SummaryHomeschooling mom Gina Berrios shares 7 strategies she and her husband have discovered to teach their children good behavior at Mass. #5 may surprise you.
When my husband and I had just our daughter, it was easy to go to Mass with her, because we outnumbered her.
When she was two, we had number two, and going to Mass was still not that difficult, because we could divide and conquer.
When number three came along (two years later), we quickly realized we were outmanned, and we needed a strategy! It has been a process getting my kids to behave at Mass.
It did not happen overnight, but with deliberate, consistent, and long-term effort by my husband and myself, we have been able to teach each child how to behave at Mass.
Here are some highlights of our strategy.
1. Use the cry room as a last resort, not as your permanent residence at Mass
We use the cry room for when a baby or toddler is screaming and in need of an immediate intervention. My goal is to be back in the pew by the Sign of Peace.
If we have to take a child to the cry room, the other siblings do not come; they stay in the pew. My kids did not view the cry room as a reward or a place they wanted to be.
2. It is a teaching process, with many teaching moments
We start about age two with teaching Mass behavior.
My approach is to start with the Eucharistic prayers and work backwards. I want my children to learn the most important part of the Mass is the Consecration, so I expect near perfect behavior then. With that, I mean silence.
They are to kneel and fold their hands, and they may not talk. I will answer no questions, no matter how incessantly my toddler may tug on me.
If I have to, I will close my eyes and put my head down on my folded hands to send a loud non-verbal cue to my little one this is not time to be moving or talking or bugging Mom.
It can be tough, and some Sundays are harder than others. If the child is too disruptive, he/she will be removed to the back of the church or cry room.
This is where I fight my first battle. I will let certain things slide during other parts of the Mass while trying to teach proper behavior, because it can be too much to teach it all at once to a small child.
Once my child has learned to be quiet and reverent during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, then I will focus on the other parts of the Mass.
3. Teach reverence and prayers
We talk a lot to our little kids about the expected behavior before going to Mass. We remind them they cannot talk during Mass. We tell them the Eucharist is Jesus. We teach them to genuflect before the Tabernacle, acknowledging Jesus’ presence when they first come into the church.
We fold their hands in prayer during the prayers of Consecration. I’ll put the toddler in front of me, kneeling, and enfold his hands in mine if I have to. We show our toddlers how to fold their hands and walk in a line when we go up for communion.
When we do not get this behavior from our little one, we talk about it after Mass and remind him/her of what we expect. The next Sunday, we’ll have our pep talk before Mass, reminding him of what we expect.
Teach your toddler a prayer for after receiving communion, and pray it with him/her while you are kneeling in prayer at Mass.
Teach the Mass responses, as well. Little children are more apt to pay attention when they know what is going on and how to participate.
4. Older siblings set an example
We tell our little ones to follow the example of their older siblings. We remind the older children they are being watched. We have paired the kids when needed to help with Mass behavior.
If I have the baby and my husband has the toddler, we will pair the other kids to help the younger ones with what is expected at Mass.
5. Sit near the front
We sit as close to the front as possible at Mass. This seemed counterintuitive at first when our kids were so little. We used to sit in the back, so the walk of shame to the cry room was not so long.
We also thought the kids would be too distracting if we sat near the front. One Sunday, we sat near the front so the kids could see the altar. That is where we have stayed, in the front few pews.
We have found our children are better behaved if we sit near the front. They can see the Mass and more fully participate. They are not distracted by pews of people in front of them.
It may seem hard to leave those back rows, but try it; you may be surprised!
6. Expect kids to behave (Bribe when necessary)
Most kids can sit for an hour at Mass, listening and participating. It is even easier if they know why they are there.
Spend time outside of Mass explaining to your children the parts of the Mass. Teach them the prayers. Celebrate the liturgical year, making them aware of the different seasons, colors, and feast days. Tell them what everything is in the church. Share your faith with them and why you love going to Mass.
We have rewarded good behavior at Mass. When our little one becomes more aware of his choices in his behavior at Mass, we will incentivize as needed.
We will occasionally tell the kids we will get donuts after Mass if everyone behaves (directing it pointedly to the child enrolled in behavior management). When that child behaves and gets to “reward” the family with a donut outing, everyone celebrates.
The next Sunday’s Mass goes much better because of this positive reinforcement.
7. Pray for help
Ask your child’s guardian angel to help you. Pray for the gift of piety for your children. Fully participate at Mass. Observing a parent in prayer is a powerful thing for a child.
And remember, when your baby is screaming, it’s loudest to you. The rest of us are smiling inside, remembering those moments. I hope you find encouraging smiles from the other moms in the pews.
We have had some incredible, faithful members of our parish stop us after Mass with words of encouragement, saying we reminded them of when they were younger, and they would take up an entire pew at Mass too with all their kids.
Stay encouraged! The day will come when your children will sit quietly and reverently at Mass, and you can listen to and remember Father’s homily!