Monday, November 11, 2013

bad babies in church: how to handle them & reverent teen church-goers: how to get them

1. Start them young
2. Start them young
3. Start them 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 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.


  1. yeah... daniel doesn't handle church well. not the best sitch when you're the pastor's wife...

    1. It is a hard age no matter what!...kisses for Daniel- can he start at church and then leave with a mother's helper?

  2. When my babies/toddlers get a little bit fussy, but don't have to be taken out quite yet, we like to wander around the outside of the church kissing icons. I love that you periodically deal with this topic. My baby is three now, so these days are almost behind me. I hope that I don't forget what it was like when I become a little old lady.

    1. when I get glum about my babies growing up (my littlest is 4)- I remember that hopefully- there will be grandkids when I'm an old lady! I hope we can live near each other!

  3. Prayer cards with mini-icons are also good for little hands and early readers in church. I had to ban the chotkis when they started flying.

  4. Matuska, you might actually be a good one to ask about a problem we have been having :). My oldest is 22 mo, and has been receiving Eucharist since infancy. I have two questions, really. The first is that sometimes she gets shy going up now and kind of buries her face in my shoulder and doesn't want to receive. Obviously, I don't want to force it, but did any of your kids ever do this? It might be different if they were receiving from Daddy, since your husband is the priest, though. If you ever have seen this, how long did it last? Second question: my family is Latin and so when we are visiting them we often just go to their church. Since my 22 m/o can be a bit unreliable about food, I haven't asked the priest to commune her yet since I do not want to worry about her spitting out the host (she typically just receives the wine still). How old were your kids when you started asking the Latin priests to commune them (I know you have mentioned visiting western parishes sometimes)? Did you wait until they would reliably eat the host? Did you find a way for them to just receive the wine? Any advice would be appreciated! Many Years!

    1. great question! this is my policy: babies and kids don't need to be 'perfect' to receive, but they do need to be behaving- so if they just had a fit, we don't go up (so I sacrifice my Eucharist)....shy babies- don't force it either- this phase shouldn't last too long- there is no guilt trip- but in both situations (kid having fit or being shy) I remind them that it is such a blessing to receive Jesus and he is waiting for us to receive him.

      with Roman-rite masses, unless my priest husband (he has faculties to celebrate Roman Mass) is distributing the Eucharist, we don't go up to receive until the children are about 5- but attending a Roman-rite Mass without my husband is very rare. I didn't bring up my toddlers even for a blessing because they'd start crying for the Eucharist. But receiving the Eucharist as a baptized/confirmed catholic is a right of any child- if you have to use a Roman-rite church as your go-to parish (maybe the closest Eastern church is 2 hours away) then speak to the pastor


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