1. Start them young
2. Start them young
3. Start them young...so that church time in a normal part of life ....but beware, it will go like this for awhile:
How to Be Reverent at Church according to Those Under the Age of 3 from Chocolate for Your Brain
10) Even if you are a baby, you know it is important to sing at mass. But knowing when to sing can be difficult because the adults are sometimes shy about singing. A simple solution is to sing perpetually. The grown ups will join in if the timing is right.
9) Likewise, because adults are very distractable, the best way to make them long to focus on the liturgy is to squirm and grab the noses of any human within range and then go stiff and and alternatively drape sideways and boneless. Constant motion will make them long to give the homily their full attention. go this link for the rest of this funny, true list!
My 14 and 13 year old daughters are 'good' in church; they help the cantor (or actually do all the cantoring if it is necessary) in two languages, they clean up the candles and the pews without being asked, they help at fellowship, they watch the little kids if I am particularly busy- If special friends from far away attend the services, I will make a point to 'take over' little kid duty so they can enjoy girl-time. I still have to remind them to sit up straight or cross themselves or....so my job is not done. But in general, the hard labor of the early years are bearing fruit. Our six-year old boy is serving at the altar. He isn't perfect by any means, but he's fine. The adult altar servers keep him in line, and I appreciate it. Our four-year old girl has her moments, but it has been a year since I've had to leave church because of a melt-down. Occasionally she needs a quick potty break, but it is just for the potty. She does sometimes sit on my lap or the big girls' laps. I'm okay with that.
So, mamas of little ones who were extra extra wiggly last Sunday, take heart, Come again. Don't mind the older ladies (only two of them!) who tsked tsked their way through the Divine Liturgy.
I am an advocate for families in church: here are some suggestions to make your church service more tolerable/meaningful/holy/happy:
1. Sit in the front and insist that the children look ahead.
2. For Byzantine Catholics, decide what your children are capable of: can they cross themselves? sing the litany response? sing Alleluia?
3. Feed them something easy like string cheese and sliced apple right before the service. Then, I promise, they can handle even an hour and a half without ingesting something. Bring a water sippy cup if needed. Personally, I think the age limit for a milk bottle or sippy is two years old.
4. Go potty right before the church service. Don't take no for an answer.
5. It's okay if your child makes some noise.
6. If it is out and out screaming, just take a break
7. When I had to take out kids, standing in the hall or even outside depending on the church, I wouldn't say much to my screaming kid (I was too angry), I would attempt to continue to sing the responses. I didn't want to reward my child for her/his tantrum.
8. If your child's church shoes are hard-soled, they will make a loud noise banging on the pew and floor when your child is gearing up for trouble. Take the shoes off if needed. If barefoot is okay with Moses, then socks are okay for a two-year old. I really liked using the soft leather slipper-like shoes on a church day for this reason.
9. I've written this elsewhere (probably under the label 'mommyhood' or something), allow a small child 1 or 2 maximum things to hold during church. A beany baby is a good choice. A rosary is just going to make a lot of noise; a woolen prayer rope is a better choice. I have always enjoyed the St Joseph printing house religious books for my small ones to bring into the church. Just the right size.
10. Try to make going to church a joy, not a chore. Many believers would disagree with me, but I don't expect my little ones to do everything in church that I am doing. I will insist that my four-year old stand for the beginning of the Gospel and the creed, but if she then sits down politely, I am not going to drag her back up. I expect my older children to sing everything that the people sing; I just encourage the little ones to sing the simpler portions. I know a church that had a bowl of lolly pops for the children to take after Liturgy along with the blessed bread! Jesus loved the children!
and don't worry if you didn't start them young. Start where your family is! My family of origin became Catholic when I was 12; the youngest was 1. Thank God, we are all practicing Catholics, married to Catholics. Just do what you can. For older children, I recommend my parent's methods- no secular music on Sunday, a Catholic Digest and National Catholic Register lying around the house, and as many family dinners as possible. Keep family prayer short and sweet. and also- remember that parents have the 'right' to bless their own children, so keep some holy water or oil handy for night blessings.