Kids in Church, round two: Alex 2, Parents 0


Originally uploaded by markhillary

He’s at it again.

After Vacation Bible School, Alex’s interest in and behavior at church took a definite turn for the better. For two weeks. But apparently he was just saving up all his bad behavior for use the last two weeks.

On Father’s Day in Southern Illinois, we went to church with my in-laws, and sat in the front. Christian and I had to take turns holding Nicholas at the back…and Alex?

Alex chased me down the center aisle, and when I gave him the look, he ran back to the front. He folded his arms and scowled, he hunched in his seat, he sat when he was supposed to stand and slumped when he was supposed to kneel. No amount of explaining what was going on…no amount of threats…made any difference. It was the best music we’ve ever experienced at that parish, but he cared not.

After Mass, at least five people came up to us to smile and pat our shoulders and tell us what a good job we were doing amid such chaos. Em-barrassing.

But maybe it was the excitement of visiting Grandma and Grandpa. Maybe the next week would be better.

As it turned out, this week we sat with Great-Grandma, which seemed, at the breakfast table, like it was going to help. But the happy child eating Danish for a treat at home turned into holy 5-year-old terror when we reached the pew. Yes, it was crowded. Yes, it was hot. But I swear he was possessed. The only thing he participated in was the Lord’s Prayer. He spent the rest of the time…you guessed it. Folding his arms and scowling, hunched in his seat, sitting when he was supposed to stand and slumping when he was supposed to kneel, and refusing to make any attempt to pay attention.

It doesn’t sound that bad, but it was. Trust me. It. Was. Bad.

And after Mass, three people came up to tell us they remembered what it was like to have poorly-behaved children at church (they didn’t use those words, but it was definitely what they meant) and what a good job we were doing. (Actually, one woman was super sweet. “Kate, I don’t know how you manage to handle all this chaos and still look so beautiful!” she said, which definitely fed my vanity!)

We are at our wits’ end, people, and so I am begging for ideas. And I mean begging. This is a kid who has a beautiful voice, loves to sing, and sings freely at all times, except at church. (And story time. Weird, huh?) He’s eminently capable of learning the responses, and we’ve tried whispering in his ear, telling him what’s going on, but nothing works. He’s horrible at church. I rack my brains trying to remember myself being bad at church, clinging to the hope that he might just grow out of it…but I can’t remember ever acting this way at church. It’s embarrassing, and it’s painful for me, because I love the liturgy.

Help? Ideas? Please?


12 thoughts on “Kids in Church, round two: Alex 2, Parents 0

  1. A couple of ideas that have worked for me. When my kids were a little younger, they would take little reading books about Jesus that they could read during Mass. I never allowed toys, but books were okay. This one I’m not as proud of, but it worked….I bribed them. 🙂 I told them that from now on if they behaved in Mass, we would go get a little treat afterward. I explained that it wouldn’t happen everytime, but they never knew WHEN it would happen, so they started to behave better. Now my kids are a little bit older (7 & 9), so they’ve been following along with their own Missals and are way better behaved in church. Good luck!

  2. Renee G

    being 5 is a hard age at Mass. Have you purchased MagnifiKids for him? It’s a great resource for children to help them participate – of wait, it works better for a reader but he’ll be learning soon.
    By that age I have wanted my children to sit, stand and kneel at the appropriate time. It’s not easy at times – sometimes just being in a new church or not in their regular pew can throw them off. It was easier when we went to a church that served donuts afterward. We would explain the behavior we wanted during Mass, remind a few times during Mass but if the misbehavior continued we would skip donuts letting the child know why…. usually they shape up the next week and after a few times of missing out they learn…….

  3. We have used the bribery. We have used the books. I like the books, but it does wear out sooner rather than later in our experience.

    My first two were dreams when it came to Mass…

    I wasn’t quite prepared for my third daughter. I had thought we were over the hump with her, too, but then just two weeks ago as I had to take her out at Consecration, she yelled all the way to the back of the church (as I was walking her out) “NO MOMMY! NO MOMMY! NO MOMMY!” Yes…embarrassing…humiliating. But I got her all the way out of the church and I explained to her that everyone is here to see Jesus and SHE was making that very difficult for Mommy! Very difficult for EVERYONE! and then I threw in that her 18-month old brother was behaving better than she was. She was a dream the rest of the Mass. But the next week…though we didn’t have to take her out, ugh, she was still kind of unruly. So, we’ll just keep on going and I pray she just needs to grow out of this!

    Anyway…I completely understand where you are (at least your 5-year-old sounds a lot like my 4-year-old) and I, too, am praying she grows out of it!

  4. Going to mass is hard for us too! We have 3 kids 5 and under. I have tried everything!!! We have good and bad weeks. Lately we have been bringing a backpack with books, paper, crayons and a beanie baby. It seems to help a little. It is hard when you are outnumbered. Just keep going and they will get better!

  5. Luci

    Hi, found your blog from WFMW. We’re not Catholic nor is the following book recommendation, but you might find it helpful. We did.

    It has really helped me as I parent in the pew our children, 3 boys and 1 girl, ages 8, 6, 4, and just turned 2.

    Also I’ve found the less they have as toys/distractions the better it is for everyone and younger I require them to sit still the better. The best thing has been having family devotions EVERY night and requiring church behavior then. Practice does help.

  6. Hi, we’re not Catholic either, but I will tell you what we’ve done to help our kids in… “big church” as we call it. We do take books for the younger ones. And that works ok, once they are around 5 or so we let them keep a tally sheet. We make 2 colomns and have either God or Jesus or Christ or Father…you get the idea… at the top and have the little one keep a tally of how often the choosen names are said. It keep them paying attention and listening. The biggest help for me is just to realize that in my years of church attendence, however many that may be, this time of training is really a very small window. And it does help to practice at home. 🙂 Best of luck.

  7. Cecelia

    Kind of an obvious question, but I’m curious – when you ask Alex why he acts that way at church, what does he say? If asked in a tone that’s genuine and not disapproving, it might be illuminating.

    I say this just because from his behavior, it seems like more is going on than just “I’m bored at church.”

  8. Whew! It’s been such a week, and you’ve all been so terrific with your thoughts…let me go one by one.

    1. Toys vs. books–we’ve never had toys at church, only religious books…but they’ve lost their appeal for him, and I think he needs to be weaned from them anyway…

    2. We don’t have MagnifiKids, but we do have an “Arch book” type of missal for him to follow…he did well with that for a while but now isn’t interested anymore.

    3. Bribery–been there, done that. Temporary solution, in our case…

    4. Denial of treats…that’s well underway, but we’re on to stronger measures.

    5. Michelle, Luci, Stephanie & Becky–food for thought in those posts, thank you.

    6. And Celia–I haven’t read your email yet, so I’ll hold off till after I do. 🙂

  9. Tamara Copple

    kate, have you bothered to ask him why he does what he does? Understanding the source of the angst is the first step to overcoming it. empathizing (not sympathizing) is the second.

  10. ummm…our daughter was a stubborn sort at that early age. She wanted to make her own choices so we often let her in the context of a larger framework. For instance, we’d say she could wear either the blue socks or the red socks, it was her decision which she wore. She loved it, we loved it, war was averted.

    In your case, you could try to hand him a choice: uhhh…like, he can either stand when everyone stands or kneel when everyone kneels. When he tells you his decision, ask him what a proper consequence would be for breaking the rule (i.e. not following through on his choice). If he comes up with something appropriate (which may require your guidance, as kids can come up with some pretty punitive consequences), then follow through if/when he breaks it…This gives him some ownership for his actions and for consequences, good or bad.

    If he follows through, affirm, but don’t make a big deal out of it. This is his thing…taking personal responsibility isn’t easy, but always worth it.

    Saying a prayer for you!
    PS also, Love and Logic materials are amazing and unlike other parenting materials I’ve seen. Effective, practical solutions with immediate results…Christian parenting advice for all ages. A speaker came to our church with their materials and it was a huge help for many! They’ve a website:

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