Going to Mass and making it the entire way through the service may seem impossible, especially if your child has special needs. You may wonder if you’ll ever be able to attend Mass as a family without a meltdown. But there are steps you can take to help your child learn to sit through, understand and appreciate Mass, even if that seems impossible now. Check out these tips that are (almost) guaranteed to help make Mass more manageable for everyone.
Before Mass: How can set your child and your family up for success on Sunday?
Watch Mass at home so the child understands what to expect. Practice kneeling, sitting, standing, and singing along. You can watch for five minutes, or the entire time. Watch different parts of the Mass at different times if its hard to watch the entire service.
Visit your church when Mass isn’t going on to familiarize your child with the sanctuary. Point out where everything is located and let him wander around and explore. You can also use our new customizable Mass guide to help!
Have a morning routine you follow on Sundays. Make sure you’re not rushing out the door to Mass every week.
Go to Mass by yourself at other times of the week to recharge. Regular confession and adoration (even virtual) are helpful too!
Have clear expectations on Mass behavior that are appropriate for age and diagnosis. Set aside a time to go over what behavior is acceptable during Mass. Maybe even create a list that you can display so it’s easy to remind the child before you leave Sunday morning. And remember to make small steps towards your goal; don’t try to implement lots of new, strict rules all at once.
During Mass: What strategies can you use during the service?
Let your child pick out, bring, and play with quiet comfort items.
Let your child walk or climb around the pew, or remove them to a vestibule or cry room to calm down or move around. Don’t force your child to sit through Mass until she is mature enough to do so. For some kids that’s age four, for others that may be 14.
Go to a shorter, quieter Mass, or if you’re lucky look for a sensory Mass in your diocese. You can use this directory to locate one.
Take turns with your spouse: one goes to Mass and the other stays home. This isn’t ideal, but know that it’s a temporary measure. In time, you will all be able to sit through Mass together again.
Model the behavior you want to see in your kids. Pay attention, sing, follow along in the missal. Don’t complain. Talk about what you liked about Mass or how maybe even if you didn’t like a certain hymn, you’re so happy you can still attend Mass and see Jesus.
Try not to yell or get angry; you don’t want your child to associate negativity with Mass. Keep it positive and when you or your child can’t remain cool, leave the sanctuary before a major melt down hits.
Get help from other moms or responsible teenagers. Take turns with another parent of littles or special needs children. Older moms who don’t need to police their own children anymore are usually happy to help. Arrange help in advance so you know each week there’ll be someone to step in if you start to feel overwhelmed.
After Mass: Reflect on what worked and what didn’t.
Reward good Mass behavior; offer praise or even a special food or drink. You can consider using a sticker chart that builds up to a prize. Be sure you mention specifically what your child did right.
If Mass didn’t go well, try to pinpoint what triggered the problem and figure out how you can address that area of concern by next Sunday. Make sure that you have reasonable expectations for your child, given his or her age and diagnosis.
And most importantly – be patient and keep trying. It can be so discouraging to struggle with out children week after week. But with consistent, positive effort, you will see improvement in time. Try to hang in there, make sure you’re supporting yourself spiritually the rest of the week, and trust your hard work will pay off.
What advice would you add? Be sure to share it in the comments below.
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