Tips for Managing Children During a Worship Service

A mother and her two children in church

When BigBrother was born, we knew we wanted to include him in our Roman Catholic faith. In the beginning, it was easy. We had him baptized as a baby and he went to Mass with us every Sunday, happily nursing or snoozing throughout the service. It wasn’t until he was older, mobile, and wanting to be involved in everything that taking him to church became … difficult.

Several years have passed since then, and I think I have spent more time in the cry room than in the pew. However, I am not alone; parents of every faith often have problems paying attention to their worship services. The children themselves seem to conspire against us; I can’t count how many times we have just gotten peacefully settled in the pew when someone says, “I have to use the bathroom!” — loudly.

Over the years, Engineer Husband and I have developed several tricks to helping our children (and ourselves) make it through our services keeping everyone’s needs in mind, and peace (somewhat) intact:

  1. Feed them first — You may want to give your children a snack close to the time your service begins, even if it means feeding them in the car. Full, fed children are more likely to behave and be happy than hungry children! We aim for filling, high-protein foods.
  2. Bring quiet toys and booksSoft photo albums, short books, a special (soft) toy or lovey can keep children happily entertained. Avoid anything that makes noise or can be used as a missile!
  3. Give quick reminders of what you expect — before you enter the building. Remind them of the kind of behavior you expect from them.
  4. Food — if you bring food, make sure it is easy to clean up. Dry cereal or crackers are often good choices; sticky foods like candy should be avoided. Of course, clean up whatever mess your child makes! (Note: Some houses of worship have restrictions on food or drink during the main service. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and sippy cups of water are normally fine, but food might be banned for health or religious reasons. Always double check before you bring in the raisins.)
  5. Plan for escape — If possible, sit toward the end of the row so you can make an easy escape for potty breaks … or worse, vomit. Likewise, scope out places to escape to if your child becomes too rowdy. There might be a special “cry room” or handy room where you can go to let your little one be a little one but still hear what is going on.
  6. Consider using the nursery – or having your child participate in a children’s educational program during the service. They are not for every family or child but may work for yours.
  7. Divide up the parenting — If you have more than one child, you might want to “divide and conquer.” My husband and I take turns sitting the in the cry room with our toddlers while the other stays in the main church. Sometimes, we even divide up the times we go to church, with one adult staying home with the little ones while the other attends with the older children.
  8. Point out important parts of the service to your children — This helps keep them focused on why they are there and helps them understand what is going on. Having them follow along in a children’s book that outlines the parts of the service is often helpful.
  9. Remember that kids will be kids — You will have those times where you apologize to the nice lady in front of you because your child pulled off her wig. There will likely be a time where someone gets sick, has a leaky diaper, or yells, “POOPY!” during the quietest moment of the service. It’s all part and parcel of being a parent and one day, I promise you will laugh about it.

We’ve has some really good services where everyone is happy and we can hear the sermon … and some really bad ones where we have had to leave before Communion because someone became ill. Nevertheless, it’s always an adventure and, for us, it’s worth the weekly struggle to include our children in our faith.

About The Author: Laura

Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door My NPN Posts

Laura is the mother to a herd of four small children, wife to her Engineer Husband, and owner of a pesky dog. She blogs about her life in the Midwest at Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door.

14 Responses to Tips for Managing Children During a Worship Service

  1. Rachael  

    I was raised Catholic and probably went to Mass every Sunday from the time I was an infant. There was a year or two, though, when we did not go to church as a family. My dad would take me and one of my sisters, and my mom would go to a later Mass on her own. The reason? My youngest sister would merrily dance up the aisle, all the way to the altar if not caught first. There was no holding her back!

    • Laura

      Ha! The dancing in the asiles thing is AWESOME! My friend once had a child race to the alter during Daily Mass. The priest looked at him and said, “Now, son, don’t go rushing into the preisthood!”

  2. Amber

    Good tips! Mostly, I think the most important thing is to keep taking them back. I’ll admit, I’m not always the best at this- sometimes I get tired of everyone looking down their nose at me for trying to keep H in the service. But for us, it’s important that he learns worship and is discipled *by us*. Certainly the nursery and the children’s staff are awesome, but I want him to learn those things from me. I feel like it is more likely to become part of him that way too. Kudos for hanging in there and taking them back every week.

    • Laura

      Yes, I think you are right. Parents def. should take their children back again, if at all possible. I do admit the nursery has a time and place (we used to use it) but being a part of the service can be important too!

  3. nita

    Really good article.

    The only other thing I was thinking is that because going to church was important to me in my life and I wanted not to be stressed about it I proactively practiced sit and play quietly beside me at home for a while every day. I think it’s too hard to go from free range play all day to sit still here by me without serious practice for busy little folks.

    • Laura

      That’s a good point. It would be helpful to work quiet play time into the day, like just sitting and coloring or looking at books. Maybe even at a specific time when Mom is busy, like cooking? Thanks!

  4. Christina

    Even though it increases the distance of “The Walk of Shame” we sit in the front. Also, being taken out to the cry room doesn’t mean the child gets a free pass to play. They are held or sit/stand/kneel right by us.

    • Laura

      “Walk of shame”- love it! Our church encourages parents to still participate in church, even if they are in the cry. It’s nice, though, because a child can still talk in their normal, non quiet voice (since kids don’t come with volume control!) and the general population won’t be bothered.

  5. Joy

    In addition to all these awesome tips, sitting in the front row helps too! (Believe it or not!) When kids can see it’s much easier for them to stay focused and engaged. Our almost two year old loves to watch the actions of the priest and really enjoys being close to choir/music offerings. We use the nursery as well…and our toddler joins us at the peace, which I find allows all of us to get some worship time in! Oh, and it REALLY helps if the clergy are clear that children are welcome as they are…not as people think they should be. And, just an FYI, I’m actually an Episcopal priest who is currently a stay at home mom and I find that child friendly clergy can help facilitate the presence of children in worship and temper the inevitable folks who complain about normal kid noise (“whispered” questions, mild fussing and fidgeting in the pews)

  6. Laura

    Thank you for your input! It’s always wonderful to hear from a minister who welcomes children to their church. Thank you!
    Our priest has actually said, “I know it is hard for families with small children to make it to church every week. Thank you for making the effort and we are glad you are here.” That was awesome to hear!

  7. Karen

    This is good. Another suggestion is to sit near the front, if they can see what’s happening, they pay more attention, near the side aisle can be good for a quick exit.
    Another thing is to realize that even with the best plans, you may need to miss mass at times, when I had 2 kids, I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have help, either my husband or inlaws.

  8. DJones

    Along the lines of kid friendly clergy…whenever one of our two acts up, Father always chimes in, “I baptized that baby, what did you expect?” It always gets a chuckle and returns everyone’s attention back to the service.

  9. 'Becca

    Great article! I agree, it’s totally worth the effort. I am an Episcopalian, while my partner does not belong to an organized religion, so our agreement was that I could take the nursing baby to church with me and then as he got older he could choose to be baptized and a member of the church or to stay home. He became very interested in learning about my faith when he was 2 1/2 and was baptized shortly after turning 3. He is 7 now and loves church. He refuses to go to Sunday School, though; he wants to be included in what adults were doing.

    Our church does not have a cry room. At times when I had to take him out because he was being disruptive, I made it as boring as possible rather than playing with him. That helped motivate him to go back to where the action is!

    I don’t allow snacking in church (other than nursing when he was a baby, and cough drops when needed) and I discourage toys. I tell him we let our tummies empty during the service to get ready for Communion (all baptized people can receive in our church; you don’t have to be a certain age) and we don’t play in ways that distract us from church. He sometimes brings a stuffed animal and “teaches” it about church. He also likes to draw during church and often draws pictures with a religious theme, sometimes a scene from one of the readings. I don’t let him bring a large number of markers because they could roll away and make a mess and noise, but he can bring a couple of colors and some paper.

  10. April Cook

    Worship service is important for all ages, but I know how difficult it can be with small children. I really like your first tip to feed them before the service starts. This helps for adults too! I’ve found it helpful to let kids pack their own bag of quiet activities that they can do during the service. It helps them to take responsibility for how the time is spent. Thanks for your helpful tips!