Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peace Be With You, Dinosaur: Age Appropriate Goals for Mass Behavior

I've written about kids in Mass. A lot. My thoughts are well known on whether churches should have cry rooms (against it) or breastfeeding (for it). But when Haley asked me to be a part of a blog carnival about kids in Mass, I just KNEW that if I really thought about it, there must be more to share on the subject.

And there was.





So, without further ado, here are our family's expectations for the behavior of our children during Mass, things we look out for, and our coping strategies, broken down by age group. 


(Note: My kids are the only ones I've ever parented. Your kids may vary. I promise to refund your entire purchase price if this doesn't work for your kids.)

Zero to Six Months

Goals: 


  • Reasonably quiet, ideally sleeping.

Things That'll Get Ya: 


  • General baby grumpiness. 
  • Forgetting something you like to use, like the carrier, or a nursing cover, or wipes. 
  • Diaper blowouts.

Things I Don't Sweat: 


  • Going past people, even multiple times. 
  • Low to moderate level baby noises. Babies aren't capable of silence, but they and I have as much right to the Mass as the next guy. Until the noise level gets past coo/gurgle/fussing we stay put. 
  • Being late. All we can do is our best.
  • Missing parts of Mass for diaper changes or inconsolable moments. Caring for an infant is a valid excuse for missing Mass entirely, it's certainly a valid excuse for missing parts of Mass, even the important parts. All we can do is our best.

Strategies: 


  • Feeding. I always plan to nurse my babies in the pew during Mass. It keeps them quiet and occupied. 
  • Walking. If I can't nurse them to sleep, I try a baby carrier and walking back and forth in the back of the church. 
  • Sitting in the front of the church so I don't see if people are craning to look at us.


Six Months to Two Years

Goals: 


  • Reasonably quiet, mostly in the pew.

Things That'll Get Ya: 


  • The collection envelopes. So brightly colored, right at eye level. My kids aren't allowed to touch them, but they really want to. 
  • Keeping toddler voices at a whisper.
  • Keeping toddlers in a confined space. 
  • Cry rooms . . . if there's one in your church, some folks are going to expect you to sit in it.

Things I Don't Sweat: 


  • Quiet talking, or attempted quiet talking, even if it's not perfectly successful. 
  • Moving around within the pew. 
  • Going past people, even multiple times.

Strategies: 


  • Quiet, not messy snacks. 
  • Sitting up front where toddlers can see what's going on. 
  • Whispered explanations of what's happening in the Mass or who that is in that stained glass window. 
  • Quiet, soft toys. 
  • Nursing if possible, but many of my babies are awfully distractible after six months and have trouble nursing in interesting environments.


Two Years to Seven or So 

Goals: 


  • Quiet, following the Mass. 
  • Sit or stand or kneel as required.
  • Stay in the pew alone (or with a sibling) quietly during communion or if I have to take the baby out.

Things That'll Get Ya: 


  • That they're probably sitting next to a sibling. 
  • Potty "emergencies." 
  • Children's liturgies. We avoid regularly attending a Mass with a children's liturgy, because we'd really rather be together as a family for the Mass. But, at this age, we do let our kids go if we happen upon one. 
  • Snacks, toys, books, and Mass bags . . . for us these don't work. They make my kids noisier than they would otherwise be, and they keep them from participating in the Mass. We bring "stuff" for kids under two, but two and ups in our family don't get things in Mass. They just get the Mass.

Things I Don't Sweat: 


  • I don't usually have to take kids over two out of Mass for behavior, but if I did, I would. 
  • Kids saying they have to go to the bathroom, because mostly they don't. 
  • Moving around between seats or between parents.

Strategies: 


  • Always taking them to the bathroom before Mass, so I don't have to stress about not letting them go during Mass.
  • Sitting up front.
  • Following along in the missalette.
  • Bribery. Never underestimate the power of the donut.


Eight (or First Communion) and Up

Goals:  


  • Follow along with the Mass. Sing the songs, recite the responses. 
  • Sit up, kneel up, stand up straight.
  • Pay attention to, and be able to recall, the readings and the homily. 
  • As an altar server . . . Be reverent. Pay attention. Know your job. Do your job.

Things That'll Get Ya: 


  • Children's liturgies. Our communicants do not leave the Mass, even though sometimes well-meaning parishioners encourage them to do so.
  • Siblings.
  • Kids forgetting that there's no where on the altar that the people in the pews won't notice nose picking. 

Things I Don't Sweat: 


  • Some fidgeting. My boys have tics. So, they look fidgety, but they can't help it. 
  • Some whispering. Until I can make myself stay quiet for the whole Mass, I can hardly expect the kids to be able to.

Strategies: 


  • Same as above, plus my boys really love altar serving and it's very motivational for them.




Please click over and check out the other posts in the blog carnival . . . 

Sarah at Two Os Plus More, Mass Effect: Why We Bring Our Kids to Church

Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas, 27 Books for Your Mass Bag (And Tips for Dealing with Little Ones in Mass)

Abbey at Surviving Our Blessings, Surviving Mass with Little Ones: Our Top Ten Tips


Christy at Fountains of Home, Survival Skills for Mass with Kids


You might also like these other posts about kids and Mass at this blog:

SO, YOUR TODDLER IS TERRIBLE IN MASS . . .


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32 comments:

  1. It's like you guys KNEW I needed this this week :)

    My oldest (6) has been coming to church with us for a while, but at our old (Protestant) church, the middle two went to Sunday school, because the church broke me and I gave up keeping them with us. My 4 year old is a really active child and is getting along mostly ok with the change, but my 2-almost-3 year old started off good and is lately extremely, purposely naughty. Taking her out has only helped temporarily, she's trying to be trouble. She gets in a LOT of trouble when we get home and she says "next time I'll be good in Catholic church" but (surprise!) she's not. She's giggling and rolling around and poking her brothers and some loud talking - any thoughts?

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    1. Strategically have an adult sit between her and brothers to discourage poking at them. Offer incentive for being good at Mass, but also include a loss if she misbehaves. She's old enough to understand consequences. My kids would lose computer/Xbox time or movie time at this stage. Your child might have something else that she loves that she would have. Make sure you follow through with the consequences. For some strong willed children, it'll take a while to make it work. Remember to keep your temper - keep it calm - and keep trying!

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    2. Yes to the above! That's pretty much what we do, too. I recommend setting expectations out loud, very specifically, all week and in the car on the way over. "Stay in the pew. Quiet voice only. No banging. No touching other kids." Trying to just ignore other stuff while you're working on the basics, praising good behavior when you can, and calmly enforcing consequences (immediate consequences whenever possible). "If you poke your brother again daddy will have to hold you too tight in the back of the church, and no donut." And, for us, missing out on donuts when other kids get them has been very memorable.

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  2. Oh my Goodness, I was going along very nicely and then "wham" out of nowhere came the nose picking thing LOL...thanks for starting my day with a laugh.

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  3. This: "Bribery. Never underestimate the power of the donut."

    I think both my kids think this is The Main Purpose of Mass - to earn yourself a donut in the church basement afterwards.

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    1. Haha! My 2.5 year old weeps when the Knights have a pancake breakfast instead of donuts.

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  4. I wrote this a while back Kendra...http://www.equippingcatholicfamilies.com/2013/03/whats-in-your-mass-kit.html, maybe during the Frankie and Adam Catholic Toddler letters? =)

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  5. We are newly Catholic and have been attending Mass regularly for about a year and a lot of that year he was in a Sunday School. It was super helpful while we were converting to attend Mass "without" our then 4 year old. I was able to figure out what was going on and learn the responses and nuances within a few weeks once Sunday School started. My Parish also has a Children's Liturgy of the Word for kids from 4st-3rd grade. I think we will allow him to go to that, too.
    My son is 5 but my goals are more in line with a two year old- probably because he isn't used to going and hasn't learned what is expected of him, which is our fault- or maybe circumstances. I allow him to bring his Children's Bible, and expect him to sit mostly still in the pews, and be mostly quiet- though he whispers questions and that is okay. I encourage him to pay attention and follow along, which he sometimes does, but pushing it would result in a fight that is just not worth it. When he is interested and pays attention and says responses we let him know how great that was.
    He will say "Amen" when he is supposed to, and "and with your spirit", and "Lord, hear our prayer", he knows the Our Father and loves the Sign of the Peace. We bring him up with us for Eucharist and he gets a blessing and loves that.
    I will say, all the talk about the Sign of the Peace has been embarrassing for me, because mine is overly excited about it, and we were kind of okay with it- it's good to be excited to lovingly greet others, right? He always finds a friend a pew or three away and rushes off to "give them Peace" before we can tell him that is probably too far. But, he is quiet about it, comes right back and is usually in our pew before the Agnus Dei. And, if it is a particularly good Peace giving, he is in a good enough mood to kneel with us, etc...
    We pick our battles, and that one we are okay with. For now anyways. And most other parishioners seem to think it is cute, so that is good. He is small, maybe they think he is 3-ish and let is slide? haha

    We are expecting twins now, and I think I would like to employ your general strategies with these ones from an early age. I think our circumstances were so weird him our oldest that it would be reasonable to expect him to be ready for Mass suddenly at the age of 4?

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    1. Amanda, this all sounds fine by me! Isn't there a video of a little kid busting out of the seats to give the sign of peace to the pope? I'm thinking there might be one it happening to both JPII and Pope Francis. Anyway, I might reign him in before his first communion. ;)

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  6. Things that'll get ya...er..me: Even if you do leave books, toys, snacks at home this will not deter the truly resourceful child who can make a toy out of anything. Missal ribbons can be braided. You can try stuffing your whole necktie in your mouth. Everyone can start trading socks. And of course there are the kneelers. And noses. And the baby, who is THE GREATEST PLAYTHING EVER. (this is why I sometimes just retreat to the back of Mass with the baby, even when the baby is doing just fine.)

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    1. Ooh, we have the new-fangled disposable missalettes, otherwise I would be sorely tempted to braid those ribbons myself. And I guess that's why I don't wear neckties, myself. :)

      It will get better. My first one was 10-100 times harder than any of the rest of them until Frankie. And really, even he wasn't that bad once we got the shrieking under control. Oldest kids just don't believe that they need to behave like the grownups, but subsequent kids do seem to get that they should behave like their siblings.

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    2. And my ten and twelve year olds, not to mention my parents and all the people around us, also get distracted by cute babies!

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    3. I get distracted by the baby too. I don't mind cooing and patting as much as I mind them grabbing the baby, knocking him around on the pew (it's unintentional but inevitable), following him under the pew, etc.

      But I could be better at focusing on the good here. I am glad that they love him so very much. And I am looking forward to example set by big kids.

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  7. Love your layout and approach! "Keeping toddler voices at a whisper." Love that this is a goal for you. I think I often expect my 2 year old to be like his 4 year old brother and be silent. Thanks for the reminder that this might be more than he can handle at times.

    And this, this is the best: "Bribery. Never underestimate the power of the donut." =) One of the churches in our parish has a donut shop right across the street - they must have been in on this secret.

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  8. I feel like most people suggest books rather than toys or snacks for toddlers, but I totally agree with you! The only time someone has criticized us in Mass is when I brought a children's bible for our 18 month old and she begged for me to read it the entire hour. Cheerios are the way to go :)

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    1. I find it really interesting how divided these camps are. Snacks totally work for us, and books totally don’t. But it’s just the opposite for other families. I guess we are as God made us!

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  9. "2-7 years or so" THAT PHOTO! I burst out laughing. and then I welled up at your little Alter Servers pic. Imma pee'n dis pohst.

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  10. I love the post title! Now they just need to write the book!

    We attend a church built right after Vatican II. It was built without kneelers and is still kneeler-free because in order add them the number of people the church can accommodate would be cut down significantly.

    I had a realization after attending our friend's parish with kneelers. Kneelers = More around the pew = happy kids. (At least for our family!) Our daughter was able to move a little more without being disruptive. I would have thought the kneeler would be a distraction, but for our five year old it was very helpful.

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  11. Great post! I have a 9-month-old son, and we're finding that he definitely likes sitting up front during Mass where he can see everything.

    He's too interested in what's going on around him now to nurse well someplace like church, but I was sooooo nervous about nursing him during Mass when he was younger. I only did once, and that was at the Easter Vigil because that was just too long to manage without nursing him. So, my question is: what's your strategy? Do you just stay seated if a baby's nursing? What about people standing up in the pew behind? Or maybe use a sling so you can stand too? Or maybe just a larger apron type cover rather than a scarf for Mass?

    I know this is too many questions on something "simple." (First-time mom, can ya tell?? :) ) I'd just love to not be so anxious about it if we're blessed with more children.

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    1. Alicia, this is a great question. I definitely should have included the fact that, when I have an infant with me, I also don't sweat the sitting, kneeling, standing protocols. If I've got a baby asleep on my lap, I just stay sitting. Often, since we're sitting in the front, our priest will come over and give me communion right in the pew, since he does that for a couple of old folks anyway. Kneeling is hard with a sleeping or awake but grabby baby, so sometimes I'll just stand either in the pew or off to the side next to the wall, then sit again when folks are sitting.

      The thing I try to remember is that body postures are not something that GOD needs, they are something that WE need. Kneeling or standing helps US to be reverent, so, if I can't do it, I really make a point of trying to focus my heart and mind on the Mass, to make up for my body posture.

      I have covered with the apron-type drape in the past, but with Lulu all I've used is the scarf, with a camisole underneath. The camisole is nice to keep from having bare skin showing out the back of the pew, which might be off putting to people behind me.

      The way I look at it, I'm making an effort to cover because it's good manners to do so. That's what I feel like is required of me, an attempt at well-mannered nursing. If I'm not completely successful? If my scarf slips or is pulled off by a baby or toddler? If I'm having trouble latching baby on? Well, there's nothing AT ALL immoral or sinful about that. I'll do my best to have good manners and cover up, and the folks around me will do their best to have good manners and avert their eyes and the baby will get fed and comforted. Everyone does his part.

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  12. Oh yes I do believe in the power of the Doughnut !!!! As stated by Kendra's little sister, "God says if you're not good in Church, you don't get a doughnut!" If you don't take your kids to Mass and teach them how to behave then how are they ever going to learn how to behave there? Church ladies that complain about kids during Mass just have to learn how to live with them because they are the next generation of practicing Catholics. They should be so into the sacrifice of the Mass by now that they shouldn't even notice them or at least turn their hearing aids down. Please ladies bring your babies and children to Mass on Sunday because we love seeing them there.

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  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. It is exactly what I needed to read. We are struggling with our 13 month old in Mass. I think she behaves pretty good - mostly quiet, eats a snack, looks at books - but does have the occasional outburst. A few weeks ago after Mass, an older gentleman came up to my husband and told him that we needed to use the cry room because our daughter is a distraction to other people. Needless to say, my husband was very offended by his remarks. Our church has a VERY small cry room with two rows of folding chairs set up in it. We have never stepped foot inside and don't plan to. Thanks for the reminder that her behavior is totally acceptable for her age - sometimes I think I expect too much and I have to realize she is still so young.

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  14. Kendra, I have been meaning to tell you how thankful I am for your posts on parenting one year olds at Mass. I had just decided to "Mass-wean" my 21 month old and was having trouble keeping her happy for all of Mass. You reminded me that I can actually get her to listen to me and do what I say. Apparently, I talk about your blog so much that my husband knows your name and the name of your blog just by my word of mouth. So, you are famous over here. Thanks for sharing your family, and teaching me to mean what I say.

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  15. I had to stop and read this to my husband when I got to the nose picking - too funny! I'm with you on cry rooms...they have a tendency to be used too much as play rooms instead of a quiet place to temporarily calm an unruly baby. Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to say too!

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  16. Any chance you cpuld get more specific with the ages? Like maybe 2-5? I have a 3 year old and am really struggling with what I should expect from her and what to let go.
    I have her pay attention at the consecration and tell her about the prayer of confession and absolution and ask her to "say sorry to God" for anything she did that wasn't good.
    But other than that she reads books in our mass bag and plays with rosaries. ....recently I've been telling her to pray 3 hail Mary's with me using the rosary before she can have it.

    Problem is, I have an almost 2 year old and a 1 month old....and das is serving up front.

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    1. For kids below the age of reason (usually about seven) my goal is really that they would be not disruptive. For my kids that means no snacks or books or toys because my kids are noisy with those things. I mostly have them sit and stand and kneel when we do, and my husband will often explain what's going on to them. But really, I'm not concerned with having them try to follow the Mass or pray along yet. That comes much more easily after seven.

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  17. Not sure if you're on the blog enough to respond to new comments these days, but we have a daughter who just turned 3 and her brother turned 1 (5 days later). My husband and I have been mostly splitting shifts these days, and I've been taking my daughter, since she actually now expresses an interest in attending. My husband, citing many in the earlier days of the Church (including St Therese of Lisieux's family) noted that he feels like if we are so overwhelmed that it's hard to focus every week, maybe not having real small kids/babies attend makes sense and clearly has precedent. He's also home with them a lot and I can see where the break to attend Mass peacefully is huge for him. My daughter has done OK...some weeks are better than others. One thing she's done on several occasions when not in a pew is try to make a break for the altar. In the pew she tends to want to stand on the pew so she can see (but I'm hesitant to sit closer due to the making a break for the altar tendency), and mainly does OK but starts to want to crawl around on the kneeler etc. I try to point things out but I guess at 3 the attention span and ability to understand aren't quite there yet always. We also often wind up arriving late and I'm wondering if that's more of a hindrance to good behavior. Anyway just writing to commiserate; and of course any further tips, I'll take! Thanks Kendra!

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    1. Hey Marty. I still get notifications of new comments and reply as necessary! I would say that what you're doing it a parenting decision, and not a religious decision. Ya know? Your husband is right, Rees nothing that obligates a parent to bring kids under the age of reason to Mass. For our family, we want to, and we find it more convenient to do so. So we do. But choosing to split adults and go to different Masses and not bring little kids is a legitimate choice. If that's your preference, keep on keepin on.

      If, however, it would be your preference to go together, then what you need to work on isn't religious stuff, it's just general parenting stuff: Age appropriate expectations, communicating those expectations, setting reasonable consequences, following through, and always meaning what you say. I've got a couple posts, "How to be the Boss of a One Year Old" and "Always Mean What You Say" that give specific strategies. But, again, it's up to you.

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