I see lots of blog posts about surviving Mass with little ones in toe. There are lots of different views so I figure I might as well confuse blog-land even more by throwing my two cents into the ring.
I’m hesitant to dole out much advice on this blog – that is the role of the Titus 2 women in your life. However, I do think it can be helpful to see how other families work.
I’ve already outlined what we expect from our children at different ages and stages, as well as strategies we use to get us to our goal. Today, I’d like to give you a list of laws governing our little ones’ behavior in Mass.
The Undeniable Laws of Mass Behavior
Expect at Mass what you Accept at Home.
Let me just say right now that if you allow your little one to run the show like a little pagan at home, he will do the same at Mass. There is not some magic fairy dust that falls from the church portal when your family walks through it every Sunday morning transforming your heathen children into saints. If you aren’t happy with your children’s Mass behavior, you need to examine your expectations (and follow through) at home.
We follow the “say what you mean and mean what you say” method (expounded upon by Kendra of Catholic All Year). When I see things getting out of whack discipline wise in our home (and they certainly do!), I know it is because I’m not following this very simple rule. It is a lot easier said than done!
You should be able to tell your children something once and expect them to follow through “all the way, right a way, and with a joyful heart.”
Adhering to this law doesn’t mean all those discipline issues magically go away, but it does mean there isn’t complete chaos in the home and that children, for the most part, are a true joy.
Set high goals, have low expectations.
We should aim high as parents and want the best behavior from our children, BUT we also need to be realists and understand they are still undergoing training. Expect to walk out of Mass occasionally. Expect there to be things that need to be corrected on a daily basis. If we don’t expect some failings, we will get pretty frustrated when they happen.
Parenting is so much like our own relationship with God. God has a huge end goal for us: heaven. BUT, He expects us to fall a lot along the way.
When a behavior problem happens at Mass (or any other time!), access the situation, discipline if needed, dust yourself off, and move on.
The first child is the hardest.
Our poor first child-what a guinea pig he was as his father and I stumbled through our first parenting attempt! We waffled back and forth with parenting techniques before we finally just started following our gut.
It was tempting to follow the crowd by bringing a bagful of entertainment with us every Sunday, but we felt that we needed to set the bar for our children even at a young age.
We would occasionally bring a toy or two to service, but that all quickly changed one Sunday. That fateful Sunday, I sat behind a boy who had brought his toy airplane to church. He proceeded to fly his plane through the air directly in front of my face the entire church service. The kicker…the boy was 12 years old! On the way home, I told my husband, “NO MORE TOYS!”
It may take you awhile to find your parenting groove too. Just don’t give up.
It is important to know that if you are really struggling with your firstborn, it will get easier. Once you have laid the foundation with your oldest children, their example will be the best training tool for the littles that follow.
Taking care of business beforehand will drastically cut exits from Mass.
Make sure you take your child to the potty to avoid the “I-need-to-go-on-da-potty” excuse. This doesn’t completely eliminate trips to the facilities, but will cut them down drastically.
Also, it will be very helpful if you keep prunes and other high fiber snacks well out of reach prior to attending Mass. Not that I would know anything about that!
Ejection from Mass should NEVER be more enjoyable than remaining in Mass!
Another short story to illustrate this point. One Sunday, there was a young girl causing some disturbances through the beginning of Mass. During the Homily, things really got wild. Her parents must have threatened her with Mass ejection, because loud and clear she hollered, “But Daddy, I WANT to go sit in the car.”
Parents, this is not the answer. If your child has to be taken out of Mass, it should not be an enjoyable experience! Even the youngest of kiddos should not get to walk around, play in the nursery, or do anything which could be perceived as a reward for misbehavior. There are a multitude of other options that will help drive the point home: have the child sit in a chair, face the wall, sit in a tight bear hug, or use your own preferred punishment technique if the situation warrants.
Donuts and other such bribery are a perfectly legitimate parenting tool.
Our parish offers donuts or other such sweets after Mass every Sunday. If we choose not to get donuts, I will often make a coffee cake at home. The kids have been trained like Pavlov’s dogs and begin salivating for their anticipated treat as soon as the benediction is given.
These Sunday treats are always understood as a privilege, not a right. An after Mass treat is the first thing to go if their is poor behavior in Mass.
It is a very simple, nearly painless way to train up a child in the way he should go.
The mood of the hour preceding Mass directly affects behavior.
I’ve found the more I have done the night before attending Mass, the smoother our morning runs, and , consequently, the better my children’s behavior during Mass. I often lay out the offertory, set out the dishes and homemade granola for breakfast, pack the diaper bag, and pull out clothes and shoes the evening before. All these little things really add up on Sunday mornings. It also helps to have an early start to the day.
Try not to rush around ordering your children about. Anticipate it taking much longer to get ready for Mass than you think it will. Also plan on leaving the house early. There will always be the last minute diaper change, potty run, or shoe to tie that will slow you down.
Don’t underestimate the wonders of the Pre-Mass Pep Talk.
My husband and I have found it very helpful to take a minute to talk over proper Mass behavior on our way to church. If there was anything that one of our children struggled with during our last Mass attendance, we will highlight that as something for them to work on. This short little review time helps turn our children’s minds to the proper Mass etiquette.
An educated child is more likely to participate.
I love to hear my children participate in Mass, but that doesn’t happen if I don’t do my part. That comes in at home before we get to Mass by helping my little ones memorize some of the Mass responses.
I also love to teach my children some of the hymns we sing in church. I begin this early by singing to them as I lay them in their crib to sleep. Often, some of my children’s first words are “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” I love to see a smile light up their face when they recognize “their song” being played at Mass.
A little encouragement goes a long way.
No one likes to be corrected all the time. When you see your child do something well, encourage them! Often just a smile, wink, or quick squeeze will say volumes in the middle of Mass. A child loves to know they have pleased their parent and will work all the harder to please you more!
What are some of the laws you’ve discovered in taking your little ones to church?
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