My wife and I were fortunate with the young miss. She arrived in our home as a well-behaved child of almost five. The biggest problem we had was that she fell asleep during the homily. Believe me, I’ve done that plenty of times as an adult … so I could relate.
Fussy children are a challenge for churchgoing. Maybe it’s because I never had a screaming baby or toddler that I tend to look at the situation from the kid’s point of view.
Consider children who are always or almost always stimulated at home: toys, books, crayons, music, tv, computer things, snacks, and other cool things. Then on a weekend we dress them up, pack them in a car, and take them to a place where they can do absolutely none of those things. For a whole hour. It might be amazing we don’t have more meltdowns.
I suspect few parents prepare their kids for quiet. I never had to, but off the top of my head, a few suggestions:
- A good friend of mine once prayed the rosary while she was nursing or holding her sleeping babies. She discontinued when they got older, but I think the instinct is good to pray with one’s toddler in one’s lap for a few minutes every day. When the child gets squirmy, put her or him down and keeping praying. As children grow older, they become accustomed to quiet with a mother or father. So quiet in church is less alien to them.
- Kids should visit their church during off-hours. It’s a good habit to cultivate. It might also give the parent a chance for some deal-making. Let the child determine (fairly) the length of a non-liturgical visit, knowing that on Sunday, the parents make the call. Ten minutes, twenty minutes: these will be stepping stones to the weekend hour at Mass.
- These “non-liturgical” visits should also be non-food visits. And probably non-toy or non-book visits. I know some friends and parishioners swear by the baggie of cheerios or see those toys as essential. But I also believe young children have a greater capacity for silence and prayer than we might give them credit.
- I suspect some children need to be shown what to “do” during silent times. Imagine in the mind a picture, in turn, of each of their family members, pets, and friends, and pray for them. Probably something as simple as “Jesus, help my dad.” and “Jesus, thank you for my friend, N.” and even for a three-year old, being able to pray the Glory Be at the end of praying time. This is something a parent might have to model and talk through with the child.
Any other thoughts?