Many years ago someone forwarded me an article written by a professor at the University of Dallas. The topic was how to get your kids to behave during Mass. While I have been unable to find a copy of that article on my computer or locate it on the Internet, the content and method of it is clearly etched in my mind because it has brought much peace to our Sunday routine and to family life in general.
For many families with young children, the occasion of attendance at Sunday Mass can be quite challenging and may even be a source of much stress rather than an opportunity for receiving the grace of God. My wife and I have been going to Mass for nearly 18 years with young children. At times we have been “that parent” with the loud disruptive child. We have encountered about every situation within the context of the Mass setting. We have had temper tantrums, excessive crying, injuries, sibling quibbling, brotherly and sisterly love spats, excessive whispering and talking, and general complaining. There will always be occasions of disruption when attending Mass with young children and everyone who sits near you will notice and so will your priest.
Lest you feel that you child is the worst and that there is no hope, I will share with you that we have been asked to leave Mass by the Priest due to the behavior of our children (thankfully only a couple of times), received numerous disapproving looks from fellow parishioners as well as being shown the location of the cry room. The rude comments that we have received are numerous and instead of spurring us onto sitting outside the doors of the Church, it strengthened our resolve to work more diligently with our children to limit or eliminate those common disruptions during Mass time.
If you are older, or if you talk with you parents, you will find that at one time good behavior at Mass was the norm. Our pastor remembers growing up with 4 brothers and his recollection of some 40 years ago is that bad behavior was not tolerated by his parents or any of the other parents with young children that attended his boyhood parish. What changed? Why do parents tolerate bad behavior these days? I think there are many reasons, but I don’t think too many would disagree that the expectations of society in general are lower than they were 40 years ago for the behavior of children.
This article will hopefully give you one tool to assist you as parents in raising the bar of expectations for behavior for your young children in Mass. This method is very effective, it will work on children as young as age 2 (maybe even one and a half). It does require consistency and hard work, but you probably know that this is true of anything we undertake as a parent.
Begin with prayer and love. We are better parents when we call upon our loving Father in heaven to assist us with our difficult parental tasks and this one is no different. He knows exactly what it feels like to have a disobedient and unruly child.
The first step is to practice proper Mass behavior at home. Setup a room with chairs and maybe a make-shift altar, then each day of the week for about 10 minutes, practice the proper form of sitting, standing and kneeling. In addition, remind your children why you are doing this and as Sunday Mass time gets closer, remind them of your expectations. While sitting, your hands should be on your lap and you should not be slouching or laying down. During the standing posture, you should keep your hands to yourself and not lean forward on the pew. It is also worthwhile to prohibit the children from playing with the missalette. When kneeling you should not rest your bottom on the pew, but be upright and attentive during the consecration, remind them that Jesus is present upon the altar. This is great catechesis for the little ones who have not yet received their first communion.
To further demonstrate the importance of Mass, plan to arrive fifteen minutes early. An early arrival will allow you to establish a peaceful and orderly mood prior to Mass and may offer a few minutes to practice sitting, standing and kneeling in the Church (as opposed to your pretend pews at home).
We have found that previewing (explaining what is expected once again) proper behavior during the drive to Mass and also offering a reward at the end of Mass for those children who demonstrate the desired good behavior is very effective. The reward should be small, maybe a donut after Mass or some other treat that will be an added incentive for good behavior.
If one or more of your children don’t get it right, stay after Mass and practice some more, and certainly don’t give a reward. Most children will show much improvement after the first week of training, but typically another week or two of home practice will be necessary to achieve the desired goal. The key to this method is helping your children to understand that good behavior at Mass is important and that you are serious about it.
If you are able, attend daily Mass during the week, it will provide your children with more opportunities to practice good behavior for Sunday Mass and you will also receive much grace by your attendance at Mass.
Don’t be surprised if you start getting positive comments about how good your children are during Mass, and you may also get comments from other parents who tell you that you got lucky because their kids could never be that good. Take that opportunity to assure them that it took a lot of work and then share this method with them. They will thank you for it later.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Mt 19:14