Let the Worship Begin
Another important rule our family has is one we borrowed from some friends who raised five wonderful children: until a child is 3 years old, he is a lap-sitter. His feet simply do not touch the ground. This rule prevents the child from climbing up and down or falling through the kneeler and banging his head against the pew, a maneuver usually accompanied by a blood-curdling scream. The child is held lovingly, but firmly, with no exceptions. If he puts up a struggle, he is promptly removed. We know from other situations that if we give in once, we’re in for a long battle.
Since this rule, like the others, is discussed at home ahead of time, our little ones come to accept it rather quickly. The toddler understands that with the advent of his third birthday, he will be entitled to his own seat in church. He has begun to look forward to it. But this privilege comes with some conditions. The child must sit, stand and kneel along with the congregation. If he begins to climb around or distract others, he becomes a lap-sitter for the remainder of Mass until the next time. This lesson is learned very quickly.
Where we sit at Mass often depends on the stage of our youngest child. Sometimes we find that sitting down in front gives our children a lot to see with fewer distractions. At other times, especially when we have a rather active one, the back of church makes for easier exits when necessary. Often, we find sitting near the choir or the organ is entertaining for little ears.
During the Mass, we try to hug or caress our children quietly. (This can be tricky at times, since there are two of us and four of them!) We address any undesirable behavior with a glance or a hand gesture, which our children understand completely because it was discussed during preparation time.
The older ones are encouraged to follow along in the missalette and find the upcoming song in the hymnal. We allow the younger ones to hold these same books unless they are being turned into chewing toys or hurling missiles. At that point, they are taken away.
My husband and I set the stage for how we feel worship should be. We sing joyfully, swaying to the music and bouncing slightly when holding little ones. We respond enthusiastically, carefully speaking the Creed or the Our Father into our child’s ear so he can hear every important word. We show reverence during the Consecration with a bow of our heads. In essence, we not only attend the Mass, we participate in it, through active worship, bringing up the gifts or serving as Eucharistic ministers. When they are of age, our boys will serve on the altar. All of this moves our family from spectator at Mass to active participant. This greatly reduces the likelihood of boredom.
When Behavior Problems in Church Brings You To Your Knees
Now, by this point, you may be thinking, “Lady, you just don’t know my kids!” If you’re under the assumption that we have four perfect little angels at Mass, let me assure you, that’s not at all the case. We have our fair share of fussy infants, whining toddlers and distracted grade school-age children. We’ve had to make plenty of quick exits down church aisles, and have paced endlessly back and forth across the back of the building to sooth someone to sleep. But despite these minor upsets, progress is always there. Children are fast learners. The key is consistency.
You have to be committed to taking a child out at the first moment he creates a disturbance. Do not let a child carry on and on. It’s not fair to the others around you. It also adds to the stress of both you and your child. Sometimes walking to the back of the church and remaining there is enough to settle a youngster. You have a little more freedom to rock and pace there as you see fit. Where possible, I may silently point to stained glass windows, stations of the cross or religious statues to pacify a tot.
If the child is not quieted in the back of the church, promptly exit. The focus here, however, must be to settle your child as quickly as possible in order to rejoin the worshipping community. This is not a time for the child to be given freedom to run around or to play. The child should be held lovingly but firmly until the tears are over. Once this is achieved, return to your seat. If another eruption occurs, repeat the process. Even if you have to do this exercise three or four times during the Mass, the behavior will not last for long – if you hold to your to guns and don’t give in. During this transitional time, sit toward the back of church so you distract fewer people and can reach the exit quickly.