While some Catholic churches might offer a Sunday school for preschoolers during some Masses, often there isn't such an option. Moreover, some parents believe that the entire family should be together during a Mass -- and want their children to learn about, and participate in, the service from a young age. However, getting young children to stay quiet and behave for an entire Mass can present a challenge. If you're faced with this dilemma, it's helpful to plan ahead -- and to be considerate of other parishioners who are participating in the service.
Attend the children's Mass if your church offers one. Depending on the church, it might hold a special Mass for young families in a space like the school auditorium, which can accommodate strollers, as well as offer enough space for young children to color or engage in another quiet activity to keep them busy. Some churches might offer a Children's Liturgy of the Word Mass, which might involve having the school-aged kids head off to another area to learn about the scripture on a child-oriented level before the first reading -- and then returning for the offertory procession.
Communicate your expectations. Let your kids know that it is important that they behave during mass so that you and other parishioners can concentrate on the service.
Prepare your children mentally and physically. Choose a Mass that works for your family's schedule. For example, don't attend an early Sunday Mass if you have to wake the kids earlier than usual. Most churches offer Saturday and Sunday evening Masses, as well as afternoon Masses. Also, make sure the kids eat a good meal before Mass. Keep in mind that hungry or sleepy kids are more likely to get cranky and act out.
Prepare a church bag with some small, quiet toys that you only allow your kids to use during church time, making the toys seem special and novel. You might want to pack a quiet snack as well.
Model good church behavior. Your kids emulate your behavior, so be sure that you don't talk or show disrespect during the service if you expect your children to behave appropriately.
Sit in a strategic place. For example, if your kids are distracted by looking at other parishioners, or want to see what's going on at the altar, head to the front pew. Placing parents or other relatives in between siblings that tend to squabble can help squash problems before they arise. Having your toddler sit on your lap can help prevent him from trying to wander. Sitting at the end of the pew can provide you with an easy exit -- just in case.
Compliment your children after church on good behavior during Mass. Positive reinforcement can help kids perform better each time to get the same compliments.
Check if your church offers a baby room. Some more modern churches offer free babysitting services for infants who are too young to fully understand what is going on during the service.
Most churches do have a crying room, which is controversial as some families want to keep their kids by their sides in the pew. However, other parishioners might feel that noisy children are too much of a distraction during Mass. It is up to the parents as to whether or not they want to utilize the crying room.
Some Catholic churches or parishioners might disapprove of bringing toys or food into the church.