Maybe you're one of the enviable moms whose toddler didn't throw a tantrum in the middle of the checkout line every time she saw candy. So you think you're either really lucky or the parent of an angel. Chances are, like all moms who take their kids to Mass, you will have some kind of trouble getting naturally loud and needy little ones to be unnaturally quiet for one whole hour. The sacrament of the Eucharist can be difficult for some children to understand, even if they are raised in the Roman Catholic Church from birth, and they will need a lot of guidance.
Take your children to church early, if possible. Let them get out some of their energy by walking around the grounds, exploring and asking questions. Encourage a light, happy mood, but also reiterate how important it is to be nice and respectful once the service begins.
Talk to your child about Mass and what it means. Although you need to make the conversation age-appropriate, be open and answer any questions your child has about it honestly. Make a weekly habit of thoroughly discussing the service in the car on the way home. If your child is confused about something during Mass, knowing she can ask you about it later can stop her from loudly trying to chat with you during the service itself.
Ask your child for a promise of good behavior. Explain clearly what behavior is expected of her and how she can be on her best behavior. If she starts to do something distracting, gently whisper, "Remember the promise." When she goes through an entire Mass without needing a reminder, lavish praise on her.
Model positive behavior. Any parent who has heard an expletive come out of their innocent child's mouth knows that kids are sponges. They mimic what you do more than they do what you say. If you are texting your partner during Mass or talking with a friend, they will be more inclined to regard Mass as a time to do whatever they want. Set the tone for how you want your child to treat Mass with how you behave during it.
Feed your child a healthful meal or snack right before mass. She is more likely to pay attention and less likely to be irritable when she's satiated.
Tell your kids that Mass is not the time for sweets or gum. Chewing gum is considered rude during Mass. Check pockets before going into church if this is a problem. If your child really has a sweet tooth that you don't mind indulging, present a piece of candy at the end of Mass as a weekly ritual that he can anticipate. Be careful about framing it as a bribe for better behavior because food should never be seen as a reward or comfort, according to a June 2012 article at NYTimes.com.
Separate your children during Mass. Discourage it as a time for socialization. Sit between your kids so they are not as tempted to crack each other up or tease one another when they need to be serious. If your children have friends in the church, schedule a time for visiting before or after the service.
Leave the toys at home. If your child needs something from home to ease anxiety or feel comfortable during Mass, bring along a blanket, a book or other item that will not be distracting for others.
Lead your child in a listening game during Mass. This is a simple, quiet game that nobody else will even notice her playing. It's simple. Tell her to count how many times she heard a certain word throughout the entire service. Pick a new word every week. Make it a word that will probably be repeated fairly often during Mass that day. Give her a sheet of paper to keep track so she doesn't have to remember the number in her head and can still pay attention. This game increases listening skills, lets your kid have fun and contributes to better behavior, so it's a win-win situation.
Put the hymnal back in place at the end of every Mass. Explain that you are in the house of God and must leave the church as you found it. Instruct your children to pick up any tissues, paper or trash that may be on or below the pew. Do this with them. Showing respect with consistency will teach them a valuable lesson that they can carry in all aspects of their lives.