many of these particular friends do every week) not to approve childcare services during mass times.  Parish budget reasons aside, Father’s opinion is that the children belong in mass.  And I happen to agree.

To make this particular topic an even more sensitive one, many of these friends currently have husbands that are deployed and the long year of bringing several children to mass alone has worn on them.  My heart aches for them and I can personally relate to their struggles as I have been there before myself.  But I still stand firm in my personal conviction that my children need to be in mass with me.

This lead to a fruitful discussion of “tactics”.   How do you get your kids to behave in mass?  Right now my children are 4 years and 21 months (with our third due to arrive in February) and as I shared my personal strategies, I became aware that depending on age and family size, many different things could (or would not) work for different families.  I love when God blesses me with unexpected conversations such as these, that encourage me and fill me with new ideas and perspective (and a glimpse of what life might be like when my husband and I are finally outnumbered).  So, I thought I would share some of our personal approaches here in the hopes that you dear readers, might do the same.

This is one of our four-year-olds favorite books to bring to mass

1. Quiet distracters.  For my family right now, these are books.  We have a special collection of books for our kids that illustrate the mass or that are filled with photos and stories about the Saints.  Allowing them to choose a few to bring along helps them to sit still and be engaged in something during the parts of mass where we are sitting and listening, especially during the homily.  Our little one (21 months) has a few soft books that we used to bring along when she was more likely to bang them around, but she has been doing better recently with regular books.

2. Practice.  Trying to make it to daily mass at least once during the week is a great way to help familiarize your kids with mass.  Daily masses are usually shorter and in many cases have a smaller, more intimate crowd, which allows us to sit a bit closer to the front so that the kids can really watch what is going on up on the altar.  Even something as simple as kneeling next to bed for nighttime prayers can also be practice for the act of kneeling and praying in mass.

3. Full tummies.  Snacks in mass are a big no-no for my family.  They create noise and mess in mass and although our children are not old enough to receive the Eucharist yet, much less fast, it is still not teaching the regularity of the concept that we are supposed to fast an hour before receiving.  We find it much easier to be sure that everyone has a good meal or at least a good protein-filled snack just before we start dressing for mass.  Avoiding bringing food and drinks along also helps us not to have to make bathroom trips during mass.

4.  Prepare little minds.  When our children know where we are going, how they are expected to behave and what the rewards and consequences of their behavior will be before hand (especially the four-year-old), they are much more likely to be on their best behavior.  The drive to mass always contains a quick “reminder” talk, just so it is fresh in their little minds.  The actual rewards and consequences for our four-year-old change and grow with him and with our family, but they have included things like going for a trip to the frozen yogurt shop as a family after mass full of great behavior or losing access to certain toys or the privilege of watching a movie that night after poor behavior.   Really poor behavior also earns him some quiet time spent with Jesus at the family altar when we return home, asking for forgiveness and saying a few extra prayers. Talking with him about these things before hand and reminding him that it is his choice really takes a burden off of us as parents, because it is easier to remain calm and remind him that he is making poor choices if redirection is needed.

5. Prepare little hearts.  It is equally, if not more important to prepare little hearts for mass.  Talk about what is going on in mass with your kids, explain the beauty of our traditions, prayers, and actions with them at home so that they when they hear them in mass they will be more interested and involved.  Practice saying the Our Father at bedtime each night.  Teach them the sign of the cross.  If possible, hold little ones during the Eucharistic prayers and direct their eyes towards Jesus.  I know it is nice to be able to have personal peace and focus during these prayers, but if you share these moments with your children, they will learn to love Jesus and to cherish Him in the Eucharist as you do.

I know this list sounds quite wonderful and idealistic, but trust me, most masses these days see one of us out pacing in the narthex with our lively 21-month old daughter.  Our strategies don’t always work, but I have confidence that they are still helping our children to learn and grow.  God created the spirit of a child beautifully wild – full of curiosity, adventure and movement and all we can really do is embrace them with love, patience and gratitude to teach them about this faith we so love.

So now it’s your turn to share.  What are some of your thoughts and strategies to encourage good behavior in your children during mass?

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About Brittany

Brittany has been married for six years and is mama to three. She received a degree in Special Education from Texas A&M, but right now is loving her job as stay-at-home mama. She is also a photographer by hobby and trade after the wife and mama duties that are her main job right now. She also enjoys knitting, cooking, gardening and blogging at her personal site www.mamabritlove.com and sharing her Catholic faith. She is a “Cradle Catholic” but had a period of great faith growth in her years spent as a student at Texas A&M. She has a soft spot in her heart for the vibrant community of Saint Mary’s in College Station. She and her family call Central Texas home.

August 29, 2011 - 7:40 am

Stefanie Walter-Robinson - I was married but my husband only attended mass with me on special occasions or one of our children’s sacraments. My children were 3,2,1, and a newborn and they went everywhere with me including mass. I never took food because it is not allowed at our church. We always had mass picture books but they really were not interested in them during mass because we sat in the front row. My kids were so taken by watching Fr. and he would make it a point to always look there way or give a little wave to keep them attentive. I too believe that kids belong at the mass. As my daughter always says, “Jesus said Let the children come to me.” My children are now 12, 13, 14, and 15 and when they are not serving at mass with Fr. they are still right in the front row. To this day they still make me so proud!

August 29, 2011 - 7:57 am

Kerri - Love these suggestions!! Mine are only 3 months old and for now we plan it so they sleep through mass. But I know that won’t last forever. I’ll have to keep these all in mind for when that day comes. :)

August 29, 2011 - 8:24 am

Emily - While I agree, in practice, with what you’re saying (we also prefer to have our children come to Mass with us every week), I also understand that everyone really is in unique places in life and living very unique lives – so having childcare *available* may open up the opportunity for more parents to come to Mass who would otherwise avoid for that very reason.

With that said, our techniques have been similar to yours – make sure they have a good breakfast, go to an EARLY Mass, bring quiet distractions (books, plain paper and pens, etc), and especially using physical touch. I’ve noticed that if I hold my kids (even sporting a 7 month pregnant belly – it IS still possible to hold my 3yo daughter!) tends to keep them quiet and calm… and despite the fact that it’s not the most comfortable way to endure an hour of Mass, it at least allows me to quietly focus on the sacrifice and to help avoid distracting others. If any of our kids every start to distract others, it’s time to walk them to the back – no excuses.

August 29, 2011 - 8:54 am

Lisa - That’s my sentiment too! My kids belong in Mass. Someone who is good and faithful once suggested we split up the Masses and leave the kids at home. I was thinking afterwards that for us, there is nothing that Sparky would like more, to see our family split, especially when it comes to Mass. There are certainly trials and there was a stage for us when we rarely got anything out of Mass because there were too many little ones to wrangle. It was a miracle when we survived without a major catastrophe. That being said, there is a time and place and in that time, I would never have taken my kids to Mass by myself. Is there a way to create a childcare co-op, specifically so some of these ladies can get the hour break for Mass? If their husbands are away, that means that are likely doing everything, all the time, with their kids and to have an hour to focus alone, might be really refreshing for them.

August 29, 2011 - 8:55 am

Natalie - I am still a wannabe Catholic and we are smack dab in the middle of PCSing to a new base (GOOOO AIR FORCE!), but we have been going to daily mass since Easter of this year. My kids (3,5,7 and 9) are pretty well behaved for the 30 minutes but once we move we will also be going to mass on Sundays. I am getting each of them a subscription to Magnifikid. It’s like Magnificat for kids ages 7-12. My little ones I think will enjoy it as well. It’s the coolest magazine and if you go to the Magnificat website you can view a sample of the Magnifikid magazine.

I’m coming from a protestant background, almost 29 years of it, so I’m definitely not used to my kids being in service with me, but I am LOVEING it! It is such a wonderful thing and I’m so grateful to Priests who encourage it!

August 29, 2011 - 9:00 am

Martina - ^^I can’t agree more with that. Mass isn’t about ourselves, it’s about all of us attending, to the extent that is possible, each week as a family.

There are definite times when families *have* to split up for Masses but as a general rule, I always like to encourage families to go together whenever possible. Toddlers can’t grow out of that phase if we don’t give them the opportunities to learn, ya know?

August 29, 2011 - 9:16 am

Brittany - I’m loving all of the responses so far- thank you all for your input! Emily and Lisa, I agree with you both that there are times when a mama on her own NEEDS help. As far as childcare for the mass on post, they are still working out some wrinkles and hoping that it will be available within the next month or so (even though Father always still adds that he likes to see the children in mass). Offering it may have the potential to bring nervous parents back or offer wives of deployed soldiers or single mamas a much needed break- and those are so very important too!

August 29, 2011 - 9:32 am

Liz - Great post! We pretty much do the same approaches to prepare the kids for mass. Actually this Sunday something funny happened. In the way to Mass as I started to remind the kids what it’s expected, Raul interrupted and said: I already know all that. But right when we park the car he had an episode of “I don’t want to go to mass today” haha good thing he knew what it’s expected. But the extra trick we use to get them excited is to involve them as much as we can. We always try to sit in the front and they get to do little things like put the money in the basket, go to communion with us to get the blessing. And in our old church before we moved we always volunteer to get the vocational chalice and take it home for prayers, also bringing the gift to the altar it was their favorite. We really missed our little church back in NC, even during lent they got to carry the cross every Friday during the stations of the Cross.

Oh and like somebody posted already magnifikid is a great little magazine for them. We read it before Mass and we read it again after when we discuss what were the teachings of the week.

August 29, 2011 - 10:14 am

Karen - My baby is only 3 months old, but hubby and I have been talking about Mass strategies for good behavior for our kids before our little gal was ever even conceived. One thing that I’ve read of parents doing that they have claimed to help them is to sit in or near the front at Mass. It allows the kids to see what’s happening and consequently keep their interest a little bit more than if they’re staring at the back of someone’s head in front of them. Another suggestion I’ve heard of is that the quiet Mass distractions like books or coloring sheets should be faith/Church/religion themed and ONLY available to them when going to Mass in order to keep it relevant and refreshing. Those are two things I’ve HEARD. Definitely haven’t had the opportunity to put them into practice. But I can hardly wait!! :D

August 29, 2011 - 10:41 am

Heidi - Great timing!!! Yesterday we had a parade in and out of mass between our family and another family with 4 children. We commented after services that apparently going to the bathroom is contagious!

August 29, 2011 - 12:06 pm

Shiela - Great ideas, Brittany. And, Heidi, I know all about the bathroom parade. So, I tell my older kids, 11, 9 and 6 that they may use the bathroom right before Mass and right after Mass, but not during. Of course with little ones potty training, you cannot do that. But, although the older ones know how to behave, they seek distraction and need to be prepared to sit still through the entire Mass. I also subscribe to Magnificat for kids and I encourage them to follow along as soon as they are old enough to read.

August 29, 2011 - 12:54 pm

Susan C. - I agree with what is being said here, mass is a time of communion and not having your family together at that time leaves them out of communing with you. Children learn how to behave from example, so being a part of the mass will help them to learn as they watch those around them. My 6 and 4 go play on the playground afterwards, they get to hold the offering envelopes and put them in the baskets and where I can without disrupting I remind them if they know a prayer or tell them what is happening so they can follow better. Unfortunately I found that, with these 2, bringing something along added to the problem, though I have seem it work for many ppl. Mostly we get them to behave by helping them understand how to participate.

August 29, 2011 - 9:34 pm

MIchelle - I truly believe that children belong in Mass as well. We do many of the things you have stated. I know from experience how difficult it is to take kids to Mass alone (my husband is a convert so he didn’t go to Mass with me for a long time but even though he’s converted most Sundays he’s not able to be be there so I am alone with the kids. It’s great that I have older kids to help now but it’s not always been that way. It’s been difficult sometimes but I’m so glad that I stuck with it so that my children have a love of the Mass as well!

August 30, 2011 - 9:10 am

Kathy Kalina - Loved the post. Thought I’d pass along a trick I used when my four children were small. I made a point of taking turns, during the same Mass, providing each of them with soothing body language. I would hold, stroke, and generally impart silent love to them. My short-term goal was to improve their behavior, which it did.
My long-term goal was a bit subversive. My hope is that when they are old and even gray, sitting down in a Catholic church will invoke a “Pavlov’s dog” flood of warm feelings. Even after I’m gone from their sight, please God, they will connect my love and the love of the Father, feel it strongly, and seek out the presence of the Blesssed Sacrament when they need to be soothed, like a child, by mommy and Daddy.

August 30, 2011 - 9:49 am

Jaclyn - This has been on my heart also as I wrangle during mass. I always wonder how much noise is too much? WHen should I take the little one out to the foyer? If they are just making soft little child noises (18 mo) but just won’t stop, I take her out but she isnt being very loud and I hate being in the foyer.
Got any good resources about why it’s important for children to be at mass? I’d like to see an article about that- it sounds like you have already thought that through.

August 30, 2011 - 9:50 am

Jaclyn - Wow that is so beautiful!!!

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