Monday, July 17, 2006

Making Do on Mondays: Mass Cooperation

Some of us have the privilige of attending daily Mass with our children; others are absolutely daunted by the task (which usually feels more like a battle of wills than a channel for sanctifying grace). Even if you don't get to make it during the week, here are some collected ideas from me as well as from other mothers to ease the difficulty of getting children to behave in church, where at least you'll be on Sundays... some may be old news to you or you may have had experience with other tips, if that's the case please share your own ideas!
  • First, I think it's important to dress your children for church. Even daily Mass. Children who have a special set of clothes different from their playclothes learn that church is something separate from play. A collared shirt or a skirt may help signify that special behavior is expected of them.
  • Secondly, I think it's helpful right outside of the church doors to get down to eye level with your kids and explain to them softly and seriously that you are entering the home of Jesus and let them know that you expect them to be quiet during Mass... that they are welcome to play AFTER church.
  • If you have a choice of orthodox Mass options, the earlier the service is usually the better for families. Earlier liturgies tend to be simpler, quicker and less crowded. Plus they won't interfere with nap times and you may get the added bonus of having drowsy kids in church rather than wired kids.
  • Seating. Some parents need a quick escape route, so they sit in the back or near a side exit. Other parents may find it helpful to sit right up front where kids are watching what's taking place on the altar rather than the backs of peoples' heads. This could depend on your priest too. It's really helpful when your priest makes a point of how welcome children are at the liturgy... that their baby babble only adds to the praises of God. If unfortunately, the priest seems a little put off by kids, I'd stay near an easy exit.
  • Our rules for the under 3 age is that baby babble is fine during Mass. There's not much (short of duct tape) that you can do to prevent this. "Let the little children come to me," says our Savior. We need to remember that despite the stern looks of disapproval you may get from some people, children are an essential part of God's family too. Plus, how can they be expected to behave in church without being welcome there to learn?! Anyway, if a young one starts excessively whining (or falls off the pew, or stabs himself with the little pencils, etc.) or crying, then we'll take him out. Oftentimes, just standing up in the back is helpful for little ones, other times, they need to avoid the meltdown by being completely removed to the outside.
  • If you are in the midst of disciplining a crier, do NOT let him/her run around outside (or even in the cry room)... this is basically rewarding their behavior; I learned this the hard way once my guys started manipulating the cry factor just so they could play around outside. So if you have to take them out or stand in the back, it's best to hold them. They'll soon learn that a little freedom in the pew is better than being confined in a parent's arms outside.
  • While in the pew, I know many parents have different ideals on what to expect. My oldest son is not quite four and we are just now starting to enforce him sitting still and facing forward etc. Until that point, there's no use reasoning with toddlers. We let them have full reign of the pew (at least until another kneeling church-goer physically blocked their way). They are welcome to sit on the kneelers or crawl on the pews or stare at the people behind us etc. It's just what's worked for us to keep the peace. I know some other families make sure that everyone under age two is held in their arms but this wasn't always practical for our lives (pregnant bellies and deployed husbands can keep one on her toes).
  • Here is a hotly debated topic. Should kids be allowed food or sippy cups in church? I am not going to give definitive answers since everyone needs to find what works best for them but I'm always willing to give my opinion! If you DO give snacks to your kids in church, please make sure they are not in crinkly, distracting wrappers or too messy. We never allowed food in church as a general rule, but with our firstborn, he was allowed his sippy cup of milk up until age two. This was partially because we went to such an early Mass that there was no time to feed him prior to church... so the milk held him over. Now, we have a leisurely 10:30 we go to and have no excuse for food or drink in church. I keep a very small water bottle in my "kid bag" just in case that becomes necessary but we rarely use it. They know church isn't time for snacks. It never sit well with me ever since I attended a Mass in Cali once where the whole family was eating NACHOS in the kid's cry room!!! Oy. There's a time and place people... It's nice if kids know they get doughnuts (err... I mean, whole grain, organic bagels... yeah) or something (dependent on good behavior of course) after Mass.
  • Toys. We have a little "Mass kit" bag just for church. In it are two or three religious kid books; we love the series by Fr. Lovasik . We also have a little soft nativity scene, or a small, easy religious puzzle. Sometimes sheets of paper and religious stickers or a couple crayons. Lacing boards... anything quiet and related to God. It's important to switch out what's in the Mass bag every now and then to keep things novel.
  • During the Mass, it's helpful to whisper quietly to your fussy kids... explain the pictures or statues, discuss what the priest is doing on the altar, especially calling attention to the Consecration.
  • And bring your kids to Communion with you! Sometimes I see pre-Communicants sitting in the pew waiting for mom and dad to get back. But it's a great opportunity for them to get up and have an apex of the Mass, plus they can receive a blessing from the priest (which is partially why we always make sure to get in a priest's line, rather than that of an extraordinary minister)... and I know at least my family can use all the blessings it can get!
  • Finally always be sure to give positive reinforcement for good behavior. Sometimes I'll whisper to Xavier... "You are being such a good boy for Jesus right now; He is very proud of you." And I really don't think it hurts to "reward" them after Mass. I don't see it as bribery... I see it as adding a special treat to a special day.
  • When your kids are overly naughty, try not to let it get you down. This too shall pass. I suspect it will get easier with more children: the littlest ones will have the example of the older ones to follow (older ones can be reasoned with)... they'll be like ducks in a row. It's hard to focus on the fact that despite the desperation or frustration you are feeling now, you are being filled with graces just by being in the Presence of God. I heard of one mom who would go to an early Mass, and if the kids behaved poorly, she'd tell them that since they obviously needed more practice behaving, they'd "get" to sit through the later Mass too!!! I'm sure that taught them real quick!



one of us :: 7:54 AM :: 3 Comments