After I posted about how my kids didn’t ruin Mass despite their best efforts, I often get emails wondering how we deal with having small children in Mass and what we do to get them to behave. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an expert and oftentimes our two youngest still give us a run for our money on Sunday mornings, but we have learned A LOT over the past five and a half years of parenting in the pew.
When our oldest was exhausting us newbie parents with his toddler antics in Mass, I think what would have been most helpful would have been someone saying, “You’re doing great! Just keep at it and SOMEDAY he will sit there quietly. Really. I promise.” So parents who are exhausted from wrangling little ones in Mass, someday has come. He does great in Mass now. Your day will come, too. Promise. Hang in there. What you’re doing is important, valuable, and wonderful.
How We Do It:
- No nursery. We don’t take our kids to the nursery. No judgement here, some families need to use it to make things work and you guys just keep on keeping’ on. You know your situation and what your family needs better than I do! But what we’ve discovered for our family is that the nursery is full of toys and if we give our kids a choice between playing with toys and sitting in Mass, they will choose the former. We also didn’t want to use the nursery as a Plan B when our kids act up in Mass because we were concerned that would teach them that if they misbehave, then they get to go play with toys. We always take them into Mass, it’s just how we roll.
- No cry room. This is an easy one at our parish because we don’t HAVE a cry room (yay! This makes me so happy!). Every cry room I’ve ever been in has toys and instead of having a sound proof spot to participate in Mass while bouncing a fussy baby, they are filled with toddlers and young kids who are playing with toys. I can’t get my kids to learn to participate in the Mass while another kid is waving a toy in their face. Show me a cry room with no toys and I might change my mind about them (but probably not.)
- Freedom of movement in the pew. With infants and young toddlers we give a lot of freedom of movement in the pew. As long as one and two-year-olds are quiet and not disruptive, they can flip through books, crawl over Daniel and I, and move around on the floor at our feet. As they get older, we get more strict. Now that Lucy’s almost 3, we expect her to sit, stand, and kneel at the appropriate time but we don’t chastise squirmy-ness. Benjamin (age 5) is expected to sit still, not slouch, kneel appropriately, etc.
- No freedom of movement outside of the pew. The super fun times that could be had snuggling, reading books from the Mass bag, and smiling at other parishioners quickly end when infant/toddler gets disruptive, loud, or tries to leave the pew. Daniel or I pick up the misbehaving child and stand in the back holding him/her unless they are verbally loud/crying. We can blow kisses to Mary or wave to Jesus but the child does not get to walk around or leave our arms. If they are loud, we go out to the vestibule where they also cannot get down, run around, etc. They quickly learn that it is more fun to be in Mass.
- No food/drinks. Now some parents have great success with bringing a sippy cup with them or giving some cheerios to a fussy baby to distract him/her. This doesn’t work for us and always ended up being more distracting than helpful. If it works for you, great, but it might not be a fun habit to break. (P.S. please don’t offer snacks to children who are not your own but are sitting near you. Especially not without the parent’s permission. Yes, it’s happened to us. Cheerios (which Benjamin is allergic to because of gluten) and M&Ms (because nothing helps a child sit still like some food dyes, chocolate, and sugar!). I’m sure it was well-intentioned but it was highly unhelpful.) Nursing in the pew is usually a great idea, though. Keeps an infant/toddler happy, quiet, and occupied!
- Mass Bag of books. Having religious books to flip through really keeps those little hands busy and happy. We just keep the bag in the car and switch out books every so often. I particularly love books that are about the Mass because I can point to the pictures and explain what’s happening. We also put holy cards in there to sort or hold.
What’s In Our Mass Bag?
St Joseph Board Books (I LOVE these and they make great gifts for godchildren or baptisms)
We Go to Mass by George Brundage
Our Friends the Saints by George Brundage
The Story of Christmas by George Brundage
Gifts of God by George Brundage
Our Guardian Angels by George Brundage
Our Blessed Mother by George Brundage
Religious Picture Books
God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren
Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier
On Noah’s Ark by Jan Brett
The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hung
Tell Me About the Catholic Faith for Small Children by Christine Pedotti (Ignatius/Magnificat)
Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman
The Miracles of Jesus by Tomie dePaola
Mary the Mother of Jesus by Tomie dePaola
Saint Francis and the Nativity by Myrna Strasser
Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Kathleen Norris
Lucia Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde
The Story of St. Patrick by James A. Janda
Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie de Paola
Brigid’s Cloak by Bryce Milligan
Peter, Apostle of Jesus by Boris Grebille (Ignatius/Magnificat)
The Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi
St. Valentine by Robert Sabuda
Joan of Arc by Demi
Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
Any tips or tricks to share about teaching kids how to behave in Mass? How about good religious picture books? Share in the comments!
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