Most Catholic parents have had to take an embarrassing walk to the back of church with small children who can’t quiet down. So, what might parents of small children, and those who are bothered by small children, do in these situations?
From the perspective of others at Mass
My family is at the stage where my kids are mostly quiet, although they might squirm or not pay attention. So when I go to Mass, I don’t have to deal with noisy kids, but I do hear other kids. Sometimes I get annoyed. Really, it depends on how well I am handling things that day.
How I choose to handle distractions in church is my problem. I’m not in control of someone else’s kid. I am in control of my own interior peace. What helps me, and might help you, is to remember why we’re there.
In Mass, we’re at the foot of the cross. Lumen Gentium says: “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed, is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ is both expressed and brought about” (3).
So, all of us who participate in Mass are part of one Body of Christ, the Church, which includes loud children. We come together to partake of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which is offered to us in an unbloody manner in the Eucharist. Therefore, crying babies can be heard as echoes of the crying women of Jerusalem who wept on the way to Calvary.
Furthermore, children have just as much right to be at Mass as we do. In fact, small children are the only sinless saints in that church!
From the perspective of parents of loud kids
No parent wants their kid wailing at Mass, yet some seem to be oblivious to the fact that their noisy kid might be a distraction to others.
If you are a parent, the answer is to take your youngster to the back (or cry room) when he starts getting loud. Most people understand kids are going to get loud and don’t have a problem with a baby making noise, if it doesn’t go on too long. The problem is with parents who seem to let them shriek without end. Call to mind that the child is doing nothing wrong by being loud, because he doesn’t know any better. But, as a parent, you should consider the need of other people to hear and pray in peace.
Accordingly, parents of loud children need to react fairly quickly to get them out of shouting range. It starts by being disciplined in how you parent. No child should be allowed to cry or yell with no foreseeable end, while you sit in the pew. Nor should he be allowed to play without limit, make a mess, or distract those in surrounding pews.
Personally, I do not like the cry room and always like to have my kids sit up front, where the action of the Mass tends to hold their attention and keep them quiet. No system is foolproof, but here are some basic practices my wife and I developed with our five children.
If a baby under 1-year-old starts to cry, take him to the back after a short period of trying to quiet him. Once quiet, return to your seat.
If the child is over 1, take him to the back after a short time of crying or throwing a fit, but do not allow the child to get on the floor or play. If you give him what he wants, he will learn that being noisy results in playtime.
I like the general guideline of about 10-15 seconds to try and quiet a child. Some believe this is too long and others too short. Use your judgment. It is an act of charity towards those who don’t handle distractions well to quiet your child quickly or take him out. Also, some parents are even louder than their kids when they try to quiet them. Please use a quiet voice when correcting or instructing your children.
Finally, remember this – a church without crying babies is a church with no future.