Catholic Church Services and an Antsy 7 Year Old

Updated on May 01, 2012
R.N. asks from Nashville, TN
21 answers

We try, really we do try to take our 7 year old to church services but frankly its a miserable experience. We use all of the tricks of the "children's section in the choir loft, quiet activities, pencil/paper but she is just so antsy (up and down with the kneeler, opening and closing the books loudly, complaining, nudging etc.). I didn't have one opportunity to really just be quiet, to reflect, pray or think. The entire time I was correcting, threatening and redirecting.

I know the service is boring. Many times, I agree. A religious topic for another post. Switching churches at this time isn't an option.

Anyone else struggle with their children (who should know better by know) during church services.

Share your stories so I don't feel like the only mother everyone is watching.

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone. I appreciate it. In the interest of full disclosure, at times I avoid mass with her b/c I don't want to deal with it. I know we need to press on to get over this hump. We usually sit in a section way in the back but today she wanted to see the First Communicants as she makes her First Communion next year.. I gave in and sat in a regular pew. Mistake # 1.

I really like the idea of attending a second mass if she doesn't behave. She would HATE that! (Me, too!) OKAY, I AGREE THAT THIS ISN'T THE BEST ROUTE.

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answers from Columbus on

My daughter is the antsy type, too. One thing that helped us is getting her involved in the children's choir. Sometimes they teach the children to play the handchimes or bells, and that gets them really involved in the service and helps them to stay focused. She really enjoys it and has learned many of the songs by heart and now sings along with us instead of being distracted by other things around her. Another idea is to go to a weekday mass, which is a lot shorter, usually 20-30 min.

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answers from Jacksonville on

Hmm. We're not R.Catholic, but Lutheran, and I know there are a lot of similarities in the services. What I did with our kids (it was mostly just me with the 2 kids as my husband works Sundays) was sit near the front (not THE front, but close enough that they could actually see what was going on), and discuss in the car what was expected (and what was not going to happen, ie, not allowed). I didn't take a bunch of stuff to entertain them. Church isn't about being entertained. Too much "stuff" just makes it worse. In my mind (especially by age 7) it is akin to saying: you don't need to pay attention, here play instead.

Expect your child to participate. (Sing the alleluia verse, kneel at appropriate times, bow head and close eyes as appropriate, recite the Our Father when expected, etc). She can read, right? Have her follow along with the readings.

It was acceptable for my kids to lean on my a little bit during the sermon, but not so much as to make it "naptime". And by age 7, they weren't even doing that anymore. No taking off shoes and kicking them around under the pews. No sitting in the floor. Etc.

No books to read (except service hymnals or other liturgical materials to follow along with the service), or crayons or dolls, etc.

Our services ran from 10:30-11:40ish. They can last an hour.
We didn't have any special "children's church" or anything like that. They were expected to be part of the family. And they were.

Do you have a "look"? You know, the kind that screams at them "you do that again and you will not be able to sit down in the car on the way home"? Use the look.

And by the way.. even if you aren't able to just be quiet, reflect, pray or think during the service.... aren't you receiving Holy Communion? And, teaching your children falls under vocation. You are doing God pleasing work (or rather, Christ through you is doing God pleasing work) by raising your child. When your child learns how to behave, you will BOTH be able to do all those things you mentioned. And that will be well worth what you are doing now. But again, I say, if you are receiving Holy Communion--isn't that reason enough all by itself to continue to go weekly?

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answers from Savannah on

1st off I would suggest looking at the time you are going to mass. Most Catholic churches have many mass times available and you might want to change the time you go and see how she does. I know that some churches have different styles of mass at different times, usually based on music styles, and she might enjoy one much more than another. Also, some times are longer than others . . . especially the last morning mass, since there is no immediate mass following it, the homily can go on forever!

The only distraction I would allow is a children's Bible. If she cannot participate in Mass she can read her Bible and that is it!

I really think practice makes perfect and if you lay down the ground rules she will catch on soon!

You need to take her every week! She will never get used to behaving in church if she doesn't get a frequent opportunity to.

A 7 year old should fully participate in mass. I used to take my niece to Mass when we lived together and I required her to participate in singing praying and responses by the age of 4/5 years old. This is also good practice for her. If you are lucky enough to have the full missalette she should be following along with the readings (as best she can) and if you do not have the full missalette she can still follow along with the parts that are written out.

She should be a part of any singing throughout the whole mass. It might take her longer to find the number for the right song, but she will be occupied.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Does your parish have a "low" Mass, one without music, and a shortened Homily? Very few parishes do this now, as this is really a pre-Vatican II thing, but a few bigger, more traditional parishes here and there do have them on Sundays still....sometimes on Saturdays there is a shortened anticipatory Mass (counts for Sunday if it's after sunset) in late evening.

If your parish has one, take her to that. This is what we did with our ansty ones when they were too young to follow along. The first Mass of the day at our parish is at 8am and there is no music, choir, or any long form of prayers. It is a very simplified Mass, and because of this we are in and out in 35 minutes, instead of an hour or more. Best of all, our kids are not morning people. They are pretty tired and out of it when we get to Mass and don't start to "defrost" until dismissal...just in time to greet Father and hit the road before the crazy happens! LOL.

Sometimes a walk was in order. We go to a very beautiful old church. I had no problem taking a time out to take the kids to the back of the church to enjoy the art, architecture, statues, and other interesting things around the building. You may not be able to pray or focus on Mass but God understands more than anyone the challenges of being a mother! Know that he is more pleased to know that you made the effort to "bring the little children to him," and that you are making Him known to them. They get alot out of even seeing burning candles, the smells of incense, the sound of the music, the beauty of the art...more than you know and don't forget God is probably working on many levels on the entire family in ways you can't understand. We can't always rely on our feelings...there is faith at play here too.

Stop beating yourself up if your child has energy. It's the temperament God gave her. He likes her just the way she is and wants her there, ants and all. Ignore crabby people. You aren't there for them. They need to learn patience and understanding. You and your daughter have a right to be there, noise, squirmming and business and all.

On two ocassions, I had mean old ladies tell me about myself when my baby was teething and crying during Mass. This after communion. Appalling I say. God must have thought so too. Because one of the two times, my father (who is a Deacon) and the Pastor came over to check on me as she was yelling at me and turned to them (not knowing the Deacon was my dad, nor that I knew the Pastor well) to say that I was rude and had no business sitting in the back of the church with a crying baby. My dad just gave her a disapproving frown and said, "I'm sorry my grand child upset you so much. He is teething. I'm sure remember what that was like with your own baby." The pastor followed up with "I don't want a parish where the children are sent away to a room to color and read simple books. I want them to fully participate from birth onward." The woman was mortified and apologizing profusely saying she didn't know who I was. I don't think she got the point that it didn't matter who "I" just mattered that children of all ages should be welcome to Mass.

I missed many homilies due to squirmy kids for years.
So do millions of moms everywhere. It was better going to the shorter Mass, but there was no guarantee of smooth sailing. However, for the most part this worked for us. If you can do so, try it. You might be pleasantly surprised. The only downside is High Holy days like Easter and Christmas where avoiding music and lengthy services is impossible. Your kids might have the same questions ours did..."Mom why is there so much music?" and "Why is Mass so long today?" LOL.

Now they are older and can follow along. They actually like going to Mass now. And enjoy talking about the Homily on the ride home or over breakfast.

PS: A children's version of the Mass is a very helpful book to bring along. The St. Joseph's Mass for children is very nice. It's small, has full color photos of an actual mass, all of the prayers and prompts telling what they should be doing and why...such as standing, kneeling, etc. If she's focused on following along, she may not feel so antsy. Don't use Mass as punishment. If you feel fostering faith is important, you want her to come to love her time at church. Help her to understand why she is there and why it is important to listen to the stories and reflect on Father's homily. There is a message in it for everyone. Even for her. Tell her to listen for the message and to ask questions after Mass if she has any. Perhaps read the readings together BEFORE Mass so she can be prepared and have a better understanding of what's going on. Make Mass a fun thing that she knows will help her to become a better person and one who will grow spiritually. Don't make it a chore, or something "we just do because we have to." Otherwise, Mass is just a waste of time. Kids are smart. If that's what you're radiating that's what they're going to start to feel about it too.

Religious themed coloring books are good as well, if she's not mature enough to participate yet. See: or or or or click on religious catalog, for books and other ideas for church.

Instructional videos about parts of the Mass and traditions and prayers can help add meaning to her experience. You can watch those as a family and there are lots of good books for kids her age as well. CCD classes help too, I'm guessing she's already doing this if she's planning on having her First Communion next year. If she's not enrolled, now is a definitely a good time.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Lynchburg on

Oh R.-

when my kiddos were little (even when they were we had this issue...

All that seemed to help (and sounds as if you are doing) was going WEEKLY!

I was simply a part of out routine...PERIOD!

One funny story...when they were older...and eldest had a cell phone...I caught him 'textng' during mass...I excused myself with a 'littler' one...and texted him from the bathroom...saying 'no texting in church...signed 'god'...'

He never did again.

I CAN say that having so close in age DID help...they modeled 'appropriate' church behavior from one another.

Maybe sit with other families with kiddos? Safety in numbers??

Best Luck!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Next time she does it take her to the next mass that day. A couple double mass Sundays will cure her of that forever.

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answers from Chicago on

I don't think ANYONE, regardless of age, would appreciate being forced to sit through something they had no interest in.

If you didn't like football, would you appreciate sitting through it for an hour?? Just watching my mother during football season is proof enough and she's an adult!

That being said, Church is important. HOWEVER, how important is something your daughter isn't getting anything out of?????? I thought (and correct me if I'm wrong) that the purpose of church was 1. worship 2. fellowship 3. learning about God. If your daughter is doing none of those things then I think something must be done so she DOES start getting those things out of church. You can't force someone to love something--forcing my mom to watch football isn't going to make her love it!

Also, your thoughts aren't where they need to be either. I would assume you're not getting anything out of church either!

Can you teach her more about church? Can you give her something to participate with? At 7 she should be able to follow along. Does she know what the parts of church are and how they are important? Can she follow along with the hymns? Does she know what a hymn is and why we sing it?

You could even give her a question/answer sheet to do while in church that would help her pay attention to the service (like teachers do in class). Questions like "what color was the church decorated in?" (I'm assuming you're Catholic if there are kneelers). What color was the priest wearing? What hymn was the first one we sang? What is one thing you learned today?

Give her a reward for getting the answers correct!

This may give her a reason to listen to what's going on and something to do. Also, a religious activity book may help.

On a side note, don't feed her sugary things for breakfast! No sugar cereal or waffles. That just makes her more wild.

I guess a lot of people think forcing kids to go to church and sit still upon penalty of punishment or for a reward is going to make them religious by osmosis?? I know I didn't care for church until I understood what was going on. I certainly didn't get anything out of it just by sitting there as a child! I love it when churches have children's church so the children can actually LEARN something. But if your church doesn't then I think it's your job as a parent to help your child get something out of it.

Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

Church is boring. The only way to get past this is to keep going. I would just tell her up front that your going to go every week and that she is old enough to sit thru a 1 hour mass. My friends father used to tell the kids ahead of time. There are 4 masses every sunday. we are going to the first one. anyone who can't behave will sit thru the next one and the next one etc. He has been known to keep a kid thru all 4 masses. It usually only happens once.

You could tie it into a reward / consequence system. Maybe let her know that if she is not able to sit for church she will not be allowed to sit for (TV, computer, video game etc take your choice) she is old enough to be able to reason it out.

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answers from Dallas on

Oh my, at least you only have 1 Antsy Nancy cause I have 3 to deal with each week! The best thing for me in times I really truely want to listen is an ipad/iphone w/headphones playing a quiet church Bible movie for them. Or, I've tried some kids packets you can find online that they get to answer questions as the service goes along like, "What was the name of the first song the congregation sang?" or "what color is the tie the speaker is wearing" etc... If you can't find any for a specific catholic service (I'm a different religion but totally get what you are talking about) then make your own that will keep her listening and paying attention but in a more kid friendly/fun way. Maybe even let her pick out some new crayons or markers to fill out her sheets each week and make those special crayons/markers/colored pencils etc... only available to her on Sunday so she doesn't get bored of using them too fast. GL momma, I'm proud of you for teaching her by showing up each week even though it's hard:)

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answers from Austin on

When we were growing up they had Children's Mass. First we attended Sunday school, then we headed to the Children's Mass. Each Sunday one of the School classes helped with the Mass each week.

It usually was held while the High Mass was going on. Sometimes, our parents attended with us, and many times, they went on to the adult mass.

Maybe you could suggest something like this at your church.

It really is so difficult to sit still, not make any noise during a boring anything especially when you are a young child. Maybe you should go to a Mass by yourself on a different day without the kids. Dad could watch them at home.

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answers from Houston on

The more she understands and can be involved with the less bored and distracted she will be. If she can start learning the prayers, even parts of them, she will have that to look forward to. Also, during the week when you are doing this preparation and while you're not stressed about her behavior, explain how important it is to not distract other people while they pray and worship.

You can also teach her about the colors, how to see when the music is going to be, when to look forward to standing up or kneeling. Learn as much of the music ahead of time as possible. You don't have to have a great voice to teach her to be ready for the Alleluia. The priest, organist or choir director might be helpful with some of that also. Your local Catholic bookstore probably has some books to help.

Then make the reward for behaving during Mass worthwhile. Same goes for the "reward" for not behaving.

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answers from Kansas City on

My dd has been doing much better since we put her in a class at church that teaches her what's going on in mass. Now she likes to see what color Father is wearing, etc. We also have 2 small coloring books that are only for church, which seems to help.

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answers from Boston on

I agree with the idea that doing it every week makes it "normal" and routine. There were a couple of things that helped when my girls were younger. In addition to the books and coloring supplies, I promised a treat at the coffee shop if they behaved -- and I outlined specifically what "behaved" meant. When my youngest (definitely the "antsiest" of my kids) started to get out of hand, I'd whisper a reminder about the frosted brownies that were her favorite -- and remind her how she could get one. Also, we sat up front -- like, in the first or second row -- but off to the side near the door to the church hall (makes for a quick escape, if necessary). Sitting up front made it easy for them to see. Being stuck in the back made it difficult to be a part of things.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Non of that worked for us either. the only thing that has worked is that on Sundays (our girls weren't old enough until this year) our church has the little ones (5-7) go out and do a craft that is associated w/ the readings during part of the mass. Then they come back and it's only like 20 mins.

Is there another church in the area that may have something like this??

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answers from Boston on

Every week...but I still take them. My 6 and 8 year olds have been going since they were infants and every week, you'd think they had never seen the inside of a church before. "How much longer?" "when can we go for a walk [to Communion]?" "he's hitting me," "I'm bored," "can I lay down and take a nap?" "can I crawl on the floor?" and on and on and on. My two 14 year olds behave...I can't remember at what age they stopped fidgeting and being restless and disruptive but they did eventually get their act together.

I think that every parent or grandparent there understands fidgety kids. You're probably bothered by her 10x more than anyone else is. To me, unless a baby is screaming relentlessly, then children belong in church, even if they're opening and closing the Missals loudly, sliding down the pews, talking (softly), flipping the kneelers up and down, etc. It's totally normal. The older ladies all smile and say "you're doing great, I miss those days" so I try to remember that they won't be this little forever.

ETA: My church also had Children's Liturgy of the Word for many years. We would take all of the kids ages 5-whatever (I had some kids as old as 12 join us) to a separate space and do the readings with them in a kid-friendly format. I was one of the leaders for this for many years and it was very enjoyable and rewarding. My kids totally miss it. We've had a lot of pastor turnover in the past few years to this got pushed to the side and with one playing hockey, I can't commit to leading the whole thing because I never know what our Sunday schedule will look like until a few weeks out, but I do hope that we bring this back. If your parish doesn't do this, it might be something to look into. If you have 6-8 parents who agree to rotate Liturgy duties it's totally manageable.

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answers from Phoenix on

You are absolutely NOT the only one going through this! My daughter's are a little younger but I still feel the same way you do and as a result my husband and I have lost our way with the church. We stopped going for a couple of years and it is just now that I miss going. While we were in church I felt like all I did was take care of my kids and discipline. It was not rewarding, I couldn't pray, and I got nothing from the experience. However, I do feel strongly about instilling a sense of routine in regards to faith and just giving up is not the right answer. I know you said it wasn't possible right now for you, but we changed churches and we are finding it to be so much better of a match for us. I was raised Catholic, my hubby chose to follow the Baptist faith as a young adult. We found a christian church that is a melting pot of faiths. It works for us right now, there is child care available, acceptable to drink coffee or water during service, lots of fun singing etc... I found myself reflecting and praying 10x more than I did attending mass at my "usual" church.

I hope you can find a solution that works for you. But please know that there is another empathetic mommy out there that feels the same way you do!

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answers from Champaign on

My oldest will be starting kindergarten in the fall, and he is usually ok with coloring. But our 3 year old is a bear! It can be rough. My husband and I take turns taking him out when we need to. We are so lucky that the members of our church are just super supportive. They all tells us to hang in there and that it will get better and that they remember those days, etc.

I guess I try to focus on the fact that this is part of growing up (for them). They have to learn to sit still and be respectful, even when they find the service boring (and as a Catholic who loves many, many things about the Church, that reaching out to the young ones is an area our Church is sorely lacking). We try to remind ourselves that we are working with them and they are learning and it doesn't happen overnight.

If you daughter is 7, is she learning about First Communion or attending Religious Ed? I'm just wondering if her teachers are working with them about understanding what is happening or talking to them about remembering the Gospel? Might be something to think about.

I have been at churches that had "Children's Liturgy of the Word" where a volunteer would take the children (ages 5-10?) to another room and discuss the readings at their level. They would return to Mass later, usually during the offertory. Our church does not currently have this. I thought about saying something to the priest, but I'm afraid he would say, "That's a great idea! Let me know what supplies you'll need, and we'll order them!" I might be able to do that in a couple of years, but I'm not going to abandon my husband to deal with the 3 year old alone!

Hang in there! You're not alone. You are teaching her many important things by taking her each week. It will get easier!

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answers from Boston on

I feel your pain. Luckily our church does have children's church where all the kids get to go to another room for the readings. That breaks up the service some. It also might help to buy a mass book for your daughter. I saw some kids with them recently (probably 6 and 8 year olds?) and they seemed to like following along with the service. They did still fidget, but seemed slightly more interested. I'm hoping to pick one up for my 7 y.o. My daughter seems a little bit better now that she can follow along with the songs, even though she can't quite read fast enough to sing along.

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answers from Albuquerque on

R. Catholic with three kids. Keep going. Every week. Then she'll get used to it. If you need time to really focus, go another time. Try going once during the week with her. The mass will be shorter and she'll get used to it. But I just know I won't get that quiet reflective time during mass I used to. But you know what? Mass is communal/community/communion. It's not time for solo prayer. And others there should be pretty patient with your child.

I had special books just for mass and some books all about the mass.

Find a church that has a children's liturgy! This helps a lot, but does not eliminate issues completely. I also had periods with each kid where we left and came back each time there were problems. I did not leave and take them to where toys were. After about age 5, they knew when we left I was upset and there was no fun. They WANT to go back in!

I also rewarded with the after-church donuts. If I have to leave with them at any point, no donut.

We subscribe to MagnifiKids. It helps focus on mass and they fight over it because they like it (not good for me always, but if you only have one, no problem there).

Does she have a community there? Get involved! She'll look forward to seeing friends before, during and after.

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answers from Dallas on

I have only read a few of the responses, so I apologize if I'm repeating. My youngest just turned 8, and he behaves during mass (and actually enjoys it). We sit in the third row, so he is able to see the altar easily. That helps a ton, so he isn't stuck in the back staring at the backs of other people. He can see the action.

Also, he has been preparing for First Communion this year, and the first communicants all leave during the readings to go to Children's Liturgy like someone else mentioned. Only the first communicants leave, not all of the children. Both of my boys (the older one is 14) go to CCD classes during the week, and that has helped, too. During class, they have learned everything that goes on during mass, so mass makes sense. It has meaning.

We pray together at home all the time, and in the car, or wherever we happen to be when we feel the need to pray, so my boys spend time in mass praying, too. Then after mass, we discuss the homily together. Of course my oldest gets more out of it, but my youngest contributes to the conversation, too. Even at a young age, he is building his faith.

Someone mentioned switching times, and we had to do that. We used to go on Sunday mornings at 7:45, but neither of my boys could keep their eyes opened during mass. If they were awake, they were grumpy. Now we go to the 5:00pm service on Saturdays, and everyone is much happier, and we all get a lot more out of it.

Good luck to you, and good for you for taking your young one to mass. I know it's difficult sometimes, but it really does get easier as they get older. It's so wonderful to watch their faith grow. :)

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answers from Phoenix on

I was raised Catholic and absolutely hated being in mass at least 95% of the time (to this day, my mom tries to guilt me into going). When I had my kids, it was a nightmare trying to get them to cooperate; and yes, many people would give us looks, even though there was no program for kids under 5 at any catholic church we visited! After a couple of years, I decided to visit a non-denominational Christian church that God had been insisting I visit. It was absolutely phenomenal. My kids now love going to church, they will even ask when we are going to church when we miss a Sunday (they are now 6 and 8). They're children's program is awesome and I am so impressed with my kids' faith and knowledge (way beyond what I have taught them); they know more about the bible than I ever learned from attending catholic school, CCD classes and church. We have all benefited from their classes on parenting, family, finances, marriage, and faith.
I hope you are able to find something that works for your family, but most of all I hope you keep an open/flexible mind and listen to your heart.

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