Before I had kids, I thought I had
all the answers to any situation
I would face as a parent. I had
watched my sisters, friends and
complete strangers deal with their kids.
I learned from their experiences—and
mistakes, in my opinion—and tweaked
my own future parental plan accordingly.
Then I had children.
You see, my plans did not account
for the fact that each of my three children
would be an individual and have
a distinct personality. As any parent
knows, one size does not fit all when it
comes to raising kids.
Different Kids, Different Tactics
One place this became glaringly obvious
to me was at Sunday Mass. Our
first child, Maddie, was content to sit
and look through books. Our second,
Alex, was not. He wanted to explore,
ask questions, climb on the pews, lie on
the kneelers and meet the people
around him. My husband, Mark, and I
accepted defeat and retreated to the
But that held its own challenges.
Being in the cry room often felt like the
equivalent of being sent to the penalty
box in hockey. Kids yelled, sprawled
on the floor with their toys and scattered
snacks on the carpet. After the
first Sunday in the cry room, Mark and
I became determined to help Alex learn
to behave in church.
Going to Mass is an important part
of our faith and we want to pass that on
to our kids. But nothing seems to spark
more controversy than the topic of
bringing kids to church. I have been the
recipient of more than one dirty look
when my child wasn’t behaving up to
the standards of other parishioners.
And in talking with others, I know
that Mark and I are not alone in this
Give These a Try
So as I have done so often since I had
my first child, I turned to my sisters and
friends to commiserate and strategize
about this struggle. Here are some tips
and tricks they shared with me:
• Take them. How can we expect kids
to behave in church if we don’t take
them with us?
• Try Sunday school. Our parish offers
religious education classes for kids 3-6
during the 9:30 Mass every week. The
kids learn about God on a level that’s
more geared toward their age than any
Mass. Thanks to Alex’s Sunday school
teachers, when Alex does go to Mass
now, he better understands how to act.
• Lead by example. If your kids see you
responding and singing, chances are
they’ll mimic what they see.
• Get involved. Have your family bring
up the offertory gifts or be greeters, if
your parish has such programs.
• Answer questions. Recently I received
an e-mail from a reader saying that she
has learned it is best to answer her
daughter’s questions about church
immediately. Otherwise, she said, her
daughter might forget her question.
Thanks to this reader for the reminder
not to let those teaching moments pass.
• Pack a “church” bag. I’m not advocating
bringing a full-course spread and
a bunch of toys. Bring some religious-themed
books, such as children’s prayer
books or books about Bible stories.
Or bring paper and crayons and have
your child draw something in the
If you feel you have to bring along a
snack or drink, make it something simple.
And make sure you clean up before
leaving. People at the next Mass don’t
want to sit on cereal crumbs.
Be courteous—and tolerant. This is a
two-way street. I am very aware that
there are people sitting around me who
do not want to listen to my six-month-old
daughter, Riley, try out her recently
discovered ability to make all kinds
of sounds. So if she starts getting too
loud, I will take her to the back of
But on the flip side, she is also a
member of the parish and, as a kind
priest once reassured me, has every
right to be there. And my two older
kids, who now often get compliments
for being well-behaved in church, did
not get that way by accident.
Leave yourself enough time. With
the addition of Riley, my husband and
I are finding it difficult to get anywhere
on time. It took a while, but we seem
to have finally discovered exactly how
long it takes to get everyone ready and
to church on time.
I’m happy to report that Alex has
gotten some compliments during the
past few months for his behavior at
church. We’ve made progress. Now
we’ll see how we do with Riley.
Next Month: Love Thy Neighbor