Little Ones at Mass

Little Ones at Mass

In the comments below Cecelia’s Mommy asks:

Since you have had more experience with little children than I have, let me ask you a question. We take Cecilia to daily mass and we don’t let her bring any beverages or food or toys or blankets (we tried but she tried to play peekaboo during mass – eek). The only thing we will let her bring is something to gum/chew on if she is teething. However, she has learned to walk and even having her sit still on the pew let alone be held still in our arms has become quite a challenge. She just wants to run and explore and I can’t blame her – if I’d just learned how to walk, I would want to too. At what point/age can little children learn that Church is a time to be still and quiet? We don’t want to fight her to hold her still if she really is incapable of understanding and doing so.

Since Bella is not quite seven months, we haven’t yet got to that stage yet. All I have to go on so far is observation of my nieces and nephews and comparing them to other kids I see at mass. We go to mass most Sundays with Dom’s sister, Evy, and her family. She has four children, ages almost-six, four, almost-two and newborn. I’m very impressed with her kids and her parenting techniques. The two older girls know all the prayers of the rosary, many songs, and can repeat many of the mass responses. They know many Bible stories and know to bless themselves when passing a church out of respect for the Real Presence in the reserved Eucharist. I’ve also seen Kateri stop when she heard an ambulance passing to say a Hail Mary. This with absolutely no prompting from an adult present.

Here’s what my sister-in-law,Evelyn, had to say on the subject:

. . . well, each kid is different. I think as soon as you can get them to not bring extras, the easier it will be. Although, bring holy books or even a crayon and paper while they are young are helpful at some stages. When the child is at the stage of wanting to get around more, then we would suggest both parents taking a good portion of the pew and sit on opposites sides with enough room for the child to move around a bit and not feel too confined. This is the stage where it may be nice to have a holy book or something to use to stay occupied. As early as possible I would suggest to always make it known for the child, no matter what age, to look up at the alter during consecration. Make that noted that that is the most special time to stop and be as quiet as possible. We have the girls ask Jesus to come into their hearts at that time. Even Josh at not even two is starting to try and say some of the familiar prayers and sing along which he loves to do.

Sometime from 3 to 6 would probably be the time that you could expect the child to sit more still and start to listen. Kateri who is almost 6 is at the point just now to really listen and
talk about what she heard the priest talk about. Now she can hear the same stories she is learning about in homeschooling so she gets really excited.

I’d add that what I observe Evelyn and Peter doing with their children is reminding them of what behavior is expected, constantly repeating their admonitions. It seems to me the problem with most problem children is that their parents give up. They get tired of sounding like a broken record and stop repeating themselves. You have to stick with it, to remind the child every time they act up that their behavior is not acceptable. I saw one mom, I forget where, talking about using the ride to church to discuss the behavior that was going to be expected. She also mentioned, with older children, practising sitting still during the week, to remind them of proper behavior. Something like: let’s pretend we’re in church. Can you play the quiet game.

Probably, Cecelia is still a bit too young to understand lectures on proper behavior. But it still won’t hurt to shush her when she starts to get too noisy and to try to corral her when she starts to get too active. Be realistic in your expectations of what she is capable of, but at the same time don’t let her develop too many bad habits.

I get irked most Sundays when I see a boy about Kateri’s age who is allowed to bring a huge sack of toys with him to mass. No attempt is ever made to get him to focus on what is going on. He’s quite disruptive with his playing and seldom shushed.

Now Kateri, Chiara, and Joshua are no saints. The girls frequently act up, poke each other etc. Where I see Peter and Evelyn differ from other parents is that every time it happens, they break it up, calmly reminding the girls that the behavior is inappropriate, and refocusing them on the mass. Children learn through repetition and parents must cultivate the virtues of patience.

Other parents out there, please feel free to add your two cents.


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