QUAERITUR: “Essential Directives” for handling energetic toddlers during Holy Mass

From a readerette:

I used to be a student and instructor in theology, and I had wonderful, quiet, pious times at Holy Mass. Now I am a mother, of an energetic toddler, and Holy Mass has become an Occasion of Circus Activity. My little one loves Jesus, but she wants desperately to dance, yodel, wail and thrash about before Him. I want my little one to be present at Mass as much as possible, but I also want to be considerate of our priests and fellow worshippers.

Would you be so kind as to list your essential directives to mothers of young children at Mass?

I would love to be able to put together a “list of essential directives”!

Think it’ll be possible?

Put your heads together.  I am sure you will come up with good suggestions from a wealth of collective experience.

I will now back away from the third rail and let readers cooperate cordially to work up this list.

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73 Responses to QUAERITUR: “Essential Directives” for handling energetic toddlers during Holy Mass

  1. Phil_NL says:

    The third rail indeed. Kudos to the readerette for trying though, cause even though I’m no parent (lacking an essential element for that in the form of a wife) it’s crystal-clear this is important both for the congregation, but also for the toddler. Learning how to be attentive and still is perhaps the most important skillset learnt in early youth, and the sooner it’s mastered, the better.

    But for the ‘how’ I’ll take a firm step back. Although perhaps one small observation: kids who experience a sugar rush – and they do so much quicker than adults, it seems – will of course never be able to be attentive and quiet.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Feed them and give them drink before Mass. Do not take food to Mass. Make sure they have books on the Mass and not balls, trucks or cars, so that they know they are in a different place. Before Mass, or even after, when the Church is empty, walk them around and explain all the symbols and colours. Teach them the songs at home so they can sing. As much as possible, make them do the kneeling, standing and sitting the same as you. Do NOT let them use the pews as climbing frames or hiding places. They can play Mass at home. You can incorporate ideas from The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

    Take them to daily Mass, so that as part of their schedule, they know they have a different expectation of behaviour in church. And, above all, train them at home to have quiet and not active times. This is normal. If a toddler is hyper-active, there may be a physical component. Learning some quiet skills is possible even for toddlers. We underestimate their ability to mimic our own behaviour. Modern standards are too low. I remember churches full of kids before the idea of a cry room existed and none of the English churches I have been in have cry rooms.

    Oh, make sure they have NO white sugar and candy except at Christmas and Easter. These are proven factors to hyper-activity. Also, make sure they have plenty of physical exercise at home which is healthy, like going outside with you to play. This helps the balance of activity and rest.

    I had a child who never napped after he was one month old. He slept from 9 at night until 4, ate, slept until 7, ate, and slept one more hour until 8. Then, he was up the entire day. We went to 9 o’clock daily Mass. Daily Mass is the place to train toddler and child church behaviour and others love seeing children at daily Mass. Those who knew my child, including my family, knew he never napped, but then I did not as a child either. But, we learned how to act in Mass.

    Another idea, if you can walk to church, with the toddler, do so. Even in a push-chair, the fresh air helps. Being stuck in a toddler-seat in a car causes some need for activity, obviously.

  3. Marianna says:

    It might sound counter-intuitive, and no doubt would not work for every child, but I have found it is a good idea to sit at the front of the church! If you’re at the back, which is the natural instinct with young children, they cannot see what’s going on, and get bored and act up. But it’s also a good idea – depending on the lay-out of your church – to be to the side/near a side door, so that you can slip out if necessary without causing a disturbance. I have very rarely had to do that. Now my children have left their toddler years behind them, they always want to be at the front, and pay good attention.

  4. marknelza says:

    I actually do not have a clue. What I have observed however is that children are smarter than we give them credit for. I remember on a number of occasions that my son, of 7 or 8 at the time, would cease being impossible the moment that I led him into the school classroom for the day. He would almost immediately adopt a similar behaviour pattern to that of his peers in the classroom. If they were sitting quietly at their desks or the carpet in the classroom, he would follow suit and leave me wondering what I was doing wrong.

    Anyone to get to what I want to say: I think the task of parents to control their children during Mass would be far easier if all parents in church had a similar objective. If children see that all other children are also required to behave in a certain manner, they may be inclined to follow suit. But if a few of them are being allowed to run riot, I think you have an almost, but not entirely, impossible task on your hands.

  5. My FSSP parish has installed huge windows and glass-paned doors before the last four rows of seats in the back of the church, and added speakers so parents could hear when the doors are shut. Without this accomodation, it would be impossible to bring our five children aged 0-5. Ask your parish to do the same. It will encourage families to come to your parish.

  6. We’ve also noticed that our 18 month-old toddler is much less trouble if he has a nap at home before mass. We even give him a small dose of a natural product called melatonin to get him to sleep.

  7. Paul Young says:

    Being a man and having no children, I don’t have any tips, but I will say, I would a million times over prefer a church full of dancing, singing, squirming children, over a church silent and populated only by the elderly. To me, the sound of children is the sound of vocations and the future.

    Only the tomb is fully quiet.

  8. Batfink says:

    I second a lot of the above (special Mass toys and encouraging toddlers to join in as soon as possible, sitting near the front and plenty of fresh air/outdoor play).

    Just to add that I find these points helpful for myself. They might or might not work for you:
    1) Don’t compare your child to other people’s children. All children (as all people) are different and it’s useless to create worries by wishing your child were as well behaved as someone else’s. This is especially true for me as I live in an area of London where most of the other children are from different cultural backgrounds to mine – they have different expectations of behaviour at home so I don’t see why they should be identical in Church.

    2) Listen and learn by trial and error how noisy/disruptive your child has to be before s/he actually distracts other people. Particularly in daily Mass when you may well have not only a pew to yourselves but even one free in front and behind, your child making the occasional comment in a slightly raised voice probably won’t distract anyone who is not looking to be distracted. If you have any common sense/courtesy for others (which you obviously do, from your question), you will quickly learn when it tips over into being time to take the child outside.

    3) If you have to take the child out, do so only until they’ve calmed down and then bring them back in as soon as you are reasonably sure that they’ll be quiet (although obviously wait for an opportune moment in the Mass). While you are outside, don’t interact/play with them except to explain why they have been taken out and what change of behaviour you are expecting. Don’t train them that if they act up enough, they will get to go out and have fun! Make sure that if they are taken out, they are not allowed to run around, talk to other people etc. If possible, avoid using a designated ‘crying room’ (on a Sunday when it’s busy, a weekday when there are no other children around is fine) as it will usually be filled with other children (and parents) who have no intention of concentrating on the Mass and therefore your child will a) be set a bad example and b) find other ‘friends’ to play with rather than improve their own behaviour. If you find a crying room which is genuinely only used by families with small children for a few moments to calm them down, then go with it!

    4) Develop a thick skin. Presuming you are considerate and are trying your best to enforce decent age-appropriate behaviour, just know that you are doing you best and that no toddler is ‘perfect’ all of the time. Some parishioners will tut and comment if your child so much as sneezes. Learn to ignore it. The same people would look very sniffily at a child who hasn’t been brought to Mass regularly until they’re 5 or 6 and then have no idea how to behave. Start ‘em young and regular and the behaviour will rapidly improve. Pray and persevere! Especially pray to Our Lady for patience.

  9. Batfink says:

    Oh, and I forgot …

    Relish the time you only have one toddler to deal with!

  10. Supertradmum says:

    Agree with sitting in the front pews. Even toddlers like to see what is going on.

  11. caite says:

    I do not mind a bit of noise, the occasional crying child is just human.
    And I wonder if crying rooms just give free reign to bad behavior, with no learning of the proper way to act.

    I think some kids are not just ready and perhaps, as much as I like the family to go to Mass together, if the child is in an out of control phase, one parent may need to stay home with him/her and so to Mass later. But if the child is in church, no food or toys or games or books! Please! What a mess in so many ways.

  12. Catholicity says:

    I’m mainly approaching this as etiquette, with the caveat that a crying child isn’t the worst thing in the world. We do have an obligation to others when we bring our kids to Mass. That they will be reasonably quiet so people can be recollected and worship God. That is it…reasonably quiet. Most people don’t mind a bit of squirming or an occasional bawl. But full on screeching and other antics can cause many an eye to roll. The eye rollers are thinking, “why doesn’t dad just take her to the cry room so we can concentrate?” Well, the reason dad doesn’t, is because he’s been told by Father, or the RE teacher, or someone on the parish staff, not to worry a bit about how loud the kids are. That’s a popular message now days in some places.

    I for one don’t think it is a good message, because of my central thesis: etiquette. We live in a world full of other people, and we have to take their feelings into consideration when it comes to the vocal sonority of our offspring.

    Retreating to the cry room is one method, though not very effective.

    Waiting until the kids are “old enough” to attend Mass was completely effective when it was widely practiced, but that has been awhile.

    Practicing sitting quietly with your babies is probably the most effective, but it takes practice. “We’re going to practice sitting and being quiet for an hour without asking for food or entertainment.” Potty breaks do trump the exercise!

    I’m not going to “have a nutty” if your kids scream at Mass, but I would prefer to be recollected. I think that is how most reasonable folks think. So do what you can to minimize the noise level, please. But…it isn’t the end of the world if your kids aren’t perfect at Mass.

  13. visigrad says:

    Having raised six children and now observing my own raise the twenty grands, it seems my one son has found THE method. Once the child is old enough to sit in a pew..they do. The minute the child misbehaves, he or she is taken to the cry room, where Dad holds the child in his lap the entire time s/he fusses, screams, kicks …whatever. Dad is firm in not allowing the child to get down. After several weeks of this…the young one is basically pew ready. Periodically a return to the now dreaded cry room is needed. Their six children are the best behaved in Church each week…number seven is not yet a pew sitter.

  14. Philangelus says:

    We bribe our kids.

    For the really young ones, we did bring quiet toys, and over time they did graduate on their own to paying attention. I may get torched for this, but it seemed less disruptive to me to have my son sitting on the kneeler and rolling cars quietly on the seat than it was to have him walking endlessly over the length of the pew through the entire Mass. Or running out the back door into the parking lot.

    One child eating an apple is very quiet during daily Mass. Two children eating apples during daily Mass sounds like Shea Stadium. I have no idea why that is.

    Also, no reasonable person will get angry if your toddler stands up before Communion and points to the altar and screams, “HI, JESUS! WE CAME TO SEE YOU!” (Not my child that time.)

    Children who are just beginning to recognize letters can entertain themselves through the entire Mass by pointing out every single letter M in the missalette. This won’t help Mom and Dad concentrate, but at least it’s quiet. Look, Mom: a M!

  15. About crying rooms, it really depends on how they’re used. If they become playrooms, then there’s little reason to bring children at all. If on the other hand they’re part of the nave but just separated by glass doors that are only closed when the disturbance becomes unbearable (especially around the 1-hour mark, consecration time in the EF) and reopened when things get quieter, then they’re a life-saver for parents who have several young turbulent boys like myself. It doesn’t keep us from exercising discipline and teaching them to sit still. It just gives the rest of the parishioners a chance to pray quietly once a week.

  16. NoTambourines says:

    1. No food. My sibling and I survived with no Cheerios, coloring books, or other distractions. Sometimes, as a kid, you run out of things to do except to pay attention.

    2. Bring dad!!! I know it’s not always possible on non-traditional work schedules or being on call, but the fact that Dad was there and taking it seriously was enough to convey to us kids that Mass was no time to try anything. At. All. I see a lot of moms and kids at Mass, sans dad, and while not presuming to know or judge their circumstances, I know younger-me would have been likelier to test the boundaries on Mom alone.

    Besides, my family gradually fell away when my dad stopped going to Mass. If the head of the household doesn’t see it as a priority, it’s hard to make it stick.

    3. Seating: alternate parent-kid-parent-kid or kids to some extent. This was an effective way to keep me and my sibling on task.

  17. Elodie says:

    1) I was told when I just had 1 & 2 that daily Mass is training ground for Sunday. It took me until #4 to work up the courage, but it is absolutely true. Even one daily Mass a week makes a difference in Mass Etiquette for Toddlers.

    2) No. They don’t need food during Mass. However, bribery for post-Mass food has proven successful. Whatever our special post-Mass is going to be, donut or pancake or whatever, toddler doesn’t get it if we have to use the crying room. Be consistent. Don’t give in once Mass is over and you’ve calmed down.

    3) Years from now: siblings!!! Yes, the example of the older ones helps. Years ago, a mom of six told me that’s why her 2-yr-old was good, when mine most certainly wasn’t. And I learned that it is true, once I had more kids.

    Those were told to me when I was a mom new to young kids. Now that I have six, I pass it along because I found it helpful. At the moment, number 6 is too old to nap during Mass but too young for bribery or watching the example of her siblings. So, we do our best to quietly distract her with things to look at around the church. It will come. Just another phase of this life of raising saints!

  18. APX says:

    @
    Supertradmum

    Agree with sitting in the front pews. Even toddlers like to see what is going on.

    I strongly disagree with this. If this child is as squirmy and loud as the description indicates, in the name of fraternal charity, I recommend not doing this. This will create a significant distraction for other parishioners who are sensitive to noise (I have chronic migraines caused by a neck injury. I always have one and have to suffer through them. Some days it’s very difficult, especially when there are screaming children) and/or distractions. Plus if you have to walk all the way to the back of the church with a screaming child in tow. Who wants to do that?

  19. ReginaMarie says:

    Paul Young: Amen! Your comment says it all. I once heard a priest say, as a noisy little one was being taken out of Mass, that he loves to hear the sound of children in Mass as it means that one less child has been aborted.

    Lots of great tips here, may that we have used ourselves over the years, as parents of 6 children. We also found that once we began regularly attending the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, our children were much more attentive (front row, too). The DL is very physical…the veneration of icons, lighting of candles, lots of bowing & making the sign of the cross, occasional prostrations, anointing with holy oil, receiving antidoron (blessed [not consecrated] bread offered after the DL), etc.

    I think children are capable of reverence & a grasp of the sacred in deeper ways than we often give them credit for…but we do have to help cultivate this sense in them. All of our children were Chrismated (Confirmed) in the Byzantine rite, the youngest was Baptized, Chrismated & received the Holy Eucharist as an infant. Those graces are real & we have been amazed to see that even very young children (2 yrs.) are able to approach the chalice, bow & receive the Holy Eucharist with reverence.

  20. andersonbd1 says:

    Best way to keep toddler from interrupting your experience (and others) at mass – don’t take the toddler to mass. I know this is crazy for modern ears, but it actually works. I’ve talked with so many parents who have all these tricks and none of them work. (with the exception being that some kids just sit and be quiet – that’s based on the kid, though, not necessarily what you do to them). At this age, it’s just too hard. My wife and I starting going to separate masses a few years ago and it was the best decision we made. Everyone cringes when I tell them this – “you mean you don’t go to mass as a family?”, “the family that prays together…”, “that’s so sad”, etc, but I’m telling you that it’s terrific. You can pray as a crazy family at home – just make sure you have lots of cheap rosary beads for your toddler if you plan on letting her hold them.

  21. Giuseppe says:

    To God, the sounds of children at church sounds like the music of angels. We humans, however, don’t have such a finely-tuned ear.

    I also heartily endorse going to a weekday mass as practice. I still think, though, that children under 2 really don’t understand, even intuitively, the special nature of a church. Bring ‘em, but have a very low threshold to remove them if very disruptive. 2 and up, do the weekday mass training — they’ll get it.

    And to get 2-3 year old girls into mass, buy a gorgeous dress and only let them wear it to church. My niece started asking every day, “do we go to church today?”

  22. introibo says:

    Paul Young: thanks for your comment.
    I’ve raised 9 toddlers, so I have experience. Plainly said, you might have to spend the toddler years out in the vestibule, if your church has one. For most of mine, I’ve found they will behave up until the Gospel, and then I take them out. I come back in to receive Communion. If you have your missal with you, you can still participate in the Mass.

  23. John UK says:

    Co-incidentally, this topic appears on the same day as this a[[osite article in today’s Daily Telegraph:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/9535663/The-French-approach-to-parenting-carrot-and-stick.html

    Enjoy!

    John Y.K.

  24. Amy Giglio says:

    @APX, I have to disagree with you and agree with Supertradmum. I have an ADHD 11 year old who was a crazy busy 3 year old. A friend from church urged us to sit at the front with him. We decided to try, given the fact that the side doors in the front gave us a handy escape route if necessary. He was a changed boy from that Sunday on. Now, we always sit in the first pew if we can, at least in the first 5 if we can’t. Even the 15 month old is well behaved at Mass.

    Coming to Mass rested and on a full tummy is essential. Bribery for good behavior is OK. We go to a local bakery for an inexpensive treat (25 cent cookie) if we get good behavior. We don’t do books, toys, or food at Mass. Our cry room in our parish is a zoo, so we avoid it like the plague.

    Hope that helps. There is much good advice here.

  25. Joe in Canada says:

    As a priest, I admit I find a screaming child or one who is running around distracting to me during the homily. During the rest of the Mass, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, if I find myself trying to be louder than the child, it’s a good reminder that the Prayer is to God, not to anyone else in the church.

    I have noticed that those children who scream and run around at Sunday Mass never do so at a wedding. They also generally dress better.

  26. wmeyer says:

    Fr. Joe, that’s a nice segue into the subject of Sunday best. When my parents took me to church on Sunday, they were dressed for it, and so was I, even as a toddler. Seeing my father in his suit, and my mother in a very nice dress or suit, with scarf or mantilla, was a clear message that something special was happening.

    These days, I see parents in cutoffs and t-shirts, their kids in similar disarray. Fine for a picnic, but not so much for Church. Is it any wonder that the kids see nothing special? It seems likely their parents also see nothing special.

  27. Banjo pickin girl says:

    apx, I agree with you, putting disruptive people in the front row is distracting to everyone. Often people who are hard of hearing will sit directly in front of the pulpit so we can speech read the homily. And then there is the issue of the noise amplification of hearing aids. Mine are fairly sophisticated ones but they will still amplify all the pew-climbing, whining, and even parents whispering. And mine is an parish that is PROUD of being orthodox and Dominican. There just happens to be a cult of the child happening. I know many elderly who did not take very young children especially babies to Mass until the children were able to behave properly. They report not using the Mass as a behavioral training ground as they were concerned about disturbing others who were trying to be recollected. And if you say anything about this you get slammed for being “anti-life.”

  28. Alice says:

    Father Joe in Canada,
    It must be a difference in culture, then. The worst behaved children in church are always at weddings in my experience as an organist. The worst was when the children were running back and forth across the back of the church right under the choir loft and I couldn’t hear a darn thing that was going on in the sanctuary. They were dressed to the nines too.

  29. Ann Roth says:

    Supertradmum has a great list. I second all of them. A pew as close to the front is one of the best. They need to see what is going on. And frankly, so do I. It is so distracting to just see backs and backs of heads. I recently encouraged a family of 7 with squirmers who were hiding in the back to come up front. They are now regulars in the front. Training is key. Teach them to sit for meals and reading time.

    The only thing I will add to the list is: don’t panic if things start to go downhill. It looks worse to you than to the rest of us and if you stay calm you can prevent it from getting worse. Our worst moments were when I panicked and reacted too strongly to an infraction. As the kids have gotten older, it seems to help if I ignore them and not try to “help” them with whatever seems to be an issue. (sorry for all the “worsts”, need a thesaurus today).

    Don’t forget to pray for help with the little ones.

  30. philothea.distracted says:

    When my boys were infants we generally took them to Mass. One they became noisy, active and potentially disruptive (aka The Toddler Years) we would usually leave them home. That meant that my husband and I went to separate Masses, me (usually) brining our older son. So be it. There are seasons to life. If we all had to attend Mass, and the toddler was a distraction, one of us would take him out to the vestibule, outside or to the car. My boys were ready to try to behave around 3 or 3.5 years old. They would still need correction. They are 14 and 7 now, and sometimes they still need correction ;) I found that my need for a “quiet” Mass was best met on a Sarurday morning when my husband and boys were not with me.

  31. mamajen says:

    My son is 4 now, so behavior issues in church are a rarity. When he was younger, though, I did not hesitate to remove him from mass if he acted up. There were people who thought I was a wicked witch, and I would get them telling me “We love to hear babies at mass!” That is NOT what we go to mass for. I have a difficult time focusing when people do not rein in their young kids, and I won’t let my son do that to others.

    On one particularly bad day (he was overtired and had a complete meltdown), I marched my son home. We don’t have a crying room at my church. He loves mass, so that was heartbreaking to him (and me), but it got the point across–we did not have a repeat of that kind of tantrum.

    St. Therese did not attend mass at all as a toddler, so needless to say I do not feel bad about removing a young child from mass if he or she cannot behave.

  32. GeekLady says:

    0. Be on your best behavior yourself. This includes not being snarky about musical choices. I am terrible at this.
    1. Choose your battles. As long as they are quiet and nondestructive and don’t make a break for freedom, I would let them alone. Keep as close a weather eye as is necessary, of course, but give your primary attention to the Mass. This goes double for during the consecration. Toddlers do learn from where you place your attention, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
    2. Try to avoid sitting near people your child finds distracting. Especially other small children whose parents permit or encourage bad behavior during Mass. This isn’t always possible of course (my in-laws shamelessly play with my son, and encourage him to play with them during Mass, and it drives me up the flue).
    3. Keep the kneeler down AT ALL TIMES (unless people are entering or exiting the pew, then be polite). Don’t let the kid ever raise or lower the kneeler. This should reduce the risk of kneeler-related injuries. I’ve had several. Learn from my pain.
    4. Answer quietly asked, Mass-related questions. They’re too little to remember a question till afterwards, and responding to their interest encourages more.
    5. Toys and low-mess snacks need to be used prudently. They may be helpful for some small children, but be discreet about it! Their presence may cause other people’s kids to act out. Don’t bring any toy that makes noise, messy foods (I’ve seen fruit in tupperware and chicken mcnuggets!!), or any drink but water. If you bring crayons, etc, be vigilant in preventing graffiti. I restrict artistic endeavors to the homily, which is the most boring part for toddlers.
    6. Be sensitive to what time of day your toddler is on his best behavior. GeekBaby is usually best first thing in the morning, so we try to hit the 7:30 am Mass. It’s a little rough on us, since we have to be up very early M-F (4:45!), but his good behavior is worth it.
    7. As they get older, encourage them to participate as best they can. Sit where they can see. Teach them the postures and prayers of the Mass. Say quiet prayers together before and after Mass.
    8. Cuddle them, if they’ll let you. Remember that their adult understanding of God the Father and of the Church will be rooted in the family life they experience as children, and thus try to make attending Mass a time when they experience love from their parents, and not excessive discipline. Don’t condone real bad behavior, but don’t lose it correcting them. (I’m terrible at this too.)
    9. Remember that kids hitting, etc. needs to be nipped in the bud… but also that bad behavior can spring from them needing something they can’t express well, or from experiences that distress them. GeekBaby hates having strangers touch his head, and while we now have our priests well trained not to bless him during Communion, EMHCs are another matter. It took a long time before I realized just how much of his bad behavior was due just to this one factor. Now that we know and actively try to prevent it (some EMHCs are persistent!), he is much less anxious and better behaved in general.

    AND

    10. The sign of peace: I know that there is a great deal of debate over the liturgical appropriateness of the location and expression of the exchange of peace. All that aside, make the current circumstances work for you – it is perfectly placed for parents and children who have had a fractious time so far during Mass to extend and receive forgiveness before approaching our Lord in the Eucharist.

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    Just a note about melatonin. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist when dealing with food supplements or natural products. Melatonin has been very well-studied for short-term use in normal adults and for children with neurological sleep disorders. The jury is still out regarding long-term use in either adults or children and for shot-term use with normal children. Anecdotally, some parents report good results; some, not so good. There has been only one clinical trial on healthy infants of which I am aware and it was too small a sample size (40 infants) and too short-term to be statistically significant. I’m not saying sleep aids for small children are not warranted (I prefer chamomile tea), but always consult a medical professional. There is a lot of hype about natural remedies, these days.

    This commentary brought to you by the Secret Nodders-Off Relief Elf (aka S.N.O.R.E).

    The Chicken

  34. The Masked Chicken says:

    One of the cool things about the comments on this topic is that it shows that sacramental graces really are given at marriage to help parents raise children. Since each child is different, I imagine that there will be a range of practical advice on handling toddlers, some better suited for some children than others.

    The Chicken

  35. The Masked Chicken says:

    One last thing: I didn’t mean to single out melatonin in my moment, above. I just used it as an example, since a commenter mentioned it. I was just making a generic cautionary comment, since I know cranky sleep-deprived babies can terrorize a Mass and there are good treatments when warranted, but it seems prudent to discuss things with a pediatrician if necessary.

    The Chicken

  36. george says:

    My wife and have 8 children, the youngest still being an infant, the oldest nearing 15. The 2yr. old I can still hold during Mass, so I do. He will usually nap for part of most of Mass. The 5yr. old is a struggle in general (please pray for us). Our Community is very small and our space only allows for 6-7 seats wide, so we usually sit in 2 rows, one behind the other. Our EF Mass (been going here about 15mon.) is a 40min drive, and it’s not well-ventilated nor cooled, so my wife has been going to OF Mass nearer home with the baby (to be a bit more comfortable at Mass and have an extra 80min of quiet in the house). What we’ve learned from the years at OF Mass and stuff is not anything like what I’d call “rules to live by”, just things I have noticed that worked in our family.

    1. We generally take all the children to Mass all the time.
    2. Weekday Mass is all on my wife, who feels she’s at her limit with 8 kids and homeschooling. I’m sure there would be spiritual benefits, but I can only suggest. Therefore, weekday Masses aren’t happening (with the exception of First Friday — two of our kids go with my mom to FF Masses).
    3. The “spunky” 5y.o. is *orders of magnitude* better behaved next to me as compared to next to Mom in the seat behind us (*sandwiched* would be best).
    4. I think they are much better behaved in EF Mass as compared to OF Mass.
    5. We did have to discipline a couple of the older kids for disobedience when they were younger. Don’t have to do that anymore, I think the example of the older kids helps there.
    6. Doughnuts on the way home for everyone who behaves well.

  37. Mary Jane says:

    I too wanted to add a note about melatonin. I took it a couple times when I was on a trip overseas; my intention was to use it for a few nights to help me adjust to the new time zone. Those nights I had horrible – horrible – nightmares. I stopped taking it, no nightmares. Took it again, nightmares.

    I’m definitely not saying that this is the experience for everyone. All I intended to say is that there could be unwanted side effects even from a natural product. Just something to keep in mind.

    I love what The Masked Chicken said at 9:11am. Spot on.

  38. MarylandBill says:

    Fortunately there are so many kids at my Parish that if they were to install glass walls, they would have to extend up to the first four pews. I am not a big fan anyway. The only divider inside the main area of a church is an alter rail.

    Every kid is different, so I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution. Our three year old wouldn’t stay in the pew from the time he was about 6 months old (we had to take him in the back), so we would have to take him to the back… and when he could walk, we would let him go (with one of us with him). This kept him reasonably quiet. On the flip side, our 10 month old has been content in the pew (so far). By the time our older child was 2 and a half, he was able to start being reasonably quiet in church.

    Why not leave them at home? Well here are my thoughts.

    1. It important to our prayer life that my wife and I go to mass together whenever possible.
    2. The kids understand from an early age that Mass is part of family life.
    3. Our older child started playing priest when he about 18 months. Indeed, at the baptism for a friend’s child, he announced “all clean” when the baptism was completed. In other words, he gets it… not totally of course, but then again, I doubt any of us totally get it. But I can’t help but think that coming to church helped him.

    Yes, kids can grow up to be good, even saints even if they don’t start going to church until they are three or four. On the flip side though, the same thing is true of people who don’t receive the sacraments until they are late in life. It doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

    Oh, and I agree with the observation that the worst behaved kids tend to be at weddings, Christmas and Easter services. It is sad but true that for many, these are the only times they step foot in a church. My brother tells me that in England, it is not uncommon for many to believe that they should only go to Church to be baptized, married and buried.

  39. tzard says:

    Good suggestions all. I’d like to add:

    1) Emphasize that the Father take an active role in disciplining the children at mass – he should be the one to take them out as he will be the one who emphasizes rules, rather than comforting which will come from the mother. (for those who are skeptical, it really works).
    2) Do it early – all my children were well behaved and attentive by 3 – Nowadays I wonder about 6 year olds who can’t pay attention at Mass.
    3) Your vocation is one of a parent – don’t ignore them while you’re focusing on the Mass. You’re giving of yourself – you can be present, and prayerful and “active” while still keeping a teaching eye on your children.
    4) An alternative to sitting up front is to find an aisle seat which has a good view to what’s up front. Perhaps your church building is in a cruciform shape? Try the side pews.

  40. LisaP. says:

    Thanks to the Chicken for the comments on melatonin.

    One note I haven’t seen here, I can’t remember where I read it but thought it was brilliant. When you have a small kid that simply isn’t going to make it through a whole Mass, pick a time to take him out for a bit in the middle of Mass. You want to do this BEFORE he starts to get cranky and fidgety. The idea is this, if a kid starts misbehaving and gets taken out then, you reinforce that he gets “out” of Mass if he misbehaves. Of course, you can reduce that effect by not letting it be “fun” when he leaves, but I like this suggestion better. It’s only for that window when your kid wants to be good but simply can’t be quiet for the full time.

  41. Patikins says:

    (Fr.) Joe in Canada is correct. We must keep in mind how distracting we or our children are during mass. I can only imagine how distracting the noise can be to the priest on the altar.

    Children should be welcomed BUT parents MUST use common sense. I often see parents at mass who make little or no attempt to control their young kids at mass. I say a prayer for them and try not to judge them.

    I see nothing wrong with not bringing young kids to mass. I also see no problem with taking them to mass if they are reasonably well behaved. It depends on the children and the family situation.

    Banjo pickin girl: you have to remember that many of the families at St. Pat’s drive a great distance to be there. It’s often impossible for them to go to mass in two shifts, especially with the high gas prices. It would help to have a consistent message from the friars regarding the noise of children at mass. Earlier this year during a Sunday mass, a friend took her crying baby out (before it became a full blown wail) just after the Gospel. The friar began his homily with a joke implying that crying children should not be removed from mass when they’re crying. That did not help the situation.

  42. MarylandBill says:

    Just a thought about distraction. I suspect noisy kids are a distraction because they are all too rare at some parishes. I was talking to my Pastor about it one day and he said that when he took over our parish (Which as I mentioned earlier is filled with growing families) he found it distracting, but after a while, he learned to tune it out; now he says about the only thing he dreads is hearing a thud followed by a moment of silence…

    I think we need to recognize that there are different ways to pray. Sometimes it is in the deep quiet that we often long for at mass… but other times it is with children surrounding us making noise. Jesus too sometimes found it hard to find quiet. If your parish is blessed with lots of young families, then thank God and look to find other times when you can be quiet with the Lord. If you parish rarely sees young children, then thank God for the times you do.

  43. Lots of good ideas here! I have two children, the first has been an angel at Mass since infancy – the 2nd – well that’s another story. But, now she’s a bit older and getting a lot better. However, both of them continue to pat, poke, fidget, “whisper,” pout, complain, etc., when at Mass with my husband and me. School Mass? Amazingly – perfectly behaved!

    We still divide and conquor sometimes for our own spiritual welfare meaning at least once a month – one of us goes to Mass alone! Ahhhh… the silence is wonderful, the time to listen, contemplate..paradise. But, I find myself smiling at all the little ones around me anyway.

    First – most children are not as bad as you think they are. We would have days at Mass that we thought were horrible and right after some nice person would comment on how well behaved our kids were! Go figure.

    We did allow fruit snacks during Mass but only up to about age 3. Those bags can be crinkly! We allowed small books and maybe a mini pad of paper and a few crayons until about age 4 – and then that was the cut off for any distractions!

    Mostly it’s patience! We always sit close to the front – not the front row – but front so they can see, they pay way better attention then. We do whisper to them (or did) about what was going on when. The only time we really got forceful was for outright defiance and no jumping on kneelers, running, spinning, etc. As long as they were quiet – everything was good. Don’t use a cry room! They are pointless and in no way teach a child what is expected of them. It’s paid off because whenever we enter our church or any other, my children are quiet and reverant, very curious and love to wander around new churches when we travel and seek out every nook and cranny and statue.

    Oh and pleading for help from Mary from my pew has worked wonders for me! : )

  44. lucy says:

    Forgive me if I repeat anyone above as I’m sure I might. No time to read all the posts.

    We have five children and have always taken them to Mass, with just a few times of leaving them with grandma for spiritual refueling.

    Sit near the front, on the aisle, near the exit. It’s more interesting for them there. We still sit in the second pew. Our first two were girls and quite easily restrained in church. The last three boys. God is sneaky. Boys are a whole other animal. I spent many a Mass standing in the vestibule.

    Take church related books. No food. I think a sippy cup is fine, but some others don’t. Toddlers are not grown ups, after all. Plush toys at first I think are fine, but gently wean off those – sorta just forgetting them this time. Ooops.

    I hate to say it, but traditional Mass fixed for us anything that was wrong before. The quiet is noticed by the toddler. They look around in wonder at what may be taking place. Quiet means important even to them. My last boy was extra difficult but slowly and over time – seemed liked endless purgatory to me – he changed and now sits quite quietly watching the goings-on.

    Pray!

  45. Skeinster says:

    As the head of an Altar Guild team, I’m begging everyone: no food or drink, please! Bottles for little babies, excepted, of course. Please feed and water them before Mass!
    We have a sternly-worded sign on our Cry Room door and inside that it is not a place for children to run wild, but to learn proper behavior. It’s remarkably empty, given the size of our parish.
    Imho, there is nothing at all wrong with not taking toddlers to Mass until they can behave reasonably, and this will vary with each child. We shouldn’t make an idol of anything, and family
    ‘togetherness’ at Mass may have to be one of those ideals that have to be postponed for a season, as wisely noted above.

  46. capsela says:

    I guess for all its faults, I am glad my parish is family friendly. Our priest calls children in church “Holy noise” and says he would rather hear children in church than there not being any kids in church at all. That being stated, I spend a lot of time in the basement or narthex of the church with my 2 and 4 year olds. Other people’s children making noise does not bother me at all. Mine own drive me crazy.

  47. Lepidus says:

    Suggestion for the Priest: I was always taught that it is not polite to talk while others are talking. I believe that if I were a priest I would implement this rule of etiquette myself. If someone wished to interrupt the sermon (for example), I believe it would be polite to just stop talking until they were through. I willing to bet that a lot of the noise would cease occurring in short order.

  48. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I am all too aware of the situation at my parish and the excuses that are being mde. There have been attempts by the friars to solve the problem to no avail. Some of what is happening is good old fashioned selfishness.

  49. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    There is little to add to so many wise contributions, and in any event each child is different. But I would note my view for my own children; namely, that bringing children to Holy Mass from infancy was not so much a matter of “pro-life” or “family togetherness” as the desire that for my children the worship of God at church should be like Mama and Daddy and eating – a thing that had NO BEGINNING.

  50. fvhale says:

    I love all the toddlers (and little kids in general) at Mass, noisy or quiet, fussy or asleep.
    Toy cars, trucks, and video games are an invitation to move around and make a lot of noise, but books are great if entertainment is needed.
    Snacks, if necessary, shoud be really neat–I have cleaned up many a mashed goldfish cracker from pew and aisle, and found them “swimming” in the racks on the back of pews.
    Sometimes the unpredictable happens, and the kids go off (I remember a flock of wild turkeys ambling by a glass door, and the sight drew the kids like a magnet draws iron shavings)–that is life.
    I would rather have a noisy, wiggly toddler any day over a “get me out of here” teen who has managed all the body language needed to say loud and clear without words, “I can’t stand this place.”
    Please, bring you kids to Mass!

  51. JacobWall says:

    I have a question that perhaps is already answered, but I hope to get some opinions and advice. Do you think it’s appropriate to get up and walk around at the back of the church (or side aisles) with the toddler if it’s the only thing that will keep him quiet?

    My first son was the calmest child you could imagine in Mass; we thought we were perfect parents (almost!) Now, our second son is 1.5 years old. He will not sit still for more than 5 minutes. I tried all the things that worked so perfectly for #1 – books about Christ & the Mass, colouring books, etc. – but these keep him busy for about 5 minutes. Giving him a bottle keeps him calm for much longer, but I want to start getting him out of the habit of consuming something during Mass. Walking around carrying him at the back, letting him look at icons and stained glass windows is just about the only way I can keep him busy for any longer chunks of time. Is this distracting for others or inappropriate?

  52. tzard says:

    @Lisa P: said: “…if a kid starts misbehaving and gets taken out then, you reinforce that he gets “out” of Mass if he misbehave”

    I had always wondered about this – but for us, it got to the point (maybe not at first or with infants) where my children would not want to be taken out – away from the family or away from Mass. If they got fussy, they’d be disappointed at being asked to step out. This was a very short transition to being quiet and attentive at Mass all the time.

    Just what I saw – it was very interesting. Whether it was to avoid dad’s matter of fact demeanor, or it was because he would let them play, or they knew there was something being missed. I remember points where there was a sense of pride they could pray the Lord’s prayer along with us – because it’s what they said every day at home.

    Children will suprise you sometimes – allow them to.

  53. johnmann says:

    Disclaimer: I have no children and I always thought that when I do, I’d leave when with relatives while I attend Mass until they’re old enough to behave.

    At my parish, there’s two couples that stays for two Masses taking turns babysitting their toddlers and all the parish toddlers in the coffee and doughnut area. It helps that there are back-to-back Masses so they can switch off. Maybe more parishes should look into a similar arrangement where parents volunteer to babysit.

  54. tioedong says:

    Here in the rural Philippines, the doors are left open to keep the church cool, so the older siblings just take the younger kids outside to run around if needed.
    In the US, I took my granddaughter into the “crying room”, where I could see and follow mass while she played. Most kids don’t need these places, but I was a pious kid and remember trying to sit still…one result is that one learns to hate the mass (which is, alas, why I am still opposed to the Latin Mass: sorry Father.)

    Another alternative where there is no “crying room” is to use the side pews near the front door for both kids and we elders who have “panic attacks”. That way we can sneak out into the cool air without disrupting mass. A door fixed so it doesn’t slam would be a godsend for us.

  55. Jacob says:

    Daniel Arseneault says:
    12 September 2012 at 4:44 am

    We’ve also noticed that our 18 month-old toddler is much less trouble if he has a nap at home before mass. We even give him a small dose of a natural product called melatonin to get him to sleep.

    Eh… I don’t think Mass is a sound medical reason to be giving toddlers chemicals, natural or not.

  56. mamamagistra says:

    I second Daily Mass. It’s shorter and therefore easier for a toddler to last through. You don’t have to sit all the way up front to see what’s going on. There aren’t usually other children to distract yours. Your child learns the Mass better and sooner and that’s an enormous help for Sunday mornings and beyond. And you get to keep all sorts of little memories such as when my now 12-y.o. daily altar boy used to play Mass at home afterwards: He would announce to us whether it was a “money Mass” or not — it only took us a little while to figure out that in his eyes the essential distinction between weekday and Sunday Mass was whether a collection was taken up! Or the time when the priest was ad libbing the intro to the Lord’s Prayer and started faltering when my little guy saved him by jumping in with a nice loud “OUR FATHER…” and the congregation followed!

  57. Maxiemom says:

    Our strategy was to start taking our son to mass when he was only two weeks old. We went every week so he go used to the organ music. We always talked softly to him to remind him to be quiet. We took soft books and toys that wouldn’t make noise. I could probably count on one hand the number of times we had to take him out of church – once because he slipped on the kneeler and bit his tongue.

    I don’t mind babies babbling, but crying – please remove your child.

  58. A couple things that have worked well for us with our almost 2 year old that I did not see mentioned above (although I may have missed them):

    1. Teach your child to look for certain parts of the mass. For us Novus Ordo attendees, our son looks forward to shaking hands at the sign of peace, dropping the envelope in the basket, etc. While this doesn’t solve all of mass, it does make it a lot easier to get my son to come back inside in the event we have to take him out for acting up.

    2. Find some friends or friendly people to sit by. We sat by a couple who has twin grandchildren for a few weeks purely by coincidence. After a couple weeks, they started telling us stories about their grandkids and telling us how much they enjoyed seeing us at church. Since we knew they enjoyed our son’s presence, we were not nearly as concerned when we sat by them if our son started acting up. This in turn gave us much greater leeway to avoid taking him outside and enforcing more rules.

  59. Therese says:

    I loved reading all the wonderful stories! Lots of the suggestions listed above have served us well through the years. Yes, sit up front if possible. And don’t worry if your child makes noises–thanks be to God that he is there to make the noise. It’s music to older ears.

    I recently “cured” one of our granddaughters of running around at Mass by holding her in my lap until she calmed down. You have to do this well away from everyone else–preferably in the vestibule or outside in the fresh air. I got some pretty nasty looks from passers-by while doing it. But the child never left the pew again…

  60. BLB Oregon says:

    I had good luck with telling our kids they could sit in front if they were quiet and didn’t distract others, but that we’d have to move to the back of church if they were more active than that. They were very active, though, and when they were toddlers it would have been “cry room or nothing”. I saw quickly that the cry room was a place where the other kids just ran around. I didn’t want them to associate going to church with running around, so they didn’t get to go until they were older.

    Some kids can’t sit still for the length of a Mass. They just don’t have it in them. It helps, though, to give them other opportunities to learn to occupy themselves in a confined space. For instance, let her sit at home in the high chair with play doh or a coloring book or whatever for a longer and longer period each day. Very important: Notice the circumstances under which your child finds this easier or harder. Does she do better when fed first, or after a nap? Does she do better in late morning than in early morning, better in morning than in the evening? You want your child to have lots of practice at doing it right and as little as possible in doing it otherwise, so do your homework about her basic abilities in order to give her the best chance of success.

    I also think it helps to give incentives for wanting to be at Mass rather than somewhere else. For that reason, and because there are a limit to the number of quiet ways for a toddler to occupy herself, you might want to reserve particular special things for church only. You might have a special doll with “church clothes” that she only gets to look at when she is at church. You might have a special Noah’s ark, one of those quilted boats with all the little quilted animals that she only gets to look at when she’s at church. You might have a book that is particularly beautiful that she only gets to page through at church.

    It helps to have an incentive for active listening, too. Our kids used to get to have a little treat after Mass if they could each tell me something about the readings and something about what Father said in the homily. They felt good about being able to do that, too.

    The last thing is this: I learned that my father-in-law hated church and quit going as soon as possible because his mother forced him to wear torturous clothing to church–hot wool pants, even in summer! Because of that, I always find dress clothes for our kids that are comfortable, especially their shoes, but something really nice, too. They wear shorts and T-shirts everywhere they can, but not to church, on their own volition. People notice that they always dress nicely and compliment them, and they take their dress seriously. At church, they insist on wearing dress shoes, dress pants, dress shirts, whether Sunday Mass or daily Mass, no matter the temperature, but I think that is partly because they’ve never had to wear dress clothes that make them suffer.

  61. LisaP. says:

    tzard,

    That’s funny you say that. I had one kid that just cried in misery if I took her out, as if I was accusing her of some great failing and the world was ending! From the look of this comment thread, it sounds like many kids react that way.

    However, if you see my entire suggestion, I wasn’t saying every kid will cry to get out of Mass, so much as saying that for those kids that are going to start crying from frustration at some point during the Mass, it’s good to schedule in a little break in the Mass *before* he gets to the frustration point. In addition to avoiding any reinforcement of negative behaviors, there really is no reason why Mass has to be misery every time for the kid, not to mention the parents. A quick slip out and slip back in during, say, the second reading? A little fresh air and back in we go. As the child gets older, you can lengthen the time and then stop leaving altogether. Not for every child, but I think it’s a handy tactic for some.

  62. LisaP. says:

    MarylandBill,

    Beautifully put.

  63. LisaP. says:

    Minnesotan from Florida,

    I never thought about it that way, but it’s perfect.

  64. moon1234 says:

    @Fr. Joe

    I might suggest an EF Mass for those with a lot of little kids. Your Ad Orientem position for the Canon will eliminate the distraction from moving children and the prayers are silent for the most part so you will not feel the need to raise your voice.

    I find children as much less noisy during the canon than they are during the audible parts of the Mass, with the exception of the toddler who likes to hear his voice echo in the mostly silent Church.

    Some children, no matter what you do, just need time to mature. It has been true with ALL of my children. Once they hit 5 years old it settles down. Before then they are ALL noisy people. Children’s missals and St. Joseph book of saints helps a lot in the begining. ALWAYS feed before church and never bring food with. It is never fun when some children realize it is funny to throw cheerios at those they know across the aisle.

  65. LisaP. says:

    moon,
    I agree, some kids have different natures and there’s nothing like the sackcloth worn by the mom who thought all kids should be able to sit still like her first child who finds on her second, or third, that she’s now got the kid that everyone is staring at!

    Fortunately, our colicky kid came first and our more peaceful children after!

    One note, too, I’ve got a kid who had undiagnosed sporadic low blood pressure for years. Now that we know she’s got dysautonomia, we realize that kneeling still for a long time just plummeted her bp, disorienting her and causing pain. She “self-medicated” during the pre-diagnosis time by moving the large muscles in her legs to move her blood around, otherwise she was like the soldier on the parade ground that locks his knees and passes out. Today, we give her salt and she can stay pretty still during Mass, but if we had insisted that she was being “bad” because she couldn’t kneel with no squirming for long periods of time, that would have been unintentionally cruel. As it is, we came far closer than I wish we had. We also had an incident at church where the church had a carbon monoxide leak, this kid with blood oxygen problems felt it before most others, and so she stood up and moved into the aisle where her muscles gave out on her and she started wobbling all over the place. I thought she was dancing in the aisles, and grabbed her arm and scolded her all the way outside. That’s when I noticed people standing outside in a daze, and others on the floor. I’ll always feel bad for being so harsh with her, but my husband tells me I probably had some confusion myself so I shouldn’t feel so bad — love that guy!

  66. Edprocoat says:

    I was working in New Jersey when my son was just a baby. We went to mass that sunday in Netcong N.J , at St Jude I believe . My son who was a fat happy baby never cried during mass, he was 14 months old and usually slept or looked around. During the final reading he let out an ear piercing scream and started howling like he was possesed or something ! I tried holding him and rocking him and people were looking at us like we were criminals for bringing a rotten kid to mass, this went on for a minute which seemed like ten. Just as the priest launched into the homily I stood up to mkae for the door with ed in my arms, the priest seen me and said ” Where are you going, we are all family here and he is only praising God in his own voice, set down ” A few people chuckled others whispered to each other and everyone seemed to be looking at us and ed looked wide eyed at everyone and quieted down until we left mass. I felt at home from the kind words of this priest, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was with us in this church with this priest. I felt joy. Later while eating ed started screaming again and we could not get him to quiet down, we then noticed he was running a fever so we took him to the emergency room where they told us he had a severe double ear infection and was crying from the pain. They gave him some amoxycillin and we brought him home and he went to sleep. I will never forget the kindness and love that priest showed us that day.

    ed

  67. kat says:

    I have 6 children, ages 15 to 5, who have all attended Mass since infancy. I also am and have been the choir director since before marriage, and my husband is the main tenor (sometimes only) in the choir as well. So for Sunday Masses, the children were raised in the choir loft and members helped us out whenever needed. They all know the Kyriale’s and can sing very nicely. The older ones sing Masses at school, too.

    But all the advice above has been great, so I am going to add something a little different we did when my older ones were little: “practice” at home during the daily family Rosary: We got a little (child’s) chair from their table/chair set, and had them sit on it quietly during the Rosary. They could either hold a Rosary, or look at books, but they had to sit quietly. When they were old enough and able to lead a decade (usually 3 or 4 years old), they knelt down to lead their decade.
    This allowed them to learn how to be quiet and sit still for shorter periods, and to learn that prayer was a special time.
    As these children were older and new ones added to the mix, we did not use the wooden chair as often, as the littles learned from the olders how to be quiet, and how to say the prayers. Then we let them lie on the couch or other chair or floor, etc and be quiet or look at books, and if the littles wanted to lead a decade, then they knelt down.

    As a side, one of my children is very high-strung, very choleric, and has been difficult to discipline since the age of 18 months. When she was little and in church, as long as she was quiet and where she needed to be, I did not mess with her and try to get her to do what she didn’t want, as she could end up screaming for over an hour and that would mean sitting out in the car with her. I mention this as all children are different, including their temperaments. Sometimes you have to treat them differently and expectations have to be different. Mass is not the time for having a battle of the wills with a really strong-willed child, as you both end up losing. If they are being quiet and non-disruptive, sometimes that is all that can be hoped for. (Said child is older now, and is very good at Mass, having received First Communion, and this year been confirmed. She goes to confession frequently, and still struggles with her temper, and always will. But she is getting better.)

  68. @Jacob: If you’re against giving “chemicals” to toddlers, you’ll have to proscribe any food not grown in your own backyard garden.

    Also, a word of advice: Try not to criticize what other parents do with their kids. Say: “I wouldn’t give chemicals to my toddler,” not: “People shouldn’t give chemicals to toddlers.” There’s a big difference.

  69. LisaP. says:

    Technically, if you are against giving chemicals to toddlers you would have to proscribe giving him any food at all. Or air, water, etc. :)

    I will happily believe, Mr. Arseneault, that you understand all the implications of melatonin use in a small child and are making a decision based specifically on your child’s needs. I would caution strongly against advising people generally to use melatonin to promote nap time for a baby or toddler.
    There are redundancies and there are balances that are affected when you input hormones, even if they are naturally occurring. Insulin, for example, is a naturally occurring hormone (although the manufactured forms are not human insulin), and injecting insulin into a nondiabetic toddler would hardly be advised. Thyroid medication, which is hormone replacement, would make a toddler without thyroid disease very sick. Estrogen supplements are another example of naturally occurring substances that can do great damage.

    My biggest concern with using melatonin in a child would be that a regulatory chemical function might be disrupted and reset early in life and that could affect a child for life. Misfires of the endocrine system can dog a person for decades (although I have no specific reason to think melatonin use would trigger this). I’m assuming you have looked into the relationship between melatonin, sleep, the pineal gland, the thyroid gland, the adrenal gland, internal circadian rhythms (these can be reset with melatonin use, some believe, which isn’t necessarily a good thing), metabolism, dream activity, cortisol, etc. If a small child has an actual sleep disorder and these factors are taken into consideration, I’m sure it’s more than possible that a good parent may use melatonin in treating the problem. Using melatonin regularly to bring on a nap in a child without sleep problems is obviously a practice of concern on the face of things. I agree that criticizing another parent should be avoided where possible (I’m always raving about the “Mommy Wars”, we’re sure hard on each other as parents these days). However, I do believe your post amounted to a recommendation that could have been used by a reader to the detriment of his or her own child if he or she didn’t realize melatonin was potentially — potentially — harmful.

    My husband uses melatonin on occasion and because he has sleep problems, it has side effects for him that he can communicate and comprehend when deciding how and when to use melatonin again. A pre-verbal child will not be able to identify well or communicate well if the melatonin use is affecting the way his body feels later in the day or week.

    Chicken’s post on this was excellent, I think.

  70. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Also, a word of advice: Try not to criticize what other parents do with their kids. Say: “I wouldn’t give chemicals to my toddler,” not: “People shouldn’t give chemicals to toddlers.” There’s a big difference.”

    I hope it was clear that I was merely making a cautionary comment about melatonin, not judging individual cases. It is a matter of science, at this time, that little is known about the long-term effects of some common natural products, either in infants or adults. Therefore, anyone using said compounds should make their decisions in an informed manner. I hope that I did not apply that anyone, weren’t doing so.

    If there is a situation where good research indicates that a specific drug should not be used by parents (thalidomide comes to mind), then it becomes important to report that. There is little good consistent science associated with many natural products, so one cannot say what is generally good, except that one should use common sense and gut instincts until the science is resolved. I, for instance, cannot take ginkgo, because it is a vasodilator. No child with a vasospastic disorder should use ginkgo, either. That is settled science. For most children or adults, the situation is not clear.

    So, report the facts when they are facts and the unknowns when they are unknown. This is the essence of good science reporting.

    The Chicken

  71. LisaP. says:

    Ginkgo is a vasodilator?!!! Thanks double, Chicken, you just gave me a key to a medical mystery in my own family!!
    Sorry for the derail.

  72. Cafea Fruor says:

    Something no one else seemed to mention (unless I missed it) is the value of a little healthy fear of one’s parents. What seemed to work for my parents was that when my brother and sister and I were all little, we knew that my mother and father were absolutely serious about our church behavior, and if we did act up, all it took was their stern GLARE OF DEATH to get the point across. If you saw that glare, it meant no doughnut after Mass, the temporary hostage-taking of a favorite toy, etc. If you ignored it and got the much dreaded finger-snap from Dad, which followed only shortly on the heels of an ignored glare, then there was no dessert that day. And if, heaven help you, you pushed the envelope to the next level and got removed to the vestibule, you knew you were in some deep trouble. And my parents say that we rarely got past the glare.

  73. AnnAsher says:

    My children are quieter and more well behaved at Masses where the adults are quieter and more well behaved. When mine get out of hand, I take them out. It seems like a lot of people tolerate behavior in Mass that we wouldn’t tolerate in a movie or restaurant. I try to keep that in mind as I first try to hold a squirmy child – when they get distracting I take them out. Sometimes though, as I have 6, I do am lost in prayer and do not notice right away. So, I want to say how much I appreciate the people around me who never get snooty or tap my shoulder, but wait until I come up for air knowing I have ever intention of seeing my kids behave. I recommend attending a reverent parish. Where the people chat- my kids chat. Etcetera.