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The Joys and Struggles of Kids at Mass
By Susan Hines-Brigger

Q U I C K S C A N

Different Kids, Different Tactics
Give These a Try
For Teens: Get Involved
For Kids: Explore Your Church

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.

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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 cry room.

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 struggle.

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 church. 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 church. 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

 

For Teens: Get Involved

One way to make Mass more interesting is to get involved. The sense of ownership that comes with your participation can help to liven up your experience at Mass.

Does your parish choir accept teens or is there a youth choir? If so, why not join? If you’re not a singer, perhaps you could volunteer to help decorate the church for the various seasons and holy days. Or become a server, lector (reader) or Communion distributor. Ask someone at the parish what the requirements are for certain types of responsibilities or what other opportunities might be available to you.

For Kids: Explore Your Church

Have you ever stopped and looked around inside your church? Do you know what the view is like from the altar? Ask your mom, dad or grandparents to take you to church early or during the week so that you can take a look around. While looking around, ask any questions you might have. Be sure to check out other features, like stained-glass windows and statues, painted ceilings, votive lights or side chapels.

 

Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to Family@franciscanmedia.org.


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