Wednesday, August 21, 2013
On Teaching Kids to Behave in Mass and How I Used to Know it All...
We took Sadie every week and most week we went more than once a week to Mass at our local parish. We sat up front once she was big enough to be aware of her surroundings. We didn't do toys or snacks, although she could hold her Holy Baby nun doll, and a children's Bible or other religious book was allowed, and we talked about how we were going to Mass to see Jesus and it was time for her to be a big girl and be on her best behavior. She had special shoes just for Mass. She knew she was in our arms until she was three and then we began to let her sit next to us, if she could be good.
She had expectations for quiet time at home, when we did the family rosary and while we certainly had tough days (a few stand out in my memory even now) and we spent plenty of time in the narthex and standing outside, overall there was steady improvement as she emerged from the toddler years. By the time she was three she had pretty much calmed down, by the time she was four I barely had to talk with her about misbehaving and now that she's five she's been able to sit through an entire Mass (and participate, sitting, standing and kneeling) by herself while I was at the back with the babies.
I think you can see what's coming, right? Pride comes right before you get smacked upside the head with a handful of cheerios or something like that?
You see, we've done the same things with our current three year old to wildly different results (heavy on the "wildly" in that sentence, because Mass with Mae is nothing if not wild).
Lately I've seen a lot of articles and even a Youtube video out there about how to get your children to behave at Mass, and after seeing the video, which basically said that if a kid isn't behaving and is still having consistent problems at the age of three the problem is the parents and not the kids, I was ready to write a post for myself and for those of you who's kids aren't quite ready at three to sit in perfect reverent silence and focus on the beauty of the Mass regardless on how you explain it or how hard you work at home.
The thing is, some kids are ready, developmentally to behave at Mass when they're three. Some kids may even do it at a younger age. I once saw a baby Patrick's age sitting on a booth chair next to her mother at a restaurant in perfect silence for the entire meal and I couldn't stop staring. How do I get one of those, I thought, as I wrestled with my own child who was about the same age and who seemed perfectly incapable of stopping herself from grabbing things to throw them on the floor, and who often followed these antics with attempting a risky maneuver to try to escape from the high chair seat belt (by the way that would be my current big girl Mass goer).
Maybe you have a child who behaves perfectly at Mass at a certain age and that's great. But for other children the developmental milestone of being quiet for an hour (or longer) just isn't there yet. If they have special needs it might be even further off. And that doesn't mean that their parents doing anything wrong or that it's their fault. It just means that the child isn't quite there yet and that they still have a while longer to spend time in the purgatory that is the narthex or wherever they take their crying little one when they act up.
And for those parents it can be humbling (especially, speaking from personal experience, if your three year old is the size of a five year old).
Because let me tell you, it was way easier explaining to a three year old Sadie how to act and following the rules outlined in everything I'd read than it is on any given Sunday to deal with my current little handful. She just isn't quite there yet. It isn't for lack of trying on her part or ours. And I'm sure the day will come when she will be ready. But the magic age of 36 months just didn't do it for her, just as it doesn't for plenty of other kids.
So if you're a mom or dad and your little one isn't quite ready to sit still for an hour and you've tried everything the experts advise and feel like your at wits end, know that you're not alone. There's nothing wrong with what you've been doing. It is not your fault.
Kids are different. They reach developmental milestones at different points. Some read earlier. Some are ready to try their hand at math earlier. And some are ready to sit quietly for an hour when they're three, while others hit that milestone at a later date.
Hang in there and know that you're not alone (although I'm fairly certain you know that if there are many other parents at your parish). I'll be with you at the back of the Church for a while longer yet, dreaming of the day when all of our little ones can sit quietly in a pew, but also not quite ready to give up these precious baby years of cuddly kisses and sweetly smelling baby cheeks... even if they sometimes entail quite a bit of pacing and rocking and hushing.