Toddlers and Church

Updated on April 06, 2010
K.R. asks from Denver, CO
14 answers

Hi moms. I have a very active 3 year-old little boy. On Sundays when we go to mass we drop him off at the nursery. This is great for us because we actually get to listen and take part of mass. Our last church did not offer a nursery and we spent most of the time keeping him quiet/entertained. He was never one of those babies that would just sit on your lap. Well, my husband brought up the other day that maybe we should start taking him to mass again soon so he can be apart of worship and learn to behave in church. I do want this, but when is the right age to expect this? Is it too soon, or is reasonable to expect a high energy little 3 year old to sit still for an hour?

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answers from Houston on

I would wait - it's not hurting him to see the importance of going to church right now and then spending time in his own class (nursery). You don't want him to dread going to church because it's boring for him or he's always getting in trouble while in mass, you know? It's highly unlikely that he would understand anything that was going on anyway -- I would wait a couple of years.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

We have always kept my daughter with us during the church service... she does not always sit still but she is a child still. We always sit in the back (unless choir is singing which we both are in and then we are in the front), the back usually has tons kids and the parents understand. She has her own bag of stuff she brings along (books, coloring stuff, stickers, cars, and so on), we change it up once a month so it seems "new" to her. There are a few things that we have her take part in, like saying a common prayer with us, or atleast fold her hands, she stands when we do and sit when we do (that way it breaks up that hour and he is doing something). We keep telling her over and over that during church we listen to the pastor (or at least we are quiet). At three they understand (unless there is a learning disablity) when you tell them something they should listen, they need to learn the correct way to respect others around them and the church. It will still be a few years before a child can read, understand what is being said and so on BUT at this age it is good to teach them proper behavior during a srervice.

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from New York on

I think it's a bit much for a 3 year old to be expected to sit for an hour. 10 minutes is more reasonable. Sitting for an hour can even be hard for a 6 year old, but I'd think that elementary school aged is really more where you could expect them to sit without too much fidgeting.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My own personal opinion is that at 3 he should be in the nursery unless he is very well behaved. He and anyone around him will get nothing out of the service if there are coloring books, stickers, race cars etc being done in the pew. not to mention food of any kind should not be brought into the sanctuary. with the possible exception of a bottle for a newborn. The nursery is there for a purpose. and that is for the little ones to play. when they are old enough to sit through the service is early enough for them to be there. My children were with us in mass until they became too big to hold quietly. then down to the nursery they went. they rejoined us when they started school and attended mass weekly (3 of them went to catholic school) the other one joined us at 5 yrs. he was born later than the others and we were paying for private highschool and college by the time he was in school so he went to public school. but we did the same and had him in nursery until he could sit still for an hour. I myself shudder when i have to sit next to or behind the family with little ones with a bag of toys and a bag of cheerios. i don't go to mass to hear a little one squawking and mad cause he has to be contained. Sorry no offense to anyone but I go to worship and a 3 yr old screeching at the top of his lungs I want downnnnnnn drives me nuts

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answers from Fort Wayne on

IMO 3 is WAY too young. Kids get bored. To him it's just another grown up talking about stuff he doesn't understand. I think you're setting him up for failure. What age are the other kids in the nursery? Are they his age? If so, then keep him there. If he's the oldest, then maybe consider taking him to mass, or at least part of it. But, don't expect to be able to pay attention. And make sure to bring LOTS to keep him busy. I have a very active 3 year old. She's normally pretty good, but she can only sit quietly for about 20 mins. Thank goodness we have children's church!

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answers from Chicago on

You can try. My daughter will not sit still at all. She would prefer to go into the altar. There is another little girl that can sit still for most of the mass sometimes. I figure I will keep trying and when necessary we go into the quiet room so we do not disturb everyone else, or we go downstairs where we can still here the mass at least. There is a little boy at church, I think 4 yrs old, that sometimes has a hard time sitting still and his parents will take him into the quiet room. I was not able to get my older kids to really sit for mass until they were about 5.

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answers from Denver on

Our kids do it. We sit on the back row, and take their busy bags that they take to drs' appts. and such. Our oldest started at 2, and did ok. Our middle one has always done great, other than the occasional whisper another mom mentioned. :) Our daughter hasn't had too many opportunities, but when she has, she just does what the boys do. She's better in some ways. I think at the last meeting I had to take them, they younger two lasted a good 45 minutes even though they were just on the floor and really squeezed due to lack of space. They are almost 4 and almost 2. It's mostly just a training issue. We started when they were old enough to crawl teaching them to stay on a blanket at games, etc. I also used it while teaching at home, so I knew where they were, but wasn't distracted. We apply the same principle at church by defining their space to stay in. You're right it takes a lot of time. I'm not saying I get a lot out of church every week, but they do really well. GL!



answers from San Francisco on

My children were able to sit when they were 2. We would bring a book for them to look at during mass.

Our current church has a family/children room which has books and the young ones can walk around and their parents can still be apart of mass. It is a sound proof with lots of glass that is at the back on the church.



answers from Austin on

I think it's too much. He isn't going to "get" anything from the service at this point, but it will distract you and your husband. He has the rest of his life to attend church. I send my kids to the nursery (3 and 5) and don't give it a second thought.



answers from Kansas City on

Our 3yo is quiet in church...well mostly, unless he starts wispering louder than if he were actually talking. :) A boy made him mad in ss, so he doesn't want to go to ss anymore, so we let him come into church w/ us for a while, BUT we explained to him very firmly that he MUST be quiet in church because other people are trying to hear. I think if you have a strong talk w/ him several days before church, and then keep on reminding him that he needs to be quiet when you go to church, he may do fine. Bring paper and crayons though, and try it maybe, every other week or two.



answers from Mansfield on

My 11 year old still doesn't enjoy or get much from the "big church" service. All 3 of my kids still stay in childrens church. I am not sure if this is offered or if only nursery is available but I would think it is still too soon to bring him back to service!
Oh wanted to add- my 4 year old decided to come upstairs for easter service (we had family worship on Sunday) but instead of going back down to her sunday school class she wanted to stay with me. She is very well behaved, super quiet, and for the most part can sit and listen (even though she doesn't understand) but it was a busy day ofcourse and church was packed. She had to sit on my lap so everyone could fit in our row and she was hot and uncomfortable! She was super wiggly and I could not enjoy service as I usually would have from being uncomfortable and hot. Usually I would say by this age they should be able to sit through service but.... if this is the kind of thing you would have to deal with I say it is not worth it. Keep him in nursery!
Hope this helps:)


answers from Raleigh on

He will probably get more out of nursery than he will during a church service at this age. My 3 year old went to the Easter service with us, and while he did fine, he would have learned more in a Sunday school type environment geared to his age than by sitting at the service with us. Coloring and playing with toys will get them through the service, but if they aren't learning anything, then what is the point of having them there with you? I agree with you on this one! :)


answers from Jacksonville on

I apparently am in the minority... but, I don't think it is too much to ask. I know that some kids, usually boys, are high energy and don't like to sit still. I know it can be a lot of work for the parents. I know that you don't think he will "get anything out of it". BUT, no matter how old he is, he isn't going to magically start sitting still for an hour for church. It is a skill, like anything else you want him to learn, and he will have to be taught. Our son was getting the hang of it before the age of 3. It took a year or so before he really was able to tolerate the length of the service and be still and quiet. BUT it wasn't horrible while he was learning. And he did learn. When we changed churches he was 6 and our daughter was 3. The entire congregation seemed amazed that both our kids were so well behaved during the service. My husband wasn't even present 99% of the time due to his work schedule at the time, but little ol' mommy was able to manage them both with no problems. My daughter, who started learning to read shortly after that, by age 4 was following along in the hymnal singing the hymns and speaking the responses during the liturgy.

It is a must to talk to your son in advance. Not just once... but the day before (Saturday), in the car on the way to church on Sunday, and before the service starts... explain to him what you expect him to do. When everyone stands, he should stand and face the front like everyone else. When everyone bows for prayer, he should too. If there is a kneeler, it is not a toy or footrest... Tell him what to do if he has a question. Or if he needs to use the potty. And what is NOT allowed.. (kicking the seat in front, standing in the pew, talking, banging toys, making noise with paper or crayons, etc).

Have him think of it as a grown up thing. It's a reward for him. It's important for you as a family that he be part of it. Then AFTER the service, praise him for what he did well... or what he DIDN'T do that you saw another kid doing. Ask him some questions about the service. Explain some aspects of the service... (the pastor will___. That is when we ___. Did you see the ____ ? We use that for ____).

You might even consider taking him every other Sunday at first.

And keep in mind... our little ones absorb far more than we give them credit for. He may not listen to the sermon like an adult or an older child.. but he will observe the reverence of the other congregants, the pastor, and YOU. And he will learn the reverence given the altar and what goes on. He WILL hear some things..though he may not understand... and eventually he will start asking you questions about what he hears... which is a GREAT place to be!
I suggest you bring one or two small handheld toys (a bendable Spiderman figure or something quiet that he can manipulate), and only let him hold one at a time. Take turns with your hubby... he gets the first 10 minutes, then you get the next 10, etc. Have your son sit to one side of whichever of you is in "charge" so that there is another congregant to the other side. If your son is the LEAST bit shy of "strangers", he will sit really close to you and very still to avoid touching or being close to the "stranger"... and that helps him be still, plus he will be entertained looking (checking out, lol) the person's clothes or shoes or just staring... whatever. So don't sit beside your best friend, lol. And try NOT to sit on an empty pew. I have observed watching other small kids.. that wide open spaces like that tend to tempt the kids to slide all around on them, lay on them wallowing around banging feet, and generally testing their boundaries in a way they won't if there is someone occupying the space.

Good luck. It is worth it in the end.

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