It can be hard attending church with a baby or young child. Children are loud, energetic, and easily distracted. Their misbehaviour at church is just a stage you have to go through, right? Except I’ve seen large families with small children get through mass with amazing grace. How do they keep their children quiet and paying attention?
Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve gleaned off them, and through my own experience.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Unless your child really is an angel, then there’s going to be hiccups. A three month old is going to start wailing sometimes. As long as you’re still making an effort, don’t be discouraged by times that don’t go well.
Instead, learn from your mistakes.
Little Fox screamed for the entire Liturgy of her baptism. (Or at least, it felt like the whole time). But we hadn’t checked if she needed a change when we arrived at church and she hadn’t been willing to eat because of it. If we’d only given ourselves more time to set up before the Liturgy started, she would have been comfortable and quite possibly, quiet.
If your little one doesn’t know how to sit quietly at home, why would they magically do it at church? One of the first things I started doing to help Little Fox settle down at church was make our morning at home quiet time on the church.
To make this practice time even more effective, do it during the same time slot of the day as when you go to church on Sundays.
Even at three months, the routine of doing this helped her at church. She went from needing to be walked around the church during Divine Liturgy to content to explore the pew where we sit. She doesn’t sit still (she’s too young for that), but she doesn’t fuss either.
If your child is old enough to talk, spend some time practising the whole church routine. Sitting, singing, kneeling, and saying prayers. Maybe get a play mass kit. Practice the responses to things priests say often, like “peace be with you.”
When your children know the expectations and routine for church, there is an opportunity to follow them. Practising quiet time will help them understand how to be silent when it’s expected of them.
3. Sit at the front
Now I know you might be thinking “What! I’m not bringing my loud kids to the front where they can be even more disruptive.” But this really helps! Children get bored when they can’t see what’s going on. If they can watch the priest, sacristan, and see the important parts of the Liturgy, they are more likely to be engaged. The back of people’s heads are boring. A priest wearing majestic vestments is not.
4. Help your child participate
During the Liturgy I help Little Fox make the sign of the cross by guiding her hands. She giggles when I do this. It’s a small way that she’s able to participate in the Divine Liturgy.
Your children may be able to do more than just make the sign of the cross. Perhaps they can sing the hymns, follow along in a picture book, or work at memorizing some of the prayers.
The more you child feels like they are a part of the Liturgy, rather than a spectator, the more they’ll enjoy coming to church. You need to show your children that Church is a happy place to be. Help them understand they play an important role in the church by encouraging them to participate however they can.
5. Bring related activities
Bringing toys to church may or may not be helping your children. Let’s take a fire truck for an example. Fire trucks are, unfortunately, not a quiet activity. Nor are they very closely related to what’s going on at church. Unless we go into a metaphor of saving people. But that’s probably a bit complicated for your little ones.
So there are two problems that the fire truck doesn’t solve. It’s not quiet, and it’s not helping your child learn to pay attention during the Liturgy.
What does work for church are quiet activities that are related to what’s happening. Colouring pages are probably the easiest of this. But don’t just give your child the colouring pages as busy work. Explain to them that they are colouring something that takes place during the Liturgy (or maybe an event from the gospel reading). As them to watch for when that happens during the Liturgy. If they pay attention and notice before you have to point it out, praise your children’s attentiveness.
Another good Liturgy activity is following along in a Liturgy book or even with a mass set. Challenge them to follow along with their own mass set as the priest leads from the front. This is also a good way to help teach your children the important parts of the mass.
Now you have the tools you need to help teach your children to behave at church. First you have to set realistic expectations. Next you need to practice quiet time at home. If possible remember to do this during the same part of day you attend church. It is also helpful to sit by the front. Help your children participate to their fullest potentially. Finally, bring mass related quiet activities to keep them focused on what’s really important.
Do you have any good tricks to help keep young ones quiet at church? What other struggles do you have when bringing your children to church. Share in the comments!
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