IF YOU’RE A PARENT, you know it can happen. Your chubby little Chad can be simply angelic, smiling and blowing kisses all through breakfast, but morph into “Chucky” just as the homily begins.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE CHILDREN OF YOUR OWN, you sigh in exasperation when the toddler in the pew in front of you cavorts in the aisle, peers into purses and loudly demands donuts while tossing his toys in the air.
Sometimes, small children just can’t sit still in church, regardless of the careful parental planning that went into (a) hunger avoidance, (b) interesting “church toys” and (c) naptime schedule.
Understanding that there is no guarantee of success, especially with younger children, there are steps you can take to make Sunday worship a better experience for your children, for yourself, and for those seated near you.
The smallest members of the church community just can’t understand the need for quiet—and they’re the likely winners, should they decide to compete with Father for attention.
Head off little Heather’s tantrum by anticipating her needs—a full tummy, a dry bottom, a nap in Mommy’s arms, a pacifier, a bottle, and maybe a quiet toy for a teething baby to chew. A breastfeeding baby is easily satisfied, since you are exactly what she needs to comfort herself. If all else fails, though, and you find yourself unable to calm a screaming infant, please make a hasty exit to allow others to pray without distraction.
FOR TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS
Two- and three-year-olds pose a special challenge: They like noisy toys (like metal cars and talking dolls) and crunchy snacks (like cheerios, which can drop all over the pew and floor). And they say whatever they’re thinking at the most inopportune times.
Parents can override their primal urges by keeping a special stash of cloth books (guaranteed not to create an echo if thrown against the pew), plush stuffed animals, a soft plastic Bible storybook. Puffy Bible story sets, like Noah’s ark, are ideal!
It’s only an hour—so your toddler should be able to wait for food if he’s eaten before Mass. Just in case, you may want to pack a neat, quiet snack—something that won’t spill, won’t cause choking, and won’t leave sticky smudges behind. It’s not typical toddler fare, but a granola bar might just fit the bill!
One note: I don’t remember ever, when my children were young, seeing the little toddler Mass kits that are available now in stores, but they are a wonderful way to prepare before going to Mass. Mom and Dad can use the kit to explain the Mass, to teach simple prayers, and to explain the importance of courtesy rules while in church. From earliest ages, children can begin to understand that the church is God’s house, and they must be respectful.
FOR YOUNG SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN
By the age of five, a child has probably developed the impulse control to sit quietly for most of the liturgy. Courtesy rules can be enforced at this age, and appropriate discipline applied when rules are broken. That doesn’t mean, though, that parents’ work is done. The job of teaching about the Mass and about prayer will continue for many years—and during the early school years, parents teach best by example.
Thought it was all over by the time your children hit high school, right? We’ve all heard stories about kids who just stopped at church to pick up a weekly bulletin, before heading out for a morning with their friends. If you want the Mass to be important to your child, then make sure it’s important to you—go with him, don’t just drop him off. It’s all too common today for people who call themselves “Catholic” to dispense with the requirement for weekly Mass attendance. The Church does not dispense with the requirement, however; and unless you have a very good reason (you’re sick, or you have to work), skipping Mass is considered a grave offense against God. Even that old “I’m working” excuse is pretty hard to justify, since there are Masses on Saturday evening, early Sunday morning, midday Sunday, and even Sunday evening—and chances are you’re available for one or more of those times. Be there!