Tips on How to Handle Toddlers in Church

Religious gatherings like Sunday Mass become more challenging with an infant or toddler in tow. Parents run around tirelessly trying to pacify their child from making noises that will disturb church-goers and the celebration.

I still wonder how the past generation can make children and toddlers attend church with proper disposition and decorum but these days, they get harder to instruct and harder to manage.

From the many Sundays and special masses we attend, we’ve somehow mastered dealing with young toddlers in church. It’s not easy really but it takes effort and patience and faith to do it every time. It’s all a different story, strategy, and experience every time.

1. Sit at the back or along the sides of the church pews

Sitting at the back area or along the sides of the pews of the church (or seats at the side of the place near the exit doors) or any mass venue doesn’t mean you’re less interested. This is a way to give courtesy to other people who want to be closer to the altar for less distractions and having a restless toddler nearby won’t give them want they need for prayer. Sitting at the back or along the sides of the church would mean easy access to exit doors in case your child throws an unexpected tantrum, need to change diapers, or makes unnecessary loud noises that are bothersome to the people nearby. A walk around the church or (if it has a safe envirnoment) outside the church is a good way to divert kids’ attention from impatience. We can’t fully expect them to understand what’s happening when they’re still below 5 years old but we can start trying the earliest possible age we can.

I guess we’ve made it a point to try to keep our kids quiet when they become restless and impatient as a sign of respect to others and the Church. It’s one of the most challenging part of bringing toddlers along especially when some churchgoers give you “the eye” which mean “shush your kid”.  I really don’t get how some can react that way especially those with children themselves. I learned to understand children’s noises and restlessness since we had our own children. Of course we recognize that keeping the noise down is part of church etiquette.

Some churches has an area for children but in the Philippines, I only know a few churches with this. If there is, you may sit there if your child is not in a good mood and you see some possible tantrums or noisy bouts from him or her for the day. Yes, it is possible sometimes that we can predict our kids if we master how they behave as a toddler.

2. Bring a Church bag or kit

A “Church bag” should keep the kids busy (for a few minutes at least or if you’re lucky, longer) . What’s inside? You can put a few of your chid’s favorite small toys, small pencil or crayon and paper, snacks, water bottle, snacks like cereals and biscuits (this one works for us most of the time) small books (better if religious books so you could explain while in church), quiet books (like cloth books), and others that can keep your child busy. If you have more than one toddler child (like us), avoid toys that will make them go through the whole “share war” thing. If this still doesn’t work, walk around and explorewhile quietly talking to them.

3. Have a routine

By now, most parents with a child would know that routine helps keep kids behave properly (most days). It’s because they know what will happen next so they somehow know what to do and how to act. They’re just like grown ups too. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be doing regular things like participating during mass, singing, and many other routines like lighting a candle, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, and many others so the kids will remember what is going to happen.

Routine can also mean not just during mass but for example, adding meal time together as a family after mass will help children look forward to attending mass and maybe behaving well too. It builds family tradition and also a happy after-mass treat to your child. It can be a reward-system sort of thing.

4. Timing is key

For some with infants and little toddlers, attending mass during nap times will help parents keep everything calm and in control during mass. For us, little stuff like milk time adds to some calm time. Although if your child is not used to napping in crowded places or in a church, this may not be a good idea. There’s a possibility of having a tantrum due to sleepiness when mass time coincides with nap time. It may not work out exactly as we imagined it to be.

Weather condition is also one thing we consider. Attending mass when the sun is at its hottest like lunch time may not be a good idea. Some churches are not air conditioned so the heat may add to your child’s irritability and discomfort (it will add to the your discomfort too). We pick cooler period of the day if schedule permits.

5. Talk to your children

Talking to your kids before mass (even if they’re little) will set the  mood and expectations. You get to explain what will happen and they will look forward to it and know how to behave. Sometimes they listen and sometimes they forget. Just add more patience and keep doing it each time and they will eventually get it. It’s a process.

Try to explain what the mass means is in an easy-to-understand language. Awareness will help them behave well.

6. Lower your expectations 

Don’t expect small children to behave like grown ups at mass. Even if some kids can do it, it doesn’t mean all kids can.Don’t be too hard on yourself and your child. Each child is unique and special in their own way and so is Mommy and Daddy. There’s no perfect and right formula.

If it will help, have a small reward system like compliment them after mass if they behaved fairly well or remind them of the times they behaved and how proud you are because of that. Children, like all of us, love compliments. They feel responsible when you compliment them. Our little 3-year old girl feels so mature when she gets complimented plus she’s proud of herself when we’re happy (we can tell from her gestures and expressions)

7. Encourage to join and participate

If you sing and respond during mass, your child will see how involved you are in the celebration and as great imitators that they are, they will soon do the same. Encourage him or her to also participate so they will focus their energies and attention to singing. Our little girl, tries to sing in any way she can even if she doesn’t get the lyrics correctly. She’s happy to hum and sing just like everyone else at mass.

Like all strategies, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t just like in parenting, there are good days and there are not-so-good ones.

8. Be a good example

Children imitate what they see around them especially what they see from the members of the family. Be attentive during mass, no cellphone and other distractions. Your children will eventually act how you act in social gatherings.

9. Family’s Teamwork always works

Take turns in taking care of your child if he or she is a handful- wants to be carried, wants to go around the church, wants to play and run around, and many other physical child behaviors. Taking turns will give you little breaks and will give you time to attentively listen or pray solemnly.

Giving the effort to calm an active or not-in-the-mood child to one persons may result to burn out and loss of patience. We don’t want this mood in a religious gathering right?

10. Practice at home

You may practice prayer time at home and silent prayer times at home. Switch to a religious channel and recreate the Holy Mass at home for the children to remember what they would do come Sunday or special mass celebrations. You’ll be surprised that kids learn from practice even at a young age.

11. Dress properly and comfortably

This is not only for toddlers but also for the parents and nannies. Lessen possible reasons why they get uncomfortable during the mass. Make sure your attire is comfortable enough to run around chasing kids and dealing with an active toddler. Bring fans or cooling devices if you know the venue will be humid.

12. Explain what’s going on

Children love to be involved and what I usually do with our 3-year old daughter is that I whisper to her what’s going on during mass. It takes patience and perseverance to do this, but it works for us. It keeps her interested and attentive during mass. I tell small stories about Jesus and Mother Mary and other characters in the Bible. We talk about religious statues and artifacts around the church too. Also, explaining what’s happening during mass will keep everyone involved. It’s a good practice.

***

You don’t need to skip or freeze your religious life for your toddlers. So to all the moms and dads who bring their children to Church, with or without a nanny, you are actually doing something good and it’s not really easy at all. It takes effort and patience really. Even if it’s a lot of work, God sees your handwork and dedication to involve the family in religious events.

Bringing the small children along is one good way of helping them build a strong moral foundation too. You are sharing to your family your values and maybe you can also start your own family traditions during and after mass.

So now I can say I truly understand noisy kids in church and how I salute the parents who bring the children even how small they are and how challenging it is for them to keep them still and quiet. It’s a small sacrifice we can do for a bigger and better cause. Bringing your children regularly to mass keeps them aware that they belong to a community of believers. If we can bring them around different places around the world or around malls, why not an hour in Church regularly right? Hang in there Moms and Dads! Soon enough this stage will pass.

Lastly, sharing some churches around Metro Manila that we visited that are kid-friendly and with some areas you can stroll around and somehow we find it manageable to bring the kids here. Feel free to check regularly for an updated list (as of June 5, 2018):

1. St. Andrew the Apostle Church, Makati City (with aircon)

2. Immaculate Conception Cathedral , Quezon City (not airconditioned)

3. Sanctuario de San Jose, Greenhills

4. Sanctuario de San Antonio, Forbes Makati City

5. Sto. Niño de Paz Chapel, Greenbelt Makati City

6. Chapel of the Eucharistic Lord, SM Megamall (inside a shopping mall)- with an area for kids

7. Mary Mother of Hope Chapel, The Landmark Makati City (inside a shopping mall)

8. Chapel of the Holy Family, Greenhills Shopping Center (inside a shopping mall)

9. Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel, Powerplant Mall Makati City (inside a shopping mall)

10. National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Quezon City

11. St. Ignatius De Loyola Cathedral. Quezon City

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