Church Expectations

Should older children be expected to sit quietly with mom and dad during the entire church service? This mom wants to know if her behavior expectations are on cue—and if so, how to reign in her rowdy bunch during church.

You need to implement a church bootcamp in which you begin training your kids with how to behave in church.

Q: This is a question about age-appropriate expectations in church. We have 6 children ages 10, 8, 6, 5, 3, and 1. I have told the older kids that unless you are a baby or a toddler, you should need exactly zero parental attention for the one hour that Mass lasts. Children over age 4 should remain still and quiet and keep their hands to themselves, and children over age 7 should additionally be paying reverent attention and doing as the congregation does. This is especially important the times I have to take them by myself when my husband is on military duty. I have my hands full with the two little ones and often need to take the 1-year-old outside until she can be quiet. Are these reasonable expectations, and what would be an appropriate consequence when they do not obey?

A: I’m a little confused as to why you think your children between the ages of 3 and 10 should have zero parental attention for an hour during church/Mass because, well, children are unpredictable beings who need parental oversight. But I get what you’re saying—you want to worship without constantly correcting your children’s behavior. Your expectations aren’t off kilter, but for some kids, it can be hard to remember to keep their hands to themselves and pay attention to someone at the front of a church while Mom’s out in the Narthex wrestling with the baby.

You need to implement a church bootcamp in which you begin training your kids with how to behave in church. This is not simply telling them what not to do, but equipping them with the means to actual sit still. Much like you practice dining room table manners at home before you go to a restaurant or grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, you need to practice church at home.

We often think kids just know things like we do, but that’s not usually the case. So training sessions are vital to showing them what you mean and giving them the tools they need to behave. Believe it or not, most kids do want to behave, but some just don’t know how at times.

So back to church. When our kids were younger (we have four ourselves), I made them each a special church bag to carry some quiet activities with them, like drawing pads and colored pencils, lace-up cards, etc. Not books or anything too distracting, but something to help them occupy their fingers while they sat quietly in the pew. I’d recommend getting each kid something like that to help them learn to sit still, etc.

I’d also assign the older two to help with some of the younger ones and to report back to you what the younger kids did right, the positives, not the negatives. You don’t want policemen, but champions.

Then have some practice runs at home throughout the week and make it fun. Have one kid drop the pencils on the floor (bound to happen). What should they do? Run through some likely scenarios and have the kids come up with solutions, especially when you’re out with the baby and they’re alone.

Maybe you could team up with some older members of the congregation to sit with you when your husband’s gone to help out, and bring them in on the training you’re doing with the kids. Or have those members be “positive” spotters, so you can praise your children’s efforts after the service, etc.

Overall, don’t give up. You’ll get there, and soon your kids will be able to sit through the service without your constant attention most of the time. After all, they are kids and so we can’t expect–and shouldn’t expect–perfection.

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