27 answers

How Can I Keep My Three-year-old Civil During the Long Easter Mass?

Ok, so our family is Roman Catholic and as such we have a loooooong traditional mass coming up next Sunday for Easter. I sing upstairs in the choir so it is impossible for me to keep our three-year-old under control during mass; my husband takes him downstairs in the pews instead, but he has a hard time keeping the little guy quiet and interested (read: not yelling and not disturbing the other parishioners). We've tried bringing books and coloring books for him to play with during mass and also helping him follow along with the service by holding and "reading" his own missalette, but still after 15 minutes he's making a nuisance of himself. So, moms, what else should we try? I enjoy singing in the choir and the choir director really needs my voice, but I hate to see my husband frustrated and not enjoying mass, I hate to see the other parishioners irritated and most of all I hate to see my little guy resenting his time spent in church!


P.S. Before anyone says it, yes I am aware that I could have prevented this problem by bringing him to mass every Sunday from infancy and conditioning him to behave well during mass. I didn't, only occasionally, and that ship has sailed (although my goal is to get him to church service as many Sundays as possible now that he's getting a little older). Also I am well aware that it is unrealistic to expect a three-year-old to sit stilly and quietly for well over an hour in a mostly unfamiliar setting--or even a familiar one for that matter.

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Wow, such great ideas moms! In answer to some of you, we have a soundproof "crying room" separate from the main sanctuary of the church with nothing in it except chairs and missalettes. We do go there sometimes but the sound isn't always that great and it's behind the very last row of pews so we try to avoid it. I am definitely going to speak to our pastor about upgrading the room or putting some tables in the back of the sanctuary so all of us parents can bring our little guys there. It's funny because the pastor's been asking all us parents to bring our kids to church; I don't think he realizes how hard it for us to feel welcome back in that crying room!

I really do need to sing upstairs for both masses (at least until we get some more soprano choir members, we're really small right now) but I'll definitely have my family go to the later one. I think this weekend I'll pack the Mr. Potato head, one of the Cheerios books (along with the Cheerios to put in the spaces), a magnet book or a half cookie sheet and magnets, an Easter coloring book, a snack and a juice box to send with my husband downstairs. I'll even see if I can get him to sit up front so my boys can see. And, when my youngest inevitably gets restless, I'll tell my husband or one of my daughters (in advance) to take him for a quick break. If the other parishioners get antsy, I'll just be sure to say a big "God bless you, Happy Easter!" when I join my family after the recessional. Thanks to all of you for being supportive, kids will be kids and it's nice to hear some of you have gone through the same stuff.

Featured Answers

You're doing great! How about making a small bag of "mass only" quiet toys along with the books you already have for him? I suggest using toys that either he has never seen, or use toys that he hasn't seen in a very long time. I tried this with my grandchildren, and it helped quite a bit. They were not perfectly quiet, but they did well for their age.

Hi M.! I think its great that you hopefully avoided the negativity before it even came...haha. With my daughter I bring food, that seems to keep her occupied for most of the time. Good Luck I'll be crossing my fingers for you....

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We are lucky that our church has a nursery. But I don't like my son missing out - so he comes in to the service. We are doubly lucky that our church has a speaker in the narthex (vestibule of the church) with a table, crayons, books, etc. WE go there often and can still hear the service. Maybe a few parents could approach your church for something like this.

We visited my husband's old church last year and they had a basket with little tote bags. Inside were crayons, quiet toys, books, etc. They weren't as nice as what we had packed, but they were different and it really held his attention (for at least half the service). So now I kept special toys and special snacks only for church - the novelty helps. Also, I try to give snack during the gospel so he is quiet then. Also, I sit where he can get up and stand and move - as a sensory seeker SI child, he simply can NOT sit still at this age (we're working on that as a goal).

I also try to balance the church's needs with my son's needs and with the other parishioners' needs. A little noise should be tolerated - I'm not talking big amounts. But all church's need to realize that children are the future of the church. If they don't feel welcomed and have a sense of ownership before the teen years, many will leave the moment their parents can't force them to go any more. (I have a 24 year old too and my husband works with the youth program at our church). We don't have a children's service, but our minister has said that people who need it quiet should come to the early service and parents, please come to the later service. So now I don't feel the need to constantly shush my younger son and he listens to the few times I do.

Good luck

well beign a child dev specialist you know not all kids have teh same temperment and soemtimes bringing infants and small children to worship is very stressful situation. do they have a crying room???? i usually start out in the sanctuary and then immediately exit to teh crying room if my two yr old is to busy for the main church. i brign snacks small toy etc. it is really to much to askto have them absolultly quiet through out the whole service so i keep my expectations low and try not to get frustrated kids sense that anyway this to shall pass and continue singing your husbadn can handle it maybe let him go to 830 or 7 mass and then everyone relaxes and you can ehjoy your singing time not stressful adn practice church next week when the service is do able with a 3 yr old and not so long as easter mass... mother of 4 - 14 11 9 and 2 K. d

Hi M.,
My husband and I were brought up Catholic (school and everything!) and though we now attend another protestant church, I have to say, when we do attend Mass with other family members, the priests have been very accepting of talking,crying etc from little kids. I even apologized to a priest at a memorial mass for a relative and he said "I love when the little ones are in church, it doesn't bother me a bit". At our church we do have nursery and kids church during service so its expected that babies,toddlers and children up to 2nd grade go to one of them and not the adult worship. Sometimes I would like to have my son in service with me, but feel kind of pressured not to. Maybe you could suggest having the "crying room" be more of a nursery with toys and activities for the kids. There are many Bible curriculums for kids and I'm sure the Catholic church would have some of their own. As far as other members, maybe try to sit with other families? Best!

Every church I've ever been to has a nursary. Let him sit for the service for 15 minutes. When he gets antsy have your husband take him to the nursary and leave him there until the end of the service. Then next time try to get him to sit for 20 minutes.

Our church had an area in the back for parents w/ young children where you could sit and hear mass and the kids could play but weren't being disruptive. I've all so been to a few churches where the kids sit through only part of the mass then they have the chance to go to a room similar to a daycare style and play and learn about mass on their level so they can actually understand what is going on and being said. Maybe its time to a look for a more child friendly catholic church they are around. Personally I don't go to Mass anymore because I found you just can't please people. You either get the disgusted look because your child acts up or starts to cry, you get disgusted looks fi you go to Mass w/o your kids, and kids don't understand what's going so of course they aren't going to sit still and those that expect them to are crazy. If it weren't for the crazy looks I got when my youngest would cry and need to nurse I'd probably still go but people for some reason expect children to sit and be quiet...HAHAHA they need to wake up and go back to when they had small kids. Maybe you could get him a babysitter or have a family member or neighbor watch him while you go or let your husband stay home w/ the kids there is no reason to put a 3 yr old through Easter Mass if you don't have to they don't understand what's going on anyways.

Well Hi M.. As my family doesn't go to mass, I don't know if this will work for you, but it has worked for me when I have to bring my 3-year-old to a long and potentially boring event for a 3-year-old. Have you thought of bringing play-do or moon sand. They both make no noise and are easy clean up. Most people understand that you need to bring stuff for little guys.
ALso, does your church have a children's area? We've gone to a few christening where there is a children's area that is pretty sound proof so as not to disturb parisheners. They had teenager-parisheners in there keeping an eye on the kids and/or parents could stay in it too. SOmething to look into. Good luck!

when my brother was that age we used to bring dry cereal for him in a little snack container (and we went to church every sunday when i was growing up)..he would sit and eat them or kneel at the pew and line them up and play games with them..what about buying the book where you put the Cheerios in the little holes for him?

Boys are much more active and coloring books don't usually hold their interest for long. How about an action figure for each hand? My youngest always has one in each hand, in church too, and this usually does the trick. Good luck - I'm sure you won't be the only one at your church with squirmy little ones!

Don't beat yourself up! Every child is different and there is no saying that he would be quiet even if you had been bringing him all along. We did bring our kids from day one and my son has always been great and my daughter always starts screaming -- it is just in her nature no matter what we try.

Try to find something new and unique that will capture his attention. With my son, he always loved puzzle books (board book style books with 4-9 puzzle pieces on a page to do) and magnet books (there are lots of different ones that open up like a large folder and have tons of magnets inside). They also make some colorforms style ones similar to the magnet ones. Now that my son is older I pack a dot to dot book or a little activity book. I always kept this stuff special for church so that was the only time he saw it. Kept it exciting for him. I would make sure the Easter Bunny brings him a couple new quiet things that he can bring with him. One year for Christmas he got a Mr. Potato Head. We ended up bringing that because it was the only way he was going to leave for church Christmas morning. he was just barely two and everyone around us commented on how great he was and how quiet -- you may just need to find that perfect treat!

Good luck -- I am still struggling to find that trick with my daughter and am worrying about Easter mass as well!

Well, first I need to say that Easter Mass is probably one of two times a year where you can expect all the other children to be noisy also, so try to worry less about him making noise. Everyone is so excited and sugared up that there is always a lot of activity on Easter Sunday. That being said, I know you still want to keep him calm and quiet. Have you tried having your husband sit up front with him? I know this is a revolutionary idea but when he is up front he will be able to see what is going on and that may keep his interest more. Your husband can whisper things to him about what is going on, like after the consecration he can whisper "Look there's Jesus! What a miracle, Jesus is with us! I Love you Jesus!" He can actually learn why he is there in the process. It is such a tough age! Even my four and a half year old who has missed maybe a handful of Sundays since birth gets squirrelly during the homily. So, your husband may have to take him out when he gets out of control and hold him in the back or vestibule until he can be quiet. I have spent my fair share of time in the vestibule with the vacuum cleaner until my children could calm down. It is a long teaching process but remember his noise bothers you more than the other people there, esp. on Easter. Blessed Easter to you!

Hi M.,

First, stop expecting a three year old to 'behave'. He is simply being a three year old and most people in a church will understand that. Brings snacks, crayons and anything else he enjoys to keep him occupied. He will enjoy seeing and hearing you sing but he will also likely want to go to you as well.

Have you considered a babysitter? There are many people who either don't observe Easter at all or who simply aren't doing so in church. It might be worth asking around.

I was Anglican Catholic, brought seven children up in the church so , yes, would have been better to start as an infant, taking them out if they fuss and cry.But you did not, so deal with what you have now...not such a big deal hon. And the child is only three...hard to sit quietly for an hour at that age, but he can do it with help.
Nothing more frustrating or ruder than a crying , fussing child during service.
For my 3 yo grandson, we have a "bag" it has snacks, water or juice, stickers, foam puzzles, few takealong thomas trains, a cardboard castle to build, a knight in shining armor , play doh, potato head, ect ect.
Quite a few items as his interest varies. For snacks there are usually goldfish, or raisins, trailmix, sometimes a cereal/fruit bar, chex mix. Small things that take some time to eat.
And favorite story books just for church, some popups.
There is a bible story book that has little doors on each page with a picture and verse under each door.
If he starts to wander or fuss we take him out of the sacristy.
One thing that helps is to let ours put the money in the collection plate, that takes up ten or fifteen minutes waiting for it to get to him..hehehe.
It should not take long to acclimate your son to a service and an hour is not that long, yes?
Your husband should be able to handle this well with a well packed church bag.
Tincture of time and patience and this , too, shall pass.
Best wishes and God bless.
Grandmother Lowell

Oh oh oh, have one son, and one grandson who took a loooooooooong time to sit quietly in church.
AND we have an awesome crying room, a changing table, couple canadian rockers, is mostly soundproof, AND it has a knob to adjust volumne from front of the church so we can hear the sermon. Light adjusting knob too.

Just wondering if there is any nursery or children's church during services that he could go to?

I have a 16 month old that is going through the same thing. The truth is that Church is really boring for Y. kids. We bring small toys along (nothing that makes noise) action figures, trucks and cars. I also feed a very small breakfast before church and then bring cheerios/kix/goldfish in a baggie with a drink. I feed my son very slowly...one cheerio at a time to stretch snack time out.

What worked for my daughter when she was three was a lollipop. The rule was as along as she sat quietly she could enjoy a lollipop during church. If she got up or started talking, the lollipop would go away until she could be seated and quiet again. This one worked like a charm - even through a 90 minute mass, but it may not be for every parent, particularly those who are anti-candy. But I think you really can get away with it at Easter, when most kids are eating candy at 8 in the morning....

Good Luck!
T. Y.
SAHM of almost 4 (8 yrs, 7yrs, 16 months and 11 weeks pregnant)

Hi M.! I think its great that you hopefully avoided the negativity before it even came...haha. With my daughter I bring food, that seems to keep her occupied for most of the time. Good Luck I'll be crossing my fingers for you....

Hi. I know this is not the best idea, but what about brining a small snack and drink for him.. My kids (age 2+3) have been sitting pretty well lately when they have been "fed and hydrated" again during mass. Even little things like goldfish or cherrios or a fruit snack type thing (easy for you to clean up before you leave)...
Good luck.

I feel your pain. It's hard to get small kids to behave at a normal mass, forget about a long Easter one! I dont have any other suggestions beyond the previous posts but I wanted to let you know I understand it's hard and stressful! I'm not quite sure how we are handling it this year!

Is it essential to make this his first full mass?? What is to be gained? To allow everyone to enjoy this meaningful holiday and keep your child from hating church, why not put him in babysitting? If the church doesn't provide it (many do fpr just this reason), hire someone either at home or at the church who can take him in and out. Going forward, involve him in children's masses to build up his exposure and enjoyment, then bring him to full masses when he's older. You can sing and everyone can worship without lots of "shushing" and frustration. Good luck.

Hi M.:

Long services are hard at this age. The average attention span is one - two minutes for each year of the child. Some kids can focus on something longer. Based on this your little guy would be about 6 minutes max.

When my guys were that age we did the coloring book, reading book, quiet toys, ie soft blocks, foam puzzles. The other thing we did was sit towards the back of the sanctuary and when necessary quietly get up and walk to other parts of the church or outside if the weather permitted. Yes you miss some of the service but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

How does your church feel about food in the sanctuary? A sippy up with water and a few crackers or something could be given to him part way through.

Even though we attended church regularly when the kids were small it took a long time for them to sit during the service. Even now my guys 11 and 8 bring things for the extra long service time just in case they are not drawn to the message.

Does your church offer nursery during the service in case?

Have a Happy Easter!


church services, or any service that lasts an hour or so, are tough on little ones. their attention span is too short at that age. you could always get a babysitter while you go to church. or possibly your church has an area set aside for toddlers and young children where they can play and be watched over while you and your husband enjoy the service. mine did when my kids were little.they would join us in the sanctuary for the beginning, maybe fifteen minutes or so, then they would be escorted out of the sanctuary and over to their special area. if your church does not, then maybe this is the optimum time to get one up and started? good luck.

I have a four year old that I use to have a problem with (and sometimes still do)being fidgety and talking and he even has run around the sanctuary. I would suggest bringing a snack for him and some paper to draw and color and maybe there is a toy that is quiet that he can play with quietly. And don't worry, I used to worry and get upset and frustrated all the time and then everyone would say he did great, so I think as a mom (or dad) we tend to worry more than we should about who they might be bothering. So don't worry about, belief it or not I think people are just happy to see them there (I still, most of the time, put my child in the preschool during church services). Good luck, I'll probably have to do the same thing for Easter. P. S.

I am hoping for some tips myself from your question. Thanks for putting it out there. I have brought my 2.5 year old boy since he was a baby and he is STILL not behaved in church! I have tried the food, toys, letting him roam, going to family Masses and children's Masses. He just wants to run and I am frustrated. Any ideas, less the judgements, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again M. and good luck.

p.s. I don't know if it's an option but could you do choir at one Mass and go as a family to a different one altogether? That way you could have a good experience with choir and not give up something important to you and maybe your child would be better with both of you there? Just a thought. Not sure if it's a possiblity.

I would suggest three things:
1. Bribery. If he does a good job in church he gets some reward.
2. Stickers. This usually occupies my kids for quite a while and it is a quiet activity.
3. honeysticks. They are little plastic tubes of honey- a lollipop would work too, but it takes my kids a LOT longer to ingest the sweetness from a honey stick and it's probably better for them. You can get them at a health food store (whole foods) or sometimes at candy stores. They are about the size of a pencil and are just plastic sheaths of honey. Pop open one end and the yummy honey can be squeezed out. A box of raisins is also a quiet, yummy, snack that takes some effort to get out. That can keep a kid occupied.
I would NOT beat yourself up over not having brought him to mass since he was little. I brought my baby to church with me when she was very little, but when she started crawling, it became increasingly difficult to have her there. Churches have nurseries for a reason. A young child is just not going to connect with everything that happens in a service. And asking them to sit still for more than 30 minutes is asking a LOT.
So I would load up on distractions. Better to use things that they haven't seen before. Good luck!

You're doing great! How about making a small bag of "mass only" quiet toys along with the books you already have for him? I suggest using toys that either he has never seen, or use toys that he hasn't seen in a very long time. I tried this with my grandchildren, and it helped quite a bit. They were not perfectly quiet, but they did well for their age.

Hi M.,

We've found that our four kids actually behave BETTER when we sit right up front, and they can see what's going on. We've gone through periods that are worse than others, particularly when we have a baby between the ages of 12-24 months (and we have one right now...!) but when they feel involved, they seem to behave better. It goes against your gut feeling of sitting in back to make a quick escape, but when they're in the back all they see are a bunch of heads, and it's boring to them!

We also went to a local shrine and bought religious coloring books that they can ONLY use in church. That makes them seem a bit more exciting/new each Sunday, and they hold their interest a bit more.

I wouldn't worry about other people's reactions, either. Your son deserves to be in church just as much as anyone else, and it isn't easy with small ones. Most people realize that and appreciate the fact that you are doing your best. If he gets fussy, just move out to the hallway for a couple of minutes and then head back in.
Happy Easter, and I wish you the best of luck!

First of all I don't think you missed the boat by not conditioning him to be quiet during weekly mass. My kids have attended church almost every Sunday since they were born, and they still can't sit quietly during a service. They are (8, 6, and 3 1/2) Some kids are just not made to sit still.
I understand the dilemma of watching from the choir as well. My church has a worship band instead of a choir, but I sing on average 2x a month. I watch my husband try to keep them under control, but there they are not sit still kind of kids. However you need to be aware that he is probably not bothering as many people as you think. Our oldest son dances around during worship (and insists on sitting up front), and I have gotten a number of comments from people that they enjoy watching him, and his excitement for the Lord. Don't worry about it so much just continue to remind him that he needs to be quiet, but allow him to move around in the pew a little (provided that there is room) It's all about give and take. What is important is that he learns about God, not that he sits still and keeps quiet.

When he starts to get antsy maybe your husband could wheel him back and forth in a stroller at the back of the church. I know it is not the ideal situation, but options seem to be running low. That way your husband won't miss the mass and maybe the constant movement may keep your son from going stir crazy. Also, just my opinion, even if you brought him to church since birth I still don't think a three year old could handle a long service without losing his patience at some point. It will come in time. Don't blame yourself for not bringing him all along. I really don't think it would have mattered anyway. Have a wonderful holiday!

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